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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Heat is Definitely Not On in Miami

In the wake of the Miami Heat's weak 2006-07 season--and on the verge of perhaps an even worse campaign in 2007-08--the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith asks a simple question about all the money that Pat Riley spent to acquire Shaquille O'Neal: "Was it worth it?" Smith hastens to add that many Chicago Cubs' fans, looking jealously at Miami's gaudy 2006 NBA Championship rings, would unhesitatingly say "Yes." I offered my take on this subject shortly before the Heat completed their improbable title run: "Cost for a future Hall of Fame center? $20 million. Winning an NBA championship? Priceless."

I stand by that sentiment; if a team is close enough to winning a title that one move would likely put them over the top then it is worth it to overspend a bit to try to make that happen because legitimate opportunities to win championships are rare and fleeting. Of course, if the Dallas Mavericks had not folded after taking a 2-0 lead in the Finals then things would look a lot different now. It is obvious that the Heat are not winning any more titles with the current group of players, so if they had not won the 2006 championship then they would have spent a lot of money and had absolutely nothing to show for it.

Many stories have captured the imagination of the media and the general public--Greg Oden versus Kevin Durant (and Oden's season ending injury), whether or not Kobe Bryant will be traded, the Kevin Garnett blockbuster deal and Team USA's performance, to name just four. That did not leave much air time or column inches to talk about Miami's quick tumble from championship glory to ignominious first round exit. Yes, injuries to O'Neal and Dwyane Wade caused problems but the Heat looked lethargic and disinterested from game one--a 108-66 home loss to the Chicago Bulls right after the Heat got their championship rings--to the 92-79 loss to the Bulls that closed out a 4-0 first round sweep. The team's overall attitude--despite many bold public statements and promises to the contrary--seemed to be that winning one championship was more than enough and anything else would be gravy. O'Neal talks a good game about how he wants to be defined by winning championships but he has often fallen far short of that standard in terms of his commitment to his conditioning and his willingness to play hard defensively. O'Neal has won four championships and that is a very notable accomplishment but it is fair to wonder if the most physically dominant player of the post-Michael Jordan era could have done even more. Tim Duncan is less physically overpowering and probably less gifted athletically than O'Neal but he has always worked hard and the results of that work are evident: a game that earned him the nickname of "The Big Fundamental"--a phrase coined by none other than O'Neal himself--and four championship rings, meaning that in the history books Duncan must receive at least equal billing with O'Neal as the defining basketball figure of this era.

Obviously, the tone for any organization is set from the top, so if O'Neal is not working hard then there is a trickle down effect (except, perhaps, for Dwyane Wade, who is a star and a leader in his own right, and who always seems to be committed to doing the necessary work). The Heat are virtually guaranteed to get off to a slow start with Wade still rehabilitating from various injuries and several players not meeting Coach Pat Riley's conditioning standards. At least one team that did not make the Eastern Conference playoffs last year has to be considered a postseason lock this year--the Boston Celtics--so one of last year's qualifiers will be on the outside looking in next summer. I expect that team to be the defenseless-Wizards but it may very well take everything that Wade can muster in the second half of the season for Miami to not be that team.

So, is it worth it to spend $20 million per year on O'Neal to win one championship? Heat fans will probably have a lot of free time to think about that question during the next few summers until O'Neal's contract is off the books and the team is able to rebuild around Wade.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:09 PM

44 comments

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44 Comments:

At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 10:20:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

The following need to retire: Shaquille, Houston, Mourning, Payton, Mutumbo, Penny, Dale Davis, Vin Baker, Jalen, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, and Cliff Robinson. Its time for these guys and anyone else over 35 to go.

Why does ESPN have Eddie Griffin as an active player?

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 7:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Hey, 35 is not that old :) Well, actually it is kind of old to be trying to play elite level basketball. MJ was still great at that age, Dr. J made All-NBA 2nd Team at 34 (and made the All-Star team every year of his career, which ended when he was 37) and Kareem won the 1985 Finals MVP at 38 (!) but the list of great performers at 35+ is a relatively short one; more people than ever are playing past that age but they are not necessarily truly great by that point.

On a per minute basis, Mutombo is actually still pretty productive as a rebounder/defender, though even the limited offensive game that he used to have seems to have all but disappeared.

Several of the other guys on your list are probably entering their last season and at least a couple of them--Penny, Houston--may not make it past training camp.

As for Griffin, who of course died in a car accident earlier this year, obviously ESPN does not update its player pages very frequently.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 9:03:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

You named three of the greatest ever, who were rarely injured and are legends. I wanted to watch MJ, Kareem, and Doc play at that age. I dont want to watch any of these players. I know they played past 35, but it doesnt work in todays game. None of the players that I mentioned (except of ONeal recently) have contributed anything. I know Mutumbo had a few 20 rebound games but please, David. Its time for them to go.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 1:25:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

Have you seen this Sports Illustrated the Basketball Book?

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 4:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yes. It's in bookstores now. The SI book takes the reader through the history of basketball with excerpts from archived SI articles and lots of archived photos. It is a nice book but I think it would have been nice if more original content had been included instead of relying so much on archival material.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I think that playing past 35 will still work for guys like Kobe and Duncan who keep themselves in great shape. I would expect them to be a lot more productive at that age, if they choose to do so, then the players on your list.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 6:29:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree with many of your criticisms of Shaq, but I still think you are being a little harsh on him.

Four championships is more than most great players have won. Duncan has also been successful and is great(if I had to choose between Shaq and Duncan, I'd flip a coin), but it's unfair to compare the two strictly based on championships. Duncan has played on one team his whole career and enjoyed a lot of stability as far as coaching and playing-style go. The Spurs' front office has done a great job in bringing in the right kind of players to complement him. Of course, part of the blame for the instability surrounding Shaq's career should go to Shaq himself, but much of it shouldn't.

There has been a tendency in NBA history to look at the physically-imposing, super-talented big man of the moment (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq) and dismiss what he accomplishes and criticize him heavily for what he fails to accomplish. After all, he's so much bigger, stronger, and talented than his competitors, he should always win, right? And if someone less physically imposing wins, it exposes a huge flaw in the dominant big guy's game/committment/psyche/whatever.

I'm not saying Shaq should be free from blame. He has been lazy at times. However, I wonder how his accomplishments would be viewed if he were 6'6" and 210 lbs.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 6:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I am not one of those people who faults Wilt for "only" winning two titles, so I realize that it may seem odd that I criticized Shaq for "only" winning four championships. The difference is that Wilt faced clearly superior opposition--the Celtics had a roster stacked with Hall of Famers. Also, though nobody talks about this, the Knicks teams that he faced toward the end of his career were younger and deeper. Other than in '96 when Shaq faced the MJ-Pip-Rodman Bulls, his teams have not had to deal with clearly superior opposition. Almost every year of his career, his conditioning and commitment to defense have been key factors in determining whether or not his team won titles. Wilt scored when he was asked to score and played a different role later on when he was asked to do so; his teams lost in the Finals because they were not as good as their opponents.

