What if Shaq and Kobe Stayed Together?

Despite losing Magic Johnson to retirement, the Los Angeles Lakers had a dream off-season in 1996 as they added not one, but two young future Hall of Famers to their roster. Los Angeles acquired high school phenom Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets, and made the signing of the decade inking Orlando Magic center Shaquille O’Neal to a massive 7-year $121 million deal.

By the year 2000, Shaq and Kobe would form the most dominant dynamic duo the league has ever seen. Leading the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles, the only thing in the way of a decade long run was indeed themselves. Their back and forth relationship is well documented. Kobe was the rising star dedicated to getting better every single day, and Shaq was the big goof who would work himself in shape during the season because he was so dominant.

So what if these two icons of the game were able to co-exist for a few more years? How many more titles would the duo have? Do they eclipse MJ and Pippen’s 6? At what point does Shaq take the back seat to Kobe?

Summer of 2004

Coming off one of the biggest upsets in league history to the star-less Pistons, the Los Angeles Lakers hit the reset button. Shaq was traded to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and two future draft picks.

Head coach Phil Jackson and Malone left the team, Payton and Rick Fox were dealt to the Boston Celtics and Derek Fisher signed as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors.

Just like that the Lakers went from top of the world to the gutter forcing Kobe to do everything.

But let’s say Phil Jackson, Shaq and Kobe sit down and mend broken relationships. The Lakers hold off on trading Shaq, and the dynamic duo looks ahead to a few more years together.

With Shaq still a Laker, Karl Malone also returns for a final attempt to win a ring, basically the only thing that he never achieved during his stellar career. Gary Payton is still traded because he never truly fit the triangle offense. Derek Fisher is resigned to be the starting guard.

2004-05 NBA Season

With essentially the 2003-04 team returning, and Shaq and Kobe’s relationship in a positive place, the Lakers remain the top team out West. The rise of the Phoenix Suns and the always dangerous San Antonio Spurs are not far behind the Lakers but Shaq and Kobe playing with positive vibes for the first time in years is too much for either team to overcome.

Both Shaq and Kobe get MVP votes but Steve Nash gets the nod for leading the Suns.

2005 NBA Playoffs

The Lakers blow past the Pau Gasol led Memphis Grizzlies in round one and are met with an interesting round two matchup with the Phoenix Suns.

Reigning MVP Steve Nash and the Suns make their way to Los Angeles and are in for a rude awakening. See Shaq and Kobe are both a little salty that the 6’2 Canadian won the MVP, and want to show everyone the made a mistake.

Kobe made it his priority to take the defensive matchup and lock down Nash. He did just that, holding the MVP to under his season averages. The Lakers win the series in 5 and advance to face the San Antonio Spurs.

As we know the Spurs won the Finals this season, but with Shaq and Kobe still together thongs would be different. The Spurs and Lakers always create classic series and this would be no different. Duncan and Shaq battle in the front court as usual, while Kobe and Manu Ginobili create the offense on the perimeter.

The Lakers avenge their 2003 playoff loss to the Spurs, outlasting them in a classic 7 game series. Setting up another revenge series for Los Angeles.

2005 NBA Finals

In a rematch of the previous finals, the Lakers and Detroit Pistons are set to battle. All season long the Lakers had one goal, win there NBA Championship, and even better if it is against the Pistons. Shaq and Kobe would not miss the chance to avenge their humiliating loss.

After a year long conversation that Ben Wallace is the Shaq stopper, Shaq wanted to change the narrative. In some of the best shape he has been in for years, Shaq bullies the undersized Wallace. Kobe attacks both Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, getting to the foul line often.

The Pistons battle and make it a series but the focused Lakers come out victorious.

Shaq is named Finals MVP for the 4th time.

2005 Offseason

After a two decade career and finally a champion, Karl Malone decides to retire with nothing else left to prove. With Rick Fox aging, the Lakers look to add some younger wing players and they find an unlikely ally.

Long time Kobe Bryant nemesis Raja Bell decides to join the Lake Show rather than become the known irritant and thorn in the side of Kobe.

