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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Will This be Remembered as the Tim Duncan Era or the Shaquille O'Neal Era?

After the L.A. Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat prior to the 2004-05 season, I asserted that the deal would only be a success for Miami if the Heat won a championship. Otherwise, O'Neal, who is making $20 million a year, would be perhaps the most overpaid player in the NBA. While Pat Riley may have originally dreamed that the O'Neal/Wade duo would win multiple titles, it must be said that winning the 2006 championship makes the O'Neal trade worth it for the Heat, regardless of what happens subsequently. As for the Lakers, in theory they traded O'Neal in order to rebuild around Kobe Bryant and eventually contend for championships. While the Heat had a small window--which is most likely shut now--to win with O'Neal, the Lakers realized that they were taking a step back in order to (hopefully) take several steps forward. Needless to say, that plan has gone awry; the Lakers are not much better now than they were three years ago and Bryant is so disgusted by the team's direction that he wants out. If the Lakers don't trade him then he surely will leave as soon as he can become a free agent.

It would seem that O'Neal has "won" and Bryant has "lost" but the reality is a little more complicated. O'Neal certainly "won" the short term battle by capturing a ring without Bryant--but Bryant still has several more top level seasons ahead of him and will likely have an opportunity to win a ring as a leader of a team without O'Neal as soon as he is surrounded by a worthy supporting cast in L.A. or elsewhere. If Bryant wins a title without O'Neal, history is not going to care much that O'Neal got his fourth ring first. Meanwhile, a third party has actually emerged as the biggest winner in the aftermath of the O'Neal trade: Tim Duncan.

To understand why this is the case, we have to travel back in time to the summer of 2002. Duncan had just won his first regular season MVP award but O'Neal and Bryant led the Lakers to a 4-1 Western Conference semifinals victory over Duncan's San Antonio Spurs en route to their third straight NBA title. O'Neal finished third in MVP voting and Bryant placed fifth. The Lakers had beaten the Spurs 4-0 in the 2001 Western Conference Finals and at that time there seemed to be no reason to believe that Duncan and the Spurs were a big threat to the Lakers. The O'Neal-Bryant duo had already captured three championships while Duncan's lone title came in the lockout-shortened 1999 season when Bryant was just a third year player and the Lakers went through three different head coaches (Del Harris, Bill Bertka, Kurt Rambis); the hiring of Phil Jackson as the Lakers head coach during that offseason proved to be the decisive factor in molding the O'Neal-Bryant tandem into a championship winning machine.

It was no secret that O'Neal and Bryant were hardly the best of friends off the court but on the court they presented presented a formidable challenge: two of the top five players in the league, one a dominant inside presence and the other an unstoppable perimeter scorer who also played top notch defense. Then, at what should have been the peak of their partnership, it all began to unravel. O'Neal suffered a toe injury that could have been mended by surgery early in the summer of 2002 but O'Neal did not want to spend his offseason rehabbing, saying "I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time." He elected to have the surgery shortly before training camp, missed the early part of the season and was not in top shape even when he returned to action. Bryant stepped to the forefront with the best season of his career to that point, averaging 30.0 ppg (second in the NBA) and being voted to the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team while finishing third in MVP voting (O'Neal placed a distant fifth). O'Neal, who averaged 27.5 ppg in relinquishing the team scoring lead to Bryant for the first time, was not at all pleased to be the second option on offense and he publicly stated that if the big dog was not fed (the ball) then he would not guard the house (play defense in the paint). Bryant retorted that if O'Neal got himself in sufficient shape to run up and down the court then he would get the ball more often. While the two stars may have had a contentious behind the scenes relationship prior to that time, this is when their feud really became public. The issue was NOT Bryant refusing to accept a "sidekick" role--he did that very well during three title runs--but O'Neal getting hurt and out of shape and then being unwilling to serve, temporarily at least, as the second option on offense.

The Lakers got off to a bad start without O'Neal and did not look great initially even when he came back. They were only 21-23 at the end of January. Bryant averaged over 40 ppg in February--including nine straight 40-point games, during which the Lakers went 7-2--as the Lakers went 11-3 and made a late run for a playoff berth. They finished the season 50-32, which was only good enough for the fifth seed. That meant that they would not have home court advantage in any round of the playoffs as they embarked on their title defense. The Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in six games in the first round but the Spurs used the home court advantage to gain a 2-0 lead over the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, took a close Game Five victory at home and then closed out the series in six. The Lakers' championship run was over, while Duncan and the Spurs went on to claim their second title.