The lack of stability in Shaq's career has largely been his own doing. He orchestrated the move from Orlando to L.A. and his petulance regarding his injury and toward Kobe greased his way out of L.A. (no matter what a lot of people like to believe). He has battled with several coaches who challenged him to get in better shape.

I commend Shaq for what he has accomplished. My point is that circa 2002 it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that he would go down as the dominant player of the post-MJ era. The way that he dealt with his injury the next year brought down a dynasty prematurely and opened the door for Duncan, whose Spurs never beat the Lakers when the Lakers were at full strength (yes, I know that in another thread I said that injuries happen, but this injury could have been handled in the offseason so that Shaq would have been at full strength long before the playoffs).

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 12:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

shaq is one of the all time great players with 4 rings and 6 finals apperances and his dominance. i agree though at 35 he is not warranted of 2o million dollars a year. but he is stil great and winning 4 titles is impressive, even though duncan has won 4 as well the spurs won 4 because the lakers broke up and shaq aged realy when he was at his peak they beat the spurs 3 of 4 years so to say duncan better is not right or true. shaq was the best playe of his era like jordan wilt etc theres no need to knock him or try to make a claim he is overated

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 6:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm not talking about which player was better at his absolute peak and I have mentioned more than once that Duncan's Spurs never beat the fully loaded Shaq-Kobe Lakers (at least in part because the Lakers had two legit MVP level players, while the Spurs had only one but that is a different discussion). That fact all the more reinforces how foolish it was for Shaq at the height of his powers to get distracted from pursuing what should have been his biggest goal: continuing to win rings with Kobe Bryant as his tag team partner.

What I am talking about is whose name will be mentioned first when the history of the post-Jordan era--say 1999-2010--is written. For the 1950s, it's Mikan. For the 1960s, it's Chamberlain versus Russell. For the 1970s, it's Dr. J in the ABA and Kareem in the NBA. For the 1980s, it's Magic versus Bird. For the 1990s, it's MJ. Around 2002, it looked like the next name on that list would be Shaq. Duncan has won three titles since then, so he and Shaq each have four. I can't imagine Duncan not getting at least equal billing now from a historical standpoint--and if Duncan wins one or two more titles then he could very well earn top billing.

Shaq has said that he wants to be defined by winning championships and once talked of winning more rings than anyone but Bill Russell--but his commitment to staying in shape and to playing defense has not matched those lofty words. All I'm doing is judging his career the way that he said he wanted to be judged--and the way that history will in fact judge it anyway, whether he likes it or not. The headline right now for this era is "Shaq 4, Duncan 4." Pages and pages can be written explaining how those totals came about but those are the cold, hard facts. Someday 15 or 20 years from now, Shaq is going to look back and realize that he chose enjoying his 2003 summer vacation--postponing his surgery until "company time"--over building a greater historical legacy for himself.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 5:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

shaq beat him 3 out of 4 times when they played each other he had robinson parker and ginobili shaq just had kobe. this is shaq era youre a shaq hater is why you dont think so duncan got 4 but only beat shaq once and was a product of the lakers breakup. shaq is the man who took orlando to they only final have won nuthing without him in 10 years lakers have won no playoff series without him in 3 years. and everybody with a brain knows that kobe bryant didnt want to play with shaq anymore in 2004 if the lakers would of payed shaq the money he wanted kobe would be in chicago right now he waited and made sure shaq was gone before he signed back with the lakers. he played himself shaq never played himself in anything tim duncan great player but never been we have to stop tim duncan like it was shaq at his peak every team and every coach and everybody was like how do we stop shaq and he is the most dominant player ever. tim duncan number 2 to me at best 1b not as good as the diesel who won 3 straight championships tim duncan nevr won babc to back that shows shaq was consistent as well. in 03 they lost trying to go for 4 in a row shaq came back they should have won in 04 but kobe was selfish and didnt pass the ball down low in that series. he got wade and they won in 06 shaq doesnt care about duncan and many in the press dont either he got over on kobe and buss and the lakers who done nuthing without him he is satisfied right where he is playing both of them the diesel legacy is etched and stone your boy kobe got to prove he can win a ring without him he won without kobe.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 6:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

david for the record i think you write some good columns but to put shaq dwn to try to elevate kobe is ridicolous man shaq proved kobe was nuthing witthout him except that and move on.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 6:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Hater" is, without question, the most overused word right now ("It is what it is" is the most overused phrase). Why can't we just stick with the facts? If you actually read everything that I have written here about Shaq you cannot possibly think that I "hate" him. I have said that he should have won the 2005 MVP over Nash. I have said that until 2002 or so he was clearly the dominant player of the post-MJ era and that even now he still merits equal consideration with Duncan for that honor. That is "hate"?

I guess it is easier to speak of "hate" than to actually know what you are talking about, because your version of the Spurs' roster is wrong. In 2001 when the Lakers swept the Spurs in the Conference Finals neither Parker nor Ginobili was even in the NBA. The Spurs' second leading scorer that year was Derek Anderson. Shaq averaged 28.7 ppg that year and Kobe averaged 28.5 ppg while also leading the Lakers in assists. The next year, Ginobili still was not in the NBA and Parker was a 19 year old rookie who averaged 9.2 ppg and shot just .419 from the field. Robinson finished second on the Spurs in scoring at 12.2 ppg and Steve Smith was third at 11.6 ppg. Shaq led the Lakers with 27.2 ppg and Kobe averaged 25.2 ppg while again leading the team in assists. The Lakers beat the Spurs 4-1 in the playoffs.

In 2003, when the Lakers' dynasty began to fall apart due to Shaq's inattention to his conditioning, Kobe led the Lakers in scoring at 30.0 ppg while playing in all 82 games. He again led the team in assists and he ranked second in total rebounds. Shaq missed 15 games and the Lakers did not have homecourt advantage, losing to the Spurs in six games. That was Parker's second year and he was second on the team in scoring at 15.5 ppg. Stephen Jackson was third at 11.8 ppg. Manu, a rookie, averaged 7.6 ppg, while David Robinson was basically a role player (8.5 ppg).

You say that "all" that Shaq had was Kobe. Well, Kobe was fifth in the 2002 MVP voting--Duncan was first, Shaq was third--meaning that the Lakers had two of the top five players in the league; no other Spur received a vote.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 6:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

"to put shaq dwn to try to elevate kobe is ridicolous man shaq proved kobe was nuthing witthout him except that and move on."