Los Angeles also looks to add bench depth so they go out and trade future picks to Miami for Lamar Odom.

2005-06 NBA Season

This is the first season we season Kobe ascend past Shaq as the alpha and first option. Not that Shaq can no longer be the best player on a team, but he and Phil Jackson agree that it is time to hand down the keys to Kobe who has been ready for the role for years now.

As the first option, Bryant explodes for his best offensive season of his career. Averaging over 32 points per game, Bryant leads the league in scoring and comes in 2nd for MVP voting behind once again Steve Nash. Lamar Odom wins 6th man of the year in his first season in the purple and gold.

But the Lakers have bigger aspirations than individual awards as they finish with the leagues best record once again.

2006 NBA Playoffs

As the odds on title favorites, the Lakers once again fly through first two rounds of the playoffs and are matched up with the Dallas Mavericks.

Led by Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks ability to score wasn’t a question. However who would guard both Shaq and Kobe was a huge question. Shaq set the tone of the series early on, dominating the pain on both ends of the floor. Dirk was dominant in his own way, taking the Lakers bigs outside to the perimeter to guard his lethal jump shot. The true difference maker of the series was Kobe. Jason Terry, too small. Doug Christie too slow, and Jerry Stackhouse too old to keep up with the Black Mamba. The Lakers close out the Mavs in 6 games to advance to their 3rd straight finals.

2006 NBA Finals

Without Shaq in Miami with a young D Wade, the Heat never reach the NBA Finals. This leaves the door open for a Lakers-Pistons trilogy. Los Angeles would walk away the winners of the trilogy, becoming back to back champions.

It is also the 5th tile in 7 years for Shaq and Kobe. That is one more than Shaq won in his career, and ties Kobe with his total, and Kobe is just entering his true prime.

2006 Offseason

Once again looking to put young talent around and aging Shaq and prime Kobe, the Lakers seek out a trade. Los Angeles sends a couple of second round picks to the Knicks for Forward Trevor Ariza.

Shaq deals with some nagging injuries but is still able to be a second option while Kobe ascends to the leagues best player.

2006-07 NBA Season

With Shaq a few notches below what he once was, the team is fully in the hands of Kobe. Once again leading the league in scoring, Kobe has ascended to take the crown as best player in the league. The Lakers don’t finish with the best record out West for the first time in a few seasons, but sit comfortably as the 3rd seed behind the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs.

Despite the Mavs winning more games than Los Angeles, Kobe edges out Dirk in a tight MVP race. It is Kobe’s first MVP award.

2007 NBA Playoffs

The path to another NBA finals is a lot tougher this playoffs than in previous seasons. Shaq isn’t what he once was and more pressure lays on the shoulders of Kobe Bryant. The first round is a breeze for the Lakers but for the first time in a long time the path to the championship isn’t running through Staples Center.

The semifinals matchup is against the Spurs, and they have the home-court advantage. In real life the Spurs went on to win the NBA Finals this season. They were stacked with a prime Duncan and Ginobili, an elite Tony Parker, and a boat load of crafty veterans. Truth be told, they are just too talented and too deep for the Lakers in this series. Kobe averages 30-5-5 in the series, but it isn’t enough as the Spurs advance.

As for Shaq, while still efficient, the dominant presence just isn’t there anymore in year 15. It is time for the Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers to take a look in the mirror and evaluate.

2007 Offseason

Mirroring the conversation in the Summer of 2004, Shaq, Kobe Phil Jackson and Lakers management sit down and have an honest conversation. Putting pride aside, Shaq self reflects and understands he is no longer the player he once was, nor the player Kobe needs going forward if he wants to continue to win titles. The meeting ends with no resentment, but all love between Shaq and Kobe who are like brothers now. Shaq walks in free agency and the Lakers look to build a championship team around Kobe.

In the duo’s 11 years together, Shaq and Kobe won 5 of 6 NBA Finals, twice going to 3 consecutive NBA Finals.

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