At first, you might think, “Cool.” And then you might think, “aw, hell, Shaq and Kobe, that will get hyped so much that the fun will get sucked right out of it, and besides, I got sick of Shaq and Kobe three years ago.”
But think this through. Shaq vs. Kobe is one of the great Shakespearean sports dramas of this generation — maybe the greatest. They were two of the top five players in the world. They won three straight titles, then made the NBA Finals again, but they still couldn’t stand to be around each other, so Shaq got traded.
It would be like if the Patriots had LaDainian Tomlinson all these years, then shipped him out because he didn’t get along with Tom Brady.
Shaq-Kobe in this year’s conference finals could be the grand conclusion. It would be the ultimate tiebreaker in their feud. If Kobe and the Lakers won, he could finally win his coveted Shaq-free title, convince the last skeptics he has become a team player and establish himself as one of the 10 best players ever. Plus, he would get the supreme satisfaction of knowing he ruined Shaq’s last chance at a title.
But if Shaq and his new Phoenix Suns teammates won … well, one could then make the argument that Shaq was the ultimate difference-maker in NBA history. He would have taken four franchises to the Finals. He would be four wins away from his fifth championship. And he would send a message that he, not Kobe, was most responsible for those three Lakers championships.
Just a week ago, the prospect of either man winning a championship this year seemed remote. But then the Lakers stole Pau Gasol from Memphis for a ridiculous package including Gasol’s own brother, Marc. (A lot of people have asked: What was Memphis thinking? I’ll tell you exactly what Memphis was thinking: “We’re the Grizzlies, nobody’s paying attention anyway, we’ll just tell people it’s the same Gasol and they won’t know the difference.”)
Then Miami shipped Shaq to Phoenix. It says a lot about Shaq’s free fall that he was traded for a gifted but overpaid malcontent, and people think the team that got Shaq is stupid.
The critics could be right. Shaq is not remotely the same force that he was even two years ago — he needs a note from his doctor before he attempts to jump, his shots look horrible and he can’t move laterally to avoid a fire. Now Shaq is joining the run-and-gun Suns. He is supposed to make his debut as soon as he is healthy, but I don’t see how, since it will take him three months to catch up with the rest of his team.
But then again … maybe Shaq still has one run left. It’s not inconceivable.
Look at the NBA standings. Does anybody strike you as a dominant team? Dallas is still a major postseason question mark. New Orleans is a wonderful story, but totally untested in the playoffs. Utah is up and down. San Antonio is probably the Western Conference favorite, just on principle, but are the Spurs invincible?
In this league, the Bryant-Gasol-Andrew Bynum Lakers have as good a chance as anybody of winning the title. I’m not so sure about the Shaq Suns — this is a bizarre chemistry experiment, and nobody knows how it will turn out.
But if it somehow works, everybody better watch out. Including Shaq’s old teammate and nemesis.