Please re-read this post. I compared Shaq to Duncan and did not mention Kobe at all. You are the one who is bringing Kobe, David Robinson and others into a Shaq/Duncan discussion.

I am not trying to elevate or put down anyone; I am talking about how history is most likely to look at the current era. The reality is that the storyline has changed in the past 3-4 years due to the Spurs' success.

Kobe made the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team last year, while also finishing third in MVP voting. That is a lot more than "nothing." The Lakers are not a championship contender because their team is not good enough. That is why Kobe said months ago that the team needs to either acquire more talent or else trade him.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 7:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

youre a shaq hater admit it reality is in 99 shaq wasnt the same shaq he was during the championship years. so duncan beat him one time and he was out of shape that year in 03. he beat duncan 01 02 04 period regardless who duncan had he lost to shaq at his peak stop makeing excuses for duncan. kobe was good with the lakers at the time but duncan had ginobili and parker in 04 and 02 had parker and robinson the spurs won more game than the lakers in 01 04 so it's not like the spurs had nobody all he could beat was a outshape shaq all the other times he was beat by shaq.

okay youre saying until 2002 it was shaq and now duncan got 4 rings it's equal now. im saying when they played each other shaq beat him 3 to 1 so shaq is the guy. youre trying to knock shaq career and everything behind this is about your kobe love reality is noone cares about duncan and shaq doesnt either he got over on buss and kupchak and kobe duncan will never be looked at as greater than him.

 
At Friday, October 19, 2007 3:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You are not paying attention to--or at least not answering--the facts that I cite. It is tiresome and pointless for me to keep answering a charge that I am a "hater." If it makes you feel better to believe that, so be it. Here are some final points to consider:

1) You are focusing on what I like to call "peak value," which is to say which player was the best if they squared off at their respective peaks. This is a valid question but it is not the question that I discussed in the post; here I am talking strictly about the sum total of each player's career, no matter how each player arrived at that sum total. Shaq had a big early lead (3 titles to 1) but Duncan has closed the gap and has a good chance to finish ahead of Shaq. You can make whatever excuses you want but if Shaq had stayed in shape then the Lakers would likely have won in '03 and very possibly continued winning after that.

2) Duncan has kept himself healthy and in shape for most of his career. That is to his credit. Shaq could have done the same thing but he had different priorities at certain times.

3) I did not mention Kobe once in the post and Kobe has nothing to do with my central argument. However, since YOU keep bringing Kobe up in this discussion then it must be noted that Shaq played alongside a legit MVP candidate (Kobe Bryant) during the Lakers' title run. Duncan had some good teammates--as did Shaq and Kobe--but he never played alongside a legit MVP candidate (Parker's Finals MVP this year notwithstanding; no one considers Parker an MVP candidate for the whole season). If you are going to offer mitigating circumstances to "defend" Shaq then you must be honest and admit that Shaq benefited from a powerful 1-2 punch that Duncan has never had. If Duncan and Kobe--two guys who work hard on their games and play both ends of the court--had played together since 1999 they would have won six or seven titles, assuming they had any kind of supporting cast.

4) It is not true that noboby cares about Duncan versus Shaq. This will increasingly become a subject of debate as basketball aficionados write the history of the post-MJ era. Shaq is like one of those golfers who had such a big lead that they start engraving his name on the trophy and then they have to engrave over it when he hits the ball into the rough. Shaq could have gone down as the undisputed king of the post-MJ era but it looks more and more like the best he can do now is a tie with Duncan. Look at the course of basketball history objectively and you must understand that this is correct.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 2:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

shaq is the guy in this era ive heard no one ever say duncan is the guy so far since he won his 4th ring if it hasnt started now when will it start noone cares about duncan lie i said before shaq was more than a player like jordan was. shaq beat duncan 3 to 1 head to head and shaq had to be out of shape for duncan to beat him once he is a great player not better than shaq. if im picking players of this era im still going to take shaq first like i would wilt jordan russell bird or magic. duncan sucess was based on shaq if duncan was in shape or not he beat him. duncan needed shaq to fall off a little bit it didnt matter for shaq what duncan was. duncan was a better player than then he is now too. it's hard to win 4 in a row there tema got older and shaq did come out of shape but kobe broke it up when he didnt want to play with shaq anymore in 04. shaq would still be with the lakers if kobe wanted him to be there but he wanted a team for him and shaq was traded to miami where he helped bring a championship there. the diesel legacy is already written he is the man of this era like jordan was of his period. ask any real nba guy theyll tell you that your a crazed kobe fan who's trying to undemine shaq and ridicolousy blame him for something the break up of the lakers. when it was clear to most people that kobe had the leverage at that time and wasnt playing with shaq regardless of situation. shaq top 10 all time duncan top 15 but 15 years from now shaq going to llok back at his great career and kobe will think i would of had another ring if i was smarter in 04.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 2:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

kobe has not won a playofff series he has the ball alot so he is going to score alot he only dominates in scoreing because thats all he can do.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 3:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Please pay attention. Go back and read my previous posts. I have asked what you might call "real NBA guys" like Hubie Brown, Ron Harper and others. They all say Kobe is the best player in the league. I have spoken to many "real NBA guys," both on and off the record, and the consensus is that Kobe is the best player (even if they would not vote for him for MVP due to his team's record, they still say he is the best player).

The rest of what you wrote is just a tired repetition of what you've already said that I have previously refuted.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 3:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Please pay attention. Go back and read my previous posts. I have asked what you might call "real NBA guys" like Hubie Brown, Ron Harper and others. They all say Kobe is the best player in the league. I have spoken to many "real NBA guys," both on and off the record, and the consensus is that Kobe is the best player (even if they would not vote for him for MVP due to his team's record, they still say he is the best player).

I don't know what you mean when you say that no one cares about Duncan. He is the greatest power forward of all-time and he is the process of putting his stamp on the post-Jordan era right alongside Shaq.

All Kobe can do is score? Right. That's why he makes the All-Defensive Team, leads his team in assists and played a key role on three championship teams? Who is the crazed fan here and who is the "real NBA guy"? How many "real NBA guys" have you spoken with to get these "insights"?

The rest of what you wrote is just a tired repetition of what you've already said that I have previously refuted.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 4:48:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I am a huge Wilt fan, so I don't necessarily agree with the argument I'm about to make, but I want to play devil's advocate.

It's arguable whether Wilt's teams always lost to "clearly superior opposition." From 1966-1969, Wilt's teams had better regular season records than the Celtics, yet they lost three out of those four years. The 1973 Lakers also had a better record than the Knicks. Looking at the situations, I'd say injuries were the biggest factor in 1968, and poor coaching and lack of team chemistry made Wilt's 1966 and 1969 teams less than the sum of their parts. In 1973, the Lakers were aging and injured. One could make similar arguments when defending Shaq. From 1997-99, team chemistry was a big problem and may have caused the Lakers to lose to less talented teams. In 2005, the Heat were done in by injuries. The 2004 Lakers were older than and not as deep as the Pistons. So if we excuse Wilt for not winning in all the years I mentioned, we have to excuse Shaq too.