In the aftermath of the disappointing 2003 season, the Lakers made several personnel changes; Robert Horry was not re-signed and ended up with the Spurs and the Lakers brought aboard aging veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Malone proved to be a solid addition to the team but injuries rendered him ineffective in the later stages of the playoffs, while Payton never felt comfortable in the Triangle Offense and seemed to have lost several steps defensively. Unlike O'Neal the previous year, Bryant had surgery in the offseason so that he would be ready to play when the season began--but while Bryant was in Eagle, Colorado he became embroiled in an infamous and well documented situation that further complicated matters on the team. Bryant would have to fly back and forth to Colorado to deal with legal matters concerning a rape charge against him that was ultimately dismissed and he seemed to take it as a personal challenge to prove that he could play well despite everything that was swirling around him, delivering some amazing performances in games that were played on the same days that he traveled to Colorado. The Lakers were hardly a harmonious group but they beat the defending champion Spurs 4-2 in the Western Conference semifinals before eventually losing to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

After the 2004 season, Malone retired, the Lakers traded Payton and Lakers owner Jerry Buss elected to trade O'Neal to Miami instead of extending O'Neal's contract for maximum dollars and maximum years. Buss made it very clear that he did not want to spend so much money that he would have to pay the "luxury tax" and he also said that O'Neal's failure to stay in shape--which made him more susceptible to injuries as he aged--figured most prominently in his calculations.

What does this trip down memory lane tell us? One, even while O'Neal and Bryant feuded, they still combined to beat Duncan's Spurs twice in three playoff meetings between 2002 and 2004, winning one title and making it to another Finals, while Duncan's only championship during that time came in the season that O'Neal derailed with his late surgery and rehabilitation. Two, since the Lakers traded O'Neal the Spurs have won two championships in three seasons and came within an overtime loss in game seven to the Dallas Mavericks of possibly claiming a third championship; it should be added that Duncan was battling plantar fasciitis throughout those 2006 playoffs.

The bottom line is that the O'Neal-Bryant tandem is the only force that was consistently able to stop a healthy Duncan during his postseason career. Here is a look at how the Spurs have fared in the playoffs during Duncan's 10 seasons:

1998: Lost 4-1 in Western Conference semifinals to defending Western Conference champion Utah Jazz.

1999: Won championship.

2000: Duncan missed playoffs due to injury; Spurs lost 4-1 to Suns in first round.

2001: Swept by O'Neal-Bryant Lakers in Western Conference Finals.

2002: Lost 4-1 to O'Neal-Bryant Lakers in Western Conference semifinals.

2003: Beat O'Neal-Bryant Lakers 4-2 in Western Conference semifinals.

2004: Lost to O'Neal-Bryant Lakers 4-2 in Western Conference semifinals.

2005: Won championship.

2006: Lost to Mavericks 4-3 in Western Conference semifinals.

2007: Won championship.

O'Neal has won a title since leaving L.A. and Bryant has perhaps a five year window to lead a team to a championship--but Duncan has won two titles in three seasons since the O'Neal-Bryant duo was broken up and he may yet win more. If O'Neal had not waited to have his toe surgery five years ago would the Lakers have won enough regular season games to earn home court advantage over the Spurs in that year's playoffs? Would the Lakers have then beaten the Spurs and eventually "four-peated"? Would Buss have then decided to re-sign O'Neal, even if he had to pay the luxury tax--or would O'Neal have been more willing to sign the shorter contract extension that Buss offered? It is not inconceivable that instead of sitting on four titles that O'Neal could now have five or six. The championship program under Phil Jackson's direction was already in place; when O'Neal went to Miami the team had to shuffle its roster and change coaches before ascending to the top. Jim Cleamons, an assistant coach on those Lakers' teams, puts it best: "You look at how Shaquille handled the situation in Miami (with Dwyane Wade). If either (Kobe or Shaq) had been willing to be the people they are today, the Lakers probably would have been back and won two more championships. I wish I knew why Shaquille would bend to a second year player (Wade) and say, 'I'm going to help you and help this team win a championship and take a back seat.' Why he was unwilling to do that with Kobe, I have no idea. But from his behaviors and what he's said and done in Miami, I would have to surmise, not knowing the exact reason why, that it had to be the personalities. For some reason or another, he couldn't go to Kobe and say, 'I'm willing to play off you now. You don't have to play off of me. And we can still make a very viable one-two punch'" (that quote can be found on page 149 of Bill Woten's excellent book Game Seven: Inside the NBA's Ultimate Showdown). Instead, the "two more championships" referred to by Cleamons have been won by Duncan, who will now likely receive top billing for a period that would otherwise have been known as O'Neal's era. Ironically, while O'Neal mended on "company time" and fumed at the thought of sharing credit for winning with Bryant he enabled Duncan to slip past him on history's marquee.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:02 AM