I thought it was really lame of Shaq to not have his surgery on time in 2002, and he hasn't seemed as committed to winning every game as one would want of the very best. Still, I'm not sure it's fair to say that that prematurely brought down a dynasty. Shaq was very productive in the 2003 playoffs. I think the biggest reason the Lakers lost (bigger than Shaq's laziness) was the fact that the Lakers were getting nothing out of their role players. The front office had done a poor job of replenishing their talent and had basically assumed that Shaq and Kobe would guarantee a title. Perhaps they would have won anyway if Shaq approached the season with a great deal of intensity. However, I'm not sure, given the poor depth and role players.

Don't get me wrong, Shaq loses points in my opinion for his lack of commitment and intensity. However, he has still been very productive and achieved a lot, and that can't be taken away from him, no matter how much I, or anyone, dislikes his habits.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 4:55:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Also, about this "top billing" issue, I'm not sure Duncan will get top billing even if he wins a bit more. It's likely that Shaq's name will still be brought up first (if Duncan wins 2-3 more titles, that would force things to change).

You mentioned that Kareem's name comes up first when one thinks of the NBA in the 70s. That is true, but it's also true that Willis Reed and Dave Cowens anchored their teams to twice as many rings in the 70s as Kareem. If winning more titles than Shaq would certainly mean Duncan would get top billing for the post-Jordan era, shouldn't other guys come up before Kareem when thinking of the 70s?

The point is, I think Shaq's edge in charisma, recognizability, and peak-level dominance will give him billing over Duncan when the post-Jordan era comes up (barring, as I mentioned earlier, several more titles for Duncan). Of course, "top billing" is irrelevant when considering who the better player was, or who accomplished the most.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 5:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The 70's is a unique case. No one team dominated. Kareem/Oscar led the Bucks to a title and Kareem was clearly the dominant individual player (5 MVPs in 10 seasons). I can't imagine that anyone would seriously believe that Reed, Cowens or any other center in that decade was better than Kareem (other than possibly Walton for one season but even then Kareem usually had the statistical edge head to head, though Portland won the '77 playoff series).

I have never disputed Shaq's peak level superiority over Duncan. Indeed, I have asserted that several times. If Shaq would have been a bit more dedicated than he would be so far ahead of Duncan that there would be no comparison. Instead, Duncan won two MVP during what should have been Shaq's prime and now he has pulled even in championships won. I don't care about "charisma" or any of that. Purely on basketball accomplishments, Duncan's overall resume now approximates Shaq's, which was not the case just a few years ago. If the ultimate goal is winning and both players had roughly equal opportunities to win (great coaches, great supporting casts) then why shouldn't they be compared on the basis of championships won?

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 5:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

If you don't agree with your own argument is it necessary for me to try to refute it :)

Those latter day Celtics teams that Wilt lost to were older squads that were less concerned with their regular season record than just making it to the playoffs healthy. Once they got to the postseason intact they felt that they could get the job done. I was actually thinking more of Wilt's earlier teams than the 66-69 period, though. I'm not saying that he faced superior opposition every single time but he did so more often than not.

The toe surgery situation had a ripple effect. That was the first time that Kobe became the number one offensive option, because Shaq was out of the lineup and then he was out of shape when he came back. Kobe is always called the selfish one but people should listen to what Tex Winter says about that. Shaq did not like being the second option and grumbled about it. Kobe's response, in essence, was that he was not going to slow the ball down to wait for Shaq's out of shape butt to get downcourt. Then Shaq famously replied that if the dog is not fed (the ball) then he won't guard the house (play defense in the paint). Were both guys being immature by saying these things in public? Sure--but at least Kobe was in shape and playing hard on offense and defense (Kobe made All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team that year). Those statements were when the Shaq-Kobe feud really became public and the relationship was never the same after that. They lost to the Spurs, picked up Payton/Malone and made a run in '04 but the dynasty was never the same. That is why I place so much emphasis on Shaq's delayed surgery. Yeah, Kobe's later legal troubles did not help but he played spectacularly during that time, flying back from court the same day and making game-winning shots. Shaq was out of shape after the delayed surgery and this cost the Lakers home court advantage that year.

 
At Saturday, October 20, 2007 11:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

you have not refuted anything dude for real im beating you in this argument i understand. as far as shaq vs duncan you admit shaq has him in peak value we agree but you think it's even in career or youll take duncan. i still think shaq is better than duncan period shaq gets more defensive attention and gets doubled everytime he touches the ball duncan doesnt. when i said noone cares about duncan it's about personality is what i mean. ill stay on topic and tell you shaq had to come down for duncan to beat him in 01 and 02 shaq was in shape they beat the spurs 03 he wasnt they lost 04 he was they won again duncan always was in shape and was at his peak then and it didnt matter for shaq he still beat him. uncan beat young cavaliers weak a knick team without ewing in 99 and robinson was still good then. nj was okay and detroit took them to 7 games the lakers wept they last two finals as well. since it's 4 to 4 im giveing you reasons shaq gets the tie break. and i went on a website and this question was asked and majority of people thought shaq it was 235 post 75% was shaq like 25% duncan but duncan got more than i thought he would so i should give him more credit and i think i am. simply head to head and impact on and off the court go to shaq to me you have a right to your opion if you think duncan is better. duncan might have more overall skill but you take a dominant player before one who is not. and i think if most players answered this they would go to shaq as well. he has had a major impact on 3 franchises and legacy is secure to me. in 03 that wasnt the end of the world for the lakers they could of won in 05 and 06 shaq did in 06 and was in finals in 04 agian so he came out of shape. the dynasty didnt end because of that to me it ended the following year.

and shaq comeing out of shape and saying he plays on company time is shaq being shaq like manny ramirez being mannny thats just shaq being shaq. his work habits werent great i believe rick barry has been critical and thought shaq could of been a better player than he has shaq just said he doesnt have my resume might be some truth in rick thoughts but shaq still been great.

 
At Sunday, October 21, 2007 12:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I find it difficult to take your argument seriously when you don't even know which players were on Duncan's teams during various seasons, as demonstrated by your comments earlier in this thread. Also, it does you no credit to keep bringing Kobe into the discussion when he was not mentioned once in the original post.

That said, we do agree that Shaq had a greater peak value (he was more dominant during his best seasons). I've never denied that and have mentioned this on several occasions--but this post is not about peak value. You act like I'm saying that I would take a healthy Duncan at his peak over Shaq but I did not even discuss that at all. I am talking about each player's overall career and historical legacy. Obviously, they both are still playing, so they each can add to their resumes but we all understand that Shaq is not going to be adding too much more to his legend at this point. Duncan seems to have several high level seasons left.

Shaq had the size and talent to be THE dominant force in the NBA, bar none, in the post-MJ era. Instead, he did not bring the focus and work ethic that usually characterizes great players and this has allowed Duncan to amass a championship portfolio that matches Shaq's. That's a fact. You can bring up who they played, who was on the teams, who got hurt--but the bottom line is that each player has won four rings. If you want to get picky, Shaq had much less to do with his fourth ring than Duncan did with his fourth ring, though neither one captured the Finals MVP in his fourth championship season.

Your incessant harping that Shaq had to "come down" for Duncan to beat him proves my point: Shaq's questionable work ethic will cost him--has in fact already cost him--from a historical standpoint. In the NBA record book it will not say that Duncan's Spurs won the 2003 championship but Reggie and some fans who voted in a poll still think that Shaq was greater.

Shaq has had a great career, no doubt about it--but it was well within his grasp to accomplish even more.

 
At Sunday, October 21, 2007 1:27:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

If I understand what you are saying, you mean that since Reed or Cowens don't even come close to Kareem in individual talent, the fact that they won more titles in the 70s can't make up for the gap in individual accomplishment. With Duncan and Shaq on the other hand, both are reasonably close in what they have demonstrated individually over the years, and Duncan appears to be in better position to grab more titles, so Duncan may go down as the dominant figure in the post-Jordan years. Is that right?

 
At Sunday, October 21, 2007 1:39:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I can't argue too much with any criticisms of Shaq's delayed surgery. It was inexcusable. I'm not sure that Shaq staying in shape would have guaranteed anything though. With Shaq and Kobe making as much as they were and the Lakers watching their spending, it would have been tough to give the Lakers the quality role players they needed to extend their run. Yeah, Malone and Payton came that one year, but they were not the long term solution.

What about all the other years though? I'm thinking 1997-99, and 2004 and 2005. I really don't think Shaq can be blamed for those losses, and I think he suffered from the same problems Wilt did in some of his losses.

I'm not sure I agree with the notion that Shaq could have been head-and-shoulders above Duncan if the spirit moved him. As I said before, I think sometimes we take the contributions of super-talented, physically imposing big men for granted. They should always be able to do more, it seems. The reality is that Shaq was amazingly productive. Maybe he did underachieve around 2002-03, but I don't think we can act like he did that during most of his career.

It is true that the Spurs never beat a "fully loaded" Lakers team, but it is also true that the Spurs from 2000-2002 weren't quite as strong as they were in the their championship years. There was a transition period where Robinson and the other veterans from the 99 team were aging and youngsters like Parker and Ginobili were still developing.

 
At Sunday, October 21, 2007 3:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

In 1997-99 Kobe was still maturing as a player and the Lakers did not have Phil Jackson. Shaq has had some issues in terms of conditioning and defense throughout his career but I was referring specifically to the 2002-03 period. By that time the Lakers were three-time champions. The effect of the delayed surgery was three-fold: (1) The Lakers got off to a slow start, costing them home court advantage and making their playoff path more difficult; (2) Shaq never really got completely into peak form that whole year, though he did have some good moments later in the season; (3) When Kobe became the team's leading scorer, Shaq's jealousy and pettiness spilled over publicly, leading to sniping back and forth between the two superstars. That is when the chemistry on the team really went south and it is my opinion that it never really came back, even though the Lakers did make it to the 2004 Finals. Of course we can never know for sure, but my opinion is that if Shaq handled his business in the offseason then the Lakers would have won the 2003 championship, the team would not have been broken up and the Lakers would have continued to win titles in the 2004-07 period--not necessarily every year but between 2003 and 2007 they probably would have won at least three more titles, giving Shaq/Kobe six and presumably leaving Duncan with somewhere between one and three.

When the Lakers hired Phil Jackson I fully expected them to win more championships than any other team in the 2000s. As good as their run was, I think that true basketball fans will always look back on that era and wonder what might have been. Whether or not Shaq and Kobe got along at all times, they were a terrific duo on the court and it's a shame that their partnership got broken up before its time. Wouldn't it be nice to see them battling the Spurs in the playoffs every year? That would be epic.

 
At Sunday, October 21, 2007 1:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

"If I understand what you are saying, you mean that since Reed or Cowens don't even come close to Kareem in individual talent, the fact that they won more titles in the 70s can't make up for the gap in individual accomplishment. With Duncan and Shaq on the other hand, both are reasonably close in what they have demonstrated individually over the years, and Duncan appears to be in better position to grab more titles, so Duncan may go down as the dominant figure in the post-Jordan years. Is that right?"

Precisely. That is exactly what I am saying. The only thing that should be added is that Shaq's dominance has been primarily expressed on the offensive end of the court, except perhaps for Phil Jackson's first year or two in L.A. when Shaq really devoted himself to defense. Duncan is not as physically imposing as Shaq but Duncan consistently has an impact at both ends of the court; in other words, Shaq's dominance has been based primarily on his size/athleticism enabling him to dunk on people, while Duncan exerts a quieter but just as significant dominance by blocking shots, rebounding and shooting a high percentage, albeit without flashy moves and rim bending dunks.

 
At Sunday, October 21, 2007 4:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

i read the poll and other people opion about it because they they the won that matters not just one opion especially in my opion a bias toward shaq won. head to head he beat duncan that what breaks the 4 to 4 tie duncan needed him to be out of shape to beat him, when shaq was he beat duncan is my whole point he had a bigger impact on the game duncan is more skilled player but not more dominant player than shaq, during shaq dominant period 99-06 duncan in 3 finals he was in 5 and won 4. shaq clearly wont probably add another ring to his resume but to question his resume is crazy even if he was out of shape in 03. and shaq was never jealous of kobe why would he when he got most of the credit during the championship years kobe was the leading scorer in 2000-2001 as well and shaq wasnt jealous that makes no sense there.

we could go back and forth all day but at the end of the day shaq legacy is already good even if duncan win another ring. personally i would love both of them on my team but would pick shaq when it came down to it. and also the spurs had better record in 2001 and 2004 so it's not like duncan was playing with nobody he had a very good supporting cast on those teams shaq just had kobe thats it and 10 average players, that was a 2 man team the lakers had spurs had 3 or 4 good players.

 
At Sunday, October 21, 2007 11:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What fans say in a poll does not interest me in the least because that does not prove anything. I interview players, coaches and talent evaluators; their opinions carry more weight.