At Tuesday, June 26, 2007 9:12:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

(Disclaimer: I'm a Spurs fan)

I guess your piece comes down to a Rorshach test of how you view the progression of the Spurs series' against the Lakers.

My opinion: Not all 4-2 series are equal. If Derek Fisher's miracle shot had not gone in, the Spurs would clearly have won in 2004.

After the Lakers' last championship, time was the Spurs' friend. Manu & Parker got better & Shaq got worse. Or, viewed another way: a key matchup was Mitch Kupchak vs RC Bufurd.

Shaq did get his ring with the Heat, but he was clearly not the same Shaq.

Also, you didn't mention the Spurs sweep of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in 1999. IOW, "1999: Won championship." should be changed to "1999: Won championship. Swept O'Neal-Bryant Lakers in Western Conference semifinals." to be parallel with the other entries.

At Tuesday, June 26, 2007 11:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

this was shaq era no doubt even in 03 when he was out of shape they were a robert horry in and out from being up 3 to 2 and takien the series. shaq beat him 3 of 4 years, and in 04 the lakers made the finals, so if the lakers would of kept it together theres no doubt they would be a dynasty. but it was an ego and a dumb owner bad move that lost it for them and now there a franchise in limbo while the spurs are looking for 5 and 10 years i bet you the lakers would do it over they would of kept shaq if they seen the last 3 years coming especially kobe.

At Tuesday, June 26, 2007 3:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make some valid points. Certainly, the Spurs' management has done a better job of building and maintaining a team that the Lakers' management has, particularly in the past three or four years.

I don't necessarily agree that the Spurs would have won in 2004 no matter what. The championship era Lakers were pushed to seven games by the Kings and still found a way to win.

In the text of the article I mentioned that Duncan's Spurs bested Shaq and Kobe in 1999 but I noted that Jackson was not the coach and that Kobe was just a third year player at the time--my point being that once Jackson became the coach and Kobe matured as a player that the Lakers were a very formidable adversary for the Spurs. If Jackson had not become the Lakers coach then I don't think that the Lakers would have won any titles, let alone three straight, which in my opinion makes the 1999 series a separate entity from the 2002-2004 confrontations between the Spurs and Lakers. My contention is that the tide shifted in 2002 with Shaq's delayed surgery and that this started the downhill process that culminated in the breakup of the Lakers' team. Obviously, multiple factors were involved but that bad (by Lakers' standards) 2002-03 season set everything in motion because the Shaq-Kobe combination was volatile and worked much more smoothly when the team was winning.

At Tuesday, June 26, 2007 3:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Buss' move backfired in terms of winning titles but he felt that he had no choice based on how much money Shaq wanted combined with Shaq's questionable work habits. My point is that if Shaq had worked harder, particularly in '03, then the team may have kept winning and that when contract time came up then Buss and Shaq may have been able to find a middle ground to keep the team together. People forget that Buss did offer Shaq a contract in '04, just not a max deal for max years; Buss did not want to be on the hook for a 37-38 year old Shaq at $20 million/year but was willing to pay Shaq $20 million/year for a shorter period of time. If Shaq had stayed in shape and the Lakers had won in '03 (and maybe again in '04) perhaps Buss would have been willing to add a year or perhaps Shaq would have been willing to accept a year less, just to keep the team together. The way it actually happened, the Lakers did not win in '03 or '04, Shaq and Buss feuded publicly about the money (which did not get widely reported because the media preferred to criticize Kobe) and when it came time to deal with Shaq neither side was much in the mood to compromise or consider the other side's needs.

At Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

shaq was in shape in 04 he should added the years to something they could compromise the deal backfired in winning championships is what im talking about and that is what it is about not trying to save money and not get out the firstround.

shaq was the number 1 guy he got most of the credit for the lakers sucess i dont know what youre talking about not shareing the spotlight. the spotlight was on him by most, not on kobe as much and i dont think kobe liked that then so he wanted the respect shaq was getting from peers across the league and the media and wanted to lead his team to championships.

kobe has never really been liked as a person so it's not like it easy to get along with. and not too many other players on that team liked him anyway but if you ask about shaq they all say they loved him. to say shaq was jealous or couldnt share is not true thats what kobe bryant was.

unlike pippen did with jordan he knew he was great but jordan got most of the credit on the team and for pip career stupidly i might add for his career at least. but pip wasn't jealous or at no time did he want to be the man or want out of chicago for any reson and he got 6 rings. kobe could of been like that with shaq if he would a sacrifice more and not worry about who was getting the credit. he didnt he wanted to prove he could win a ring without shaq and hey david it's backfired so far.

remember kobe still sitting on 3 rings shaq got 4 and a conference finals appereance and kobe has not won a playoff series so ifed themselves anyone played themselves it was kobe not shaq.

duncan-shaq the lakers organization made the mistake of not resigning him with infleunce from kobe which led too the demise and the spurs picking up 2 rings head to head in the playoffs with phil jackson they were 3-1 agianst spurs shaq is better player it's his era period

At Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

my spelling terible im a street dude

At Wednesday, June 27, 2007 12:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What I am saying is that the whole deal with Shaq's late surgery/rehab snapped the Lakers' run of titles and they never won another one after that. Shaq being hurt and out of shape thrust Kobe into the number one spot for one season and Shaq did not like that at all and that brought their feud more out into the open then it had ever been before. It is my contention that the team was never the same after 2002-03. For one thing, the air of invincibility is a fragile thing. The Lakers won three straight titles and even though they had some tough series no one could beat them; once the champ loses, it is not always easy to get that swagger back.

Shaq has a fourth ring because he went to a contending team and helped to put it over the top. If/when Kobe has a decent supporting cast then he too will make it to the conference finals and contend for championship rings. No one can do it all by himself--not MJ, not Shaq and not Kobe.

I repeat again that it makes no sense for you, members of the national media or anyone else to say that Kobe influenced Buss' decision or did not do enough to change Buss' mind when none of the principals involved--Buss, Kobe, Jackson or Shaq--says this. Bring some evidence or come up with a different argument, because that one simply does not fly.

I agree that Kobe embraced the challenge of trying to win without Shaq after that situation presented itself--what other choice did Kobe have but to embrace the challenge--but that is a lot different from orchestrating the whole thing. Clearly, Kobe expected more help to arrive and after three years of waiting he wants out. He is not foolish enough to believe that he can win a title by himself.

As for whether Shaq or Duncan is a better player--that is not the issue I discussed in the post. I asked whether this will be remembered as Duncan's era or Shaq's era. They have won the same number of championships right now but Duncan is younger, healthier and on a better team. If Duncan leads the Spurs to a fifth title, then he will be remembered as the dominant figure of the post-Jordan era regardless of whether or not he is "better" or "more dominant" than Shaq. I happen to think that Shaq, at least in his prime, was certainly more dominant than Duncan but I also think that Shaq has not been as consistently dedicated as Duncan has been and that this ultimately will cost Shaq from a historical standpoint. If the Lakers won the 2003 championship then Shaq would have been leading Duncan 4-1 at that point. I doubt that the Lakers would have been broken up after that and the final count would probably be something like 6-1 (or 2) in Shaq's favor. It is also possible that if the Spurs kept losing to the Lakers that they would have broken up their nucleus (getting rid of Manu or Parker, not Duncan) and who knows what might have happened after that. Instead of this era belonging to Shaq in a rout he now at best shares top billing with Duncan and will probably be pushed aside in a year or two. That is why I say that whether or not Shaq feels like he had the last laugh over the Lakers and/or Kobe it is in fact Duncan who is having the last laugh over everyone.

At Thursday, June 28, 2007 3:30:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Certainly Shaq comes out as a loser from all the turmoil the Lakers went through during his last few years with the team. It's not often these days that you can get two of the top five players in the league on the same team, and the Lakers had a golden opportunity to build the most consistent winner since the Russellian Celtics.