Of course Shaq's legacy is good--in fact, it is great. That is not the issue. The issue, which you continue to studiously ignore, is that Duncan has caught up to Shaq and may very well surpass him in terms of championships won. You can't freeze time. By your reasoning, Bill Walton would be the greatest center ever based on what he did in 1977 and the first 60 or so games in 1978. If he had not gotten hurt who knows how many titles he would have won--but the record shows that he led Portland to one title and that he helped Boston win one more as a sixth man. Shaq has won four titles, as has Duncan.

If we are talking about one season or one game and I had a choice then I would take Shaq circa 2000 over Duncan--but, as I keep trying to tell you, that is not what I am talking about. If I were to choose a guy to anchor my franchise for 10 years or more Duncan is at least as good a choice as Shaq, if not better. Duncan is healthier, more focused on basketball and much better defensively. He does not get into feuds with his teammates like Shaq did with Penny and Kobe. He does not disrespect his coaches like Shaq has done on several occasions (most notably with Tex Winter).

Whether to prefer two great players or an ensemble cast of good players is a classic basketball question. Shaq and Kobe proved against Portland and Sacramento that two great players who are surrounded by adequate role players can be deadly. Also, I think that you are undervaluing the contributions of guys like Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Ron Harper and Derek Fisher, each of whom made big plays during various Laker title runs. It makes no sense to just casually dismiss that Shaq and Kobe were each among the five best players in the NBA during the title runs. That is a tremendous advantage for a team to have.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 1:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

10 years from now the same will be as today it was shaq as the best player even if duncan wins another title. he was more dominant and if i need a man to anchor my team for 10 years im takeing shaq duncan started winning when shaq was going down was my whole point.

shaq is a great teamate everybody on the lakers loved him but kobe lol shaq not a great teamamte even penny and kobe said they didnt dislike him as a person but they both wanted the same spot is the controversey, y ou the only person who said shaq is a bad teamate it's hyseritcal everybody in the press and alot fo former players love shaq this is a joke. nobody liked kobe on that team shaq was not the problem. riley like shaq and phil jackson did too as far as coaches. duncan is no better teamate than shaq probably not as good a teamate as shaq come on david thats weak there "shaq a bad teammate"?

from a historical point of view shaq has been great so is duncan i would take shaq over him but duncan hell of a man and a player.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 2:10:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I think saying the Lakers probably would have won at least three titles from 2003-2007 is pushing it, David.

You've got to remember that during the Lakers' three-peat, Shaq was in his prime and (for at least two out of those three years) Kobe was playing at a peak level as well. The Lakers also had a cast of good role players, and had solid depth.

By the 2003 season, it was clear that the Lakers had become a two-man team. Their role players were either injured, aging, or just bad. The Lakers had done a poor job in acquiring young players to replenish their supporting cast. No one they've drafted from 2000-2004 has turned out to be an impact role player. With Shaq and Kobe (and Phil Jackson) making as much as they were, and with Jerry Buss' desire to avoid the luxury tax, the Lakers were not in position to bring in many quality role players through free agency. They tried to compensate by bringing in some aging veterans in search of a ring, but that didn't work out for them, and I don't think it would have been a sound strategy to continue. Furthermore, Shaq was on his way down. Shaq hasn't been a dominant player for at least two years. (I don't think an earlier surgery in 2002 would have extended Shaq's prime at all. Regardless of what happened in that incident, we have to assume Shaq's general habits would have stayed the same.) We've seen how inept the Lakers' front office has been in surrounding Kobe with a decent supporting cast. If you replaced Odom with Shaq on the Lakers' 2007 roster, how far would they go? Second round? Maybe. The fact is that the Lakers have been incompetent as far as personnel moves go since Jerry West left.

If a Lakers team with a prime Shaq and Kobe and a good cast of role players could be pushed to the brink of elimination in 2000 and 2002, I think it's a stretch to assume that a Lakers team with a prime Kobe, declining Shaq, and presumably D-League level role players would have had as much success as the 2000-2002 group.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 2:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Does a good teammate tell a coach (Tex Winter) to sit down and shut the (bleep) up?

Does a good teammate say if he does not get enough shots then he won't play defense?

Does a good teammate not get in shape until the coach (Riley) threatens to suspend him? Riley proved that he was serious by suspending Walker and Posey for conditioning violations.

Just because fans and many members of the media buy into certain myths does not mean that I have to do so as well. There is more to being a good teammate than just giving good quotes to the media.

Obviously, if you anchor a team around Shaq and have enough help (which every star needs) then you will contend for and probably win titles--but you will also have to deal with Shaq's ego, his poor conditioning at times and his disinterest in consistently playing defense. Please remind me the downside of having Duncan anchoring a team? Fewer commercials is the only thing that I can think of and I'm not sure that is a drawback if your primary goal is winning.

If it sounds like I'm down on Shaq, I'm not; he just does not compare favorably to Duncan in the areas that I cited. Think back for a moment about what you keep saying about Shaq, namely that when he was motivated and in shape he was better than Duncan. Have you ever had a reason to question Duncan's conditioning or motivation? That says something about the two players, doesn't it? In the end, that difference is why Duncan is likely to add one or two more rings to his resume and lift himself above Shaq.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 2:16:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Also, I think the assessment of whether Shaq fulfilled his potential with the Lakers or not should end in 2004. Trades and departures are part of the NBA and very complex and messy, and it's unfair to hold the team's break-up against Shaq. It's unfair to hold the what-ifs regarding a team he didn't play for during a certain period against him. That would be like saying MJ didn't fulfill his potential because of his retirements, or it's like blaming Wilt for not winning the numerous titles that he could have seemingly won if he wasn't traded from the 76ers in 1968.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 3:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Obviously, there is a difference between discussing Shaq and Duncan's actual legacies as they currently stand--four titles apiece--versus talking about what might have happened if Shaq had not postponed his surgery. The former deals with reality, while the latter is speculation.

The reality as it stands now is that Duncan has earned equal billing with Shaq at the top of the post-MJ era by any reasonable standard of combining individual stats/honors and team success.

As for what might have happened, perhaps you are right that I am overly generous in "crediting" the Lakers with three more rings in my "alternate" 2003-07 history; all we can do is make educated guesses about such things. The "mainstream" version of the decline and fall of the Lakers blames Kobe almost entirely, suggesting that he chased away O'Neal. Of course, Buss, Kobe, Jackson and everyone else who is directly involved have repeatedly stated that Kobe did not chase O'Neal away. The larger issue is why did the Lakers have so much turmoil in 2003 and 2004. Anyone who followed the story closely and with an objective eye understands that Buss, Jackson, Shaq and Kobe each have very large egos, so all of them can be said to share a certain degree of "blame." However, despite that volatile mixture of egos, the Lakers won the title in Jackson's very first year with the team and won three championships in a row. So what changed in 2003? Shaq postponed his surgery, meaning that he spent a good portion of the season not in shape for the first time since Jackson arrived on the scene. That led to the public blowup that I mentioned before, when Shaq complained about Kobe shooting and Kobe fired back by saying that he was not going to slow down to wait for an out of shape Shaq to come down the court. In my opinion, that is when the Lakers dynasty began to crumble; the delicate chemistry was too ruptured after that point. In spite of this, the Lakers made it to the 2004 Finals and may very well have won if Karl Malone had been healthy. It is my opinion that if Shaq had handled the surgery situation more professionally that the Lakers almost certainly would have beaten the Spurs in 2003. The Lakers fell down 2-0 in that series, won two games in L.A. to square things and then lost a two point game on the road in game five. In game six they lost by 28 at home. If Shaq had not mishandled things then they likely would have played games one and two at home and very possibly would have been up 2-0 instead of down 2-0. Being up 2-0 against a team that they beat 4-1 the previous year I don't think that the Spurs would have rallied. Also, look at how the series went; the Lakers lost by two on the road in game five and then got blown out at home in game six. It was like they did not want to face a game seven on the road so they just packed it in. To me, that is a direct result of the chemistry issues I alluded to above. During the title years they had the ability to bounce back from adversity.

The factors that I considered when concluding that the Lakers could have won three titles from 2003-07 are as follows:

1) With an in-shape Shaq, the Lakers would likely won in 2003.

2) Even with all the distractions (including Kobe's legal problems) the Lakers almost won in 2004.

3) As recently as 2005 and 2006, Shaq was still dominant enough to make important contributions on a contending team.

4) For the past two years at least, Kobe has been the best basketball player in the NBA.

5) If you "give" the Lakers the 2003 title, they would "only" have to win every other year from 2004-07--like the Spurs have done in a similar time frame--to end up with three rings from 03-07.

Let's also not discount the Jackson factor. His coaching contributed a lot to the Lakers' championship success. As Greg Anthony once said, a Jackson-coached team has never underachieved. I think that a Shaq-Kobe duo would annually contend for titles. Look how close Kobe came to beating the Suns in the '06 playoffs when Kwame was the centerpiece of Jackson's "inside man" strategy. Put Shaq back on the Lakers, even with Smush and other castoffs, and the Lakers would beat the Suns every year in the playoffs. The Suns cannot stop Bryant and they surely cannot stop Shaq.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 9:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

all his teamates other tha kobe and penny liked him none likes kobe not shaq aint no myth most of them said he was one of the best teamates he ever had. and ask alot of media people and former players who KNOW shaq they all love him and he is a great person and a people person anybody who know shaq will tell you that. he had problems with 2 teamates in 15 years and he a terrible teammate? ask anybody nobody on that team like kobe he was very arrogant and didnt deal with his teammates on that team where shaq did if shaq was a bad teammate people would say that no they said kobe was the bad teammate. since youre the only person saying this that tells me all i need to know.

duncan is not better most would agree with me and not you thats fact the people matter not one person please. youre shaq a bad tramate shaq tore up the lakers myth is laughable my friend. shaq beat duncan head to head and was more dominant player thats why you take shaq.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 10:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You didn't address anything that I said. I am not talking about who was the most gregarious teammate or who was the most popular teammate. I mentioned several things that Shaq did and asked if those qualities make him a good teammate. I guess since you ignored all of those things you are acknowledging that I am right.

 
At Thursday, October 25, 2007 3:24:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I think the scenario you have presented for what could have been from 2003 to now is plausible. I guess the difference in the way I see it is while you think the Lakers would have won at least 3 more titles, I'd say they would have won at the VERY most 3 more.

I still think that if a fully loaded Lakers team with Shaq and Kobe at their peaks was nearly knocked off by Portland and Sacramento, then a Lakers team with Kobe, an over-the-hill Shaq and a bunch of stiffs would be very beatable. It's tough to overstate the incompetence of the Lakers' front office since Jerry West left. I think a lack of a suitable supporting cast would have been a huge problem for the team, as it was in 2003 and 2004.

Anyway, is Shaq's delayed surgery of 2002 the only single incident you take issue with? I understand that incident had a ripple affect, but I am wondering if you think there was any other period of time when Shaq was not trying as hard as he could to win. For instance, were the Lakers' 2004 problems a result of a Shaq's delayed surgery and the resulting escalation of inner feuding, or do you also think that Shaq wasn't doing enough on the court during that time?

 
At Thursday, October 25, 2007 8:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I think that in this scenario--and in the one we discussed earlier about what might have happened if MJ had never retired--I place more value/emphasis on championship experience than you do. The Jackson-Shaq-Kobe trio accumulated a lot of championship experience from 2000-02. If Shaq is healthy in 2003 I very much believe that the Lakers would have won. The Lakers' supporting cast may have become a problem in subsequent years but the other teams would also have that nagging doubt about whether they could really beat the Lakers. A lot of Russell's teams won on narrow escapes and that did not stop them from winning year after year, so close margins in some of the Lakers' wins do not dissuade me from thinking that Shaq's misadventure with the surgery set in motion a series of events that ulimately cost them multiple rings.

The delayed surgery is the biggest single issue that I have regarding Shaq's career; I really believe that was the beginning of the end for the Lakers, because it led to that public war of words between Shaq and Kobe, opening a rupture that never really healed. In that sense, the aftermath of the surgery impacted subsequent seasons indirectly (it directly affected the 2003 season). Can you imagine Willis Reed saying that he got hurt on company time and that he planned to heal on company time? Look how hard MJ worked to come back in 1986 after he broke his foot--and he argued with team management to let him play earlier than they wanted him to return to action. That was just an asinine statement by Shaq. Then, when he came back out of shape he made another asinine statement about not guarding the house (playing defense) if he did not get fed (the ball). Just because everyone else seems to have forgotten that he said and did these things does not mean that I will disregard them. When people try to say that Shaq is a good teammate and Kobe is a bad one these situations are the first things that I think about. Both guys have king-size egos and both said/did things that they shouldn't have but only one of them had a laser focus on getting better and winning titles.

Shaq's attitude toward conditioning and playing defense has fluctuated during his career. When Jackson arrived in L.A. he was able to get Shaq motivated enough to get in shape and play defense; that motivation waxed and waned throughout the L.A. years. The same has been true with Shaq in Miami. The thing that I give Shaq the most credit for is that he has always been willing to go in the post and play with his back to the basket on offense; you never saw him facing up or shooting fadeaways. Therefore, even when his conditioning was not great he was usually still a force on offense; the problem was that he rested on defense, which is the opposite of what most coaches want to see.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 1:13:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree that Shaq was wrong in delaying the surgery, and his comments regarding the whole situation were pretty lame. I also agree with the various comments you have made regarding the unfair treatment that the whole Shaq/Kobe feud has gotten from the media.