However, I think such success would have depended almost as much on the Lakers' ability to surround Shaq and Kobe with quality role players as it would have on Shaq's drive to stay in shape and Shaq and Kobe's ability to coexist peacefully. Certainly, if Shaq had stayed in shape, the Lakers would have had a good chance to beat the Spurs in 2003. But consider the following scenario: Shaq and Kobe stay together after 2004, Shaq continues to age and decline, and the Lakers management (due to paying two players such huge money and their overall incompetance) is unable to surround their stars with adequate role players. As Thumbyte said, Ginobili and Parker have only gotten better since 2004, and Shaq would have only declined (and, as I said, the Lakers would probably have little depth). I think a lack of depth was a huge problem for the Lakers in 2003, so I think it is very possible that the Spurs could have beaten a Lakers team featuring Shaq and Kobe after 2004.

I think your arguement bears some similarities to another arguement people like to make: the Rockets wouldn't have won any championships if Michael Jordan hadn't retired (and the Bulls would have won 8 straight titles). A lot can change about a team from one year to the next, and it's not given that what works one year will continue to work for several more. I think you have to take into account what can change or go wrong. For example, looking at the 76ers from 1983 (or even 1976-1983), who would have guessed they'd lose in the first round in 1984? Or if you only look at the Lakers from 1985, 1987 and 1988, it would seem ridiculous that they got thorougly beaten in five games in 1986 by a Rockets team which disappeared for the rest of the decade.

One last thing. With the exception of Russell's Celtics, I don't think any team in history won as many titles as it could have if not for a combination of egos and injuries getting in the way. Though they could have done more, what the Shaq/Kobe Lakers accomplished (a three-peat and four finals appearances) is still very remarkable. Many other great teams experienced less success before egos and injures tore them apart (Wilt Chamberlain's late 60s 76er teams come to mind).

At Thursday, June 28, 2007 6:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You certainly present a plausible scenario in terms of the Lakers' lack of depth perhaps catching up to them even if Shaq had stayed in better physical condition. Obviously, both your scenario and mine are purely hypothetical. However, I still think that mine is a bit more realistic. Duncan never led the Spurs to a title--or past the Shaq/Kobe Lakers--when the Jackson-Shaq-Kobe trio was at full strength. While it is possible that other things could have popped up to derail the Lakers' dynasty even if Shaq had stayed in shape, I think that it is more likely that that team would have won at least two more titles.

It's funny--by coincidence I just stumbled upon an old Sports Illustrated issue from right after the Lakers won the 2002 title; Jack McCallum wrote about how the Lakers seem invincible and how they could be just at the beginning of a long streak of titles since Kobe was only 23 and Shaq was only 30. McCallum felt that the Lakers had a real chance to challenge the post-Russell mark of six titles won by the MJ-Pip Bulls.

Sure, it's possible that something else could have derailed the Lakers but it is my opinion that this is a less likely scenario than the Lakers continuing to dominate if Shaq had taken care of his injury and not waited for "company time" to do so.

I also think that it is quite wrong that the national media never really brought much attention to this issue, instead focusing on rumors, innuendos and fluff. Kobe is far from perfect but one thing that he has always done is work hard; the same cannot be said of Shaq and that, as much as any other single reason, brought the curtain down prematurely on the Lakers' dynasty.

You are right that a three-peat along with a fourth Finals appearance is actually better than what many other teams achieved but Shaq had an opportunity to perhaps go down as the second greatest winner in NBA history behind Russell. The funny thing is that he had such a petulant attitude about Kobe but if Shaq would have worked harder and stayed in L.A. then he undoubtedly would have gotten the lion's share of the credit for however many titles the Lakers went on to win, even if his skills declined somewhat. Instead, he ended up in Miami, basically rode Wade's coattails to one more ring and now is watching Duncan stamp his name on the post-Jordan era. If Kobe goes somewhere and leads a team to a title then Shaq's "victory" over the Lakers will be truly hollow.

At Thursday, June 28, 2007 4:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

based on the fact that shaq has won 4 and duncan won 4 shaq beat him 3 of 4 times im going to say it is shaq era. now youre right tim duncan got the last laugh now over shaq and kobe. but shaq dont care i dont think shaq care about kobe anymore he dont like buss and glad he got the last laugh on him. him kobe seemed to patch things up now so he's not really tripping off that anymore his situation is with buss and kupchak and i think he likes the way it turned out.

At Sunday, October 07, 2007 5:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop saying Shaq "beat Duncan 3-1."

In the playoffs, Shaq owns the slight edge over Duncan at 3-2. Let's enumerate their meetings:

1999: Duncan sweeps the Shaq-Kobe Lakers enroute to his first title.

2001: Shaq sweeps Duncan enroute to his second title.

2000: Duncan injured, does not play in playoffs, Spurs lose in first round to the Phoenix Suns

2002: Shaq beats Duncan 4-1 enroute to his third title

2003: Duncan beats Shaq 4-2 enroute to his second title.

By the way, here is an OBJECTIVE comparison of their careers I posted on another site:

Lets take it to the scorecard as it stands right NOW:

titles: Shaq 4, Duncan 4
finals mvps: Shaq 3, duncan 3
season mvps: Shaq 1, Duncan 2
1st team all nba: Shaq 7, Duncan 9
1st team all defense: Shaq 0, Duncan 7 (Shaq only has 3 2nd team all defense!)
Shaq career: 25.9ppg, 11.6 rpg, 2.8apg, 2.8bpg
Duncan Career: 21.8 ppg, 11.9rpg, 3.2apg, 2.4bpg

Now lets discuss the obvious. Shaq has been in the league 5 more years than Duncan, but only has but both are even in titles (4), both even in finals mvps (3), Duncan with one more season mvp at 2-1. Here is where it gets shocking: Shaq has been in the league over 14+ years, but only 7 first team all nba elections? That a mere 50%! Also, Shaq has never, not even once been voted first team all defense- with only 3, count it 3 total 2ND TEAM all defense selections! Wow! He's a bigger defensive liability than Steve Nash! Even with all this "dominant" scoring, career wise he leads Duncan by only four points in career average! It is obvious that all you who swear by Shaq's dominance have been utterly duped!

Anyone please look at these numbers and prove Shaq is better than Duncan! According to their career numbers and stats, Duncan is already ahead of Shaq, and its not even close!

Again: Tim Duncan is FAR AND AWAY the greater player than Shaq.

At Sunday, October 07, 2007 7:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You seem to have misread my entire article. My point is that in light of recent events this is likely to be remembered as the Tim Duncan Era. I never said that Shaq beat Duncan 3-1; I said that the Shaq-Kobe duo at one time enjoyed a three to one title edge over Duncan--and I speculated that if Shaq and Kobe had stayed together that this duo may very well have continued to maintain a title edge over Duncan.

I was not focusing on whether Shaq is better than Duncan or vice versa in terms of head to head stats; I was focusing on which player's name will most likely be attached to this era. After the Lakers won their third straight title you would have had a hard time convincing anyone that the post-Jordan era would be defined as belonging to anyone other than Shaq (part of the reason for that is that Kobe did not get enough credit for his contributions, as I have noted in other posts). If Shaq would have not had surgery "on company time" the Lakers may very well have kept winning and perhaps Buss would have never dealt him. That is what I am talking about.

In terms of a head to head comparison between Shaq and Duncan it is important to remember that they play different positions. People can dispute this all that they want, but Duncan is a power forward and Shaq is a center. This is particularly significant in light of your argument, which relies heavily on All-NBA and All-Defensive selections; there are two forward slots on each All-NBA and All-Defensive Team and only one center slot and Shaq and Duncan have never been vying head to head for any of those honors.

As for some of your other comments:

**A 4 ppg scoring average difference is more significant than you suggest. In addition, Shaq has a much higher field goal percentage, although Duncan's is very good.

**I have criticized Shaq's defense on many occasions but to suggest that he is a liability on the level of Steve Nash is going a bit too far. For one thing, in the championship years Shaq did play good defense, particularly in Jackson's first year in L.A.

**It is laughable to call yourself objective and then say that Duncan is "far and away" the greater player than Shaq. I don't think that any serious, objective NBA analyst would make such a statement. That is the fan in you speaking, which is fine, but don't call that an "objective" assessment.

I have stated repeatedly that I believe that Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time. However, in the "legacy" competition between he and Shaq, Duncan benefits greatly from the premature breakup of the Lakers, the only team that consistently posed a real threat to his Spurs. If Shaq had not decided to have surgery "on company time" the Lakers would probably have won at least two more titles and the Spurs very possibly would not have won a title after 1999. An objective observer would notice that the Spurs won their first title before Jackson arrived in L.A. and their second title after the debacle with Shaq's toe/conditioning; that is when the Laker decline began. Duncan's Spurs never beat the Shaq/Kobe/Jackson Lakers when that team was at full strength.


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