I don't know how sure we can be that Shaq wasn't trying his best during the other years (meaning, not 2002-03). I agree that his defense has been inconsistent. However, maybe it's asking too much for him to consistently play at his peak on offense and defense. Let me explain. Shaq often had to work very hard on offense working against 2-3 people. I imagine that took a great amount of energy, and it's possible that Shaq simply didn't have enough energy to always play as well as he could on defense when had had to work so hard on offense. I think we've seen something similar happen with Kobe. Kobe is still an All-Defense performer, but most people who've followed him over the years would agree that his defense is more inconsistent nowadays than it was in the early part of the decade. The difference? The immense amount of energy Kobe must expend to get his shots off against double and triple coverage.

One might argue that if Shaq had been better conditioned, he would have had the energy required to always play at peak levels on both ends of the court. My answer to that would be that, first, even when Shaq was supposedly well-conditioned and playing well on defense, his defense was still inconsistent (I would say this even about the 2000 season which people always single out when talking about Shaq's defensive potential). Maybe with all he had to do on offense it just wasn't possible for him consistently be at his best on defense, no matter how well he was conditioned. Second, it is arguable that if Shaq had lost a lot of weight that he wouldn't have been as effective on offense.

So maybe it seemed like Shaq wasn't trying as hard on defense as he could, while he really was. Other great, physically imposing centers have been unjustly accused of loafing (Kareem's Airplane! cameo comes to mind). I don't know that it was absolutely true that Shaq did all he could, outside of 2002-03, but it is a possibility.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 1:21:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Championship experience is important, but I think it may be a bit overrated. For every example of a close playoff series being won by the experienced champions, one could find an example of a close playoff series where championship experience could not put a team over the top. For example, the 2007 Cavs-Pistons series, and the 2006 Spurs-Mavs series. One could say similar things about the 2004 Lakers-Pistons series. The point is, when a certain young, talented team's time comes, I'm not sure another equally talented team's experience will change that.

On the topic of the 2004 Finals, I think that provides a good glimpse of what life would have been like for the Lakers if Shaq stuck around. Shaq's conditioning issues that year were not any more than they normally were and he played well in the playoffs. The problem was the Lakers had no depth and their role players were no good. I guess one could argue that the chemistry was not as good as it was in the championship years (due to Shaq's 2002-03 actions). However, it's worth noting that 2002-03 was hardly the first time Shaq and Kobe had seriously feuded. I recall hearing Shaq had demanded a trade during the 2001 season, in fact. So whatever bad blood there was, I think the Lakers had experience playing through it, and it wasn't the deciding factor in the 2004 Finals.

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 6:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Two significant changes that Phil Jackson instituted when he took over the Lakers were running the Triangle Offense and insisting that Shaq get in good enough shape to be a force at both ends of the court. Jackson wanted Shaq running hard down the middle of the court so that he could catch the ball under the basket in transition and score before the other team could trap the guards or double-team Shaq. Shaq could not play this way for a whole game in previous years because he was not in good enough shape. Jackson also demanded that Shaq get in good enough shape to play hard on defense; Shaq's pick and roll defense was not great prior to Jackson's arrival. It is interesting to look back at how Jackson-coached teams dealt with Shaq from a strategic standpoint. Jackson tended to not double-team Shaq--going against conventional wisdom. Jackson's idea was akin to Ali's "Rope a Dope" versus Foreman and I recall Jackson even making such an analogy at one point: he'd let Shaq literally tire himself out by scoring a lot in the first half. In the second half, an out of shape Shaq would wear down and not be as effective offensively or defensively. Obviously, this did not always work--Shaq is a great player--and it worked better when the Bulls had Rodman's rebounding but Jackson identified Shaq's conditioning as a weakness in his game both when Jackson coached against him and when he became his coach. Shaq never won anything before Jackson arrived; I'm sure that other coaches told him to get in shape but Shaq did not respect them and disregarded their advice (another example of what a wonderful teammate he is). Shaq respected Jackson and did what Jackson told him to do and the results were immediate: three straight championships. So, one could make the case that you did in your comment but I strongly believe that the evidence points in the other direction.

The tension with Shaq and Kobe was worse in 2004 than it was during the title years. However, the biggest factor in 2004 was the injury to Karl Malone. People seem to have forgotten about this but Malone was an important part of the team and he hurt his knee before the Finals. That had a major impact on the Lakers.

The 2007 Pistons that the Cavs beat were not a three-time defending champion like the 2003 Lakers; the Pistons no longer have the head coach or starting center from their one and only championship team. Cleveland beating Detroit was an example of how one transcendently great player can take over a series. I'm not convinced that the Spurs' "time came" in 2003 as much as I believe that the Lakers got off to a bad start because of Shaq and never completely righted themselves.

Yes, Shaq and Kobe had been rumored to be feuding prior to the 2002-03 season but everything became more public and more vicious that year. Everyone is so brainwashed to believe that Kobe is the "selfish" one but Tex Winter was there for everything and if you read Roland Lazenby's accounts of that era, Winter and others mention how important it was to Shaq to be considered the number one guy and how jealous he was of Kobe and how he felt threatened by him. I know that people don't want to believe this or ask what did Shaq have to be jealous about but it is hard to deny this when not only Winter and others talk about it but Shaq proved it by publicly saying that he would not play defense if he did not get the ball more. Whatever people may think of how Kobe plays or how frequently he shoots I cannot remember ever hearing Kobe say that he would not play defense if he did not get the ball more often.

I don't know where people get this idea that I am "pro-Kobe" or "anti-Shaq"; I am just analyzing the game. I have written that Shaq should have won the 2005 MVP over Nash. Last year I predicted that the Heat would not miss Wade nearly as much as they had missed Shaq earlier in the season (and I was right). I don't think that Kobe is perfect, nor do I think that he has always been the best player in the NBA. I think that he has been the best player in the NBA the past two seasons. When he came into the league his shot selection was not great and his post defense needed work; that was actually probably his biggest weakness and if you think back to some of his early playoff series (and even in the first championship season), Pip, Steve Smith and Bonzi Wells had success posting up Kobe. This was not because Kobe was inattentive to defense--his perimeter defense was very good even back then--but rather because his body had not yet matured. Kobe worked hard in the weight room and on the court to become a stronger post defender. I don't see too many people pushing him around in the post now; he can even hold his own physically with LeBron, who is bigger and more broad shouldered. Kobe is wiry strong now and knows how to use his base to prevent being knocked off balance or out of position. Imagine if Shaq would have looked at his one or two weaknesses and attacked them with such vigor throughout his career.

 

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