If I owned the Lakers, I would never trade Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal is the most dominating player in the NBA. Teams wait a lifetime to get somebody like him. You don't give him up just because he petulantly announces, "I don't want to play here anymore."
The Lakers have Shaq under contract for one more season. I would keep him right there. If Shaq didn't play for me, so be it. (Though I surely think he would play, because the only way to get paid the $27 million that's due him is to play.) But I would not let Shaq play for anybody else -- and beat me.
And even if I thought it best to trade Shaq, I never would do it this soon. I'd listen to offers from now through January before I pulled the trigger. The only good thing for the Lakers now in trading Shaq to Miami is that they'll get Shaq out of the Western Conference, so he can't haunt them until the NBA Finals. Everything else is bad for the Lakers.
It should go without saying that you never get close to equal value when you trade a superstar. That's especially true in the NBA, where one player has such a disproportionate effect on a team. Above all teams the Lakers should know this, from their own history: Nearly 30 years ago, a few years after winning a championship for the Bucks, a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said he didn't want to play in Milwaukee anymore. The Bucks accommodated Kareem by trading him to the Lakers for four nice players. And the Bucks have never been to the NBA Finals since.
What will the Lakers get back for Shaq from Miami? Lamar Odom, a nice all-around player, who won't get lost on the drive to Staples Center, since he remembers the way from the last time he played in L.A., for the Clippers. Brian Grant, an undersized journeyman center who tries hard. And Caron Butler, a nice young forward. Had the Lakers gotten these three for Gary Payton and Karl Malone, they would have made a killing. But for Shaq? The Bucks got some nice players for Abdul-Jabbar. Nice doesn't feed the bulldog.
I've read all about how Shaq hates Kobe, and how the Lakers infuriated Shaq by making it obvious they preferred Kobe over him. Yeah? And?
Kobe is a free agent right now. Of course, I'd do whatever I could to keep him.
Again, I've got Shaq under contract for one more season. I'd say to him: "I know you loved Phil Jackson. But Phil's gone. In his place we brought in Rudy Tomjanovich, who is known far and wide as a players' coach. He won two championships in Houston. No active coach in the league has won more. Rudy will run the offense through you, just as he ran it through Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston. I know you think Kobe is a selfish little egomaniac. Maybe he is. But you need to remember the pressure he was under this season. Kobe is about to go on trial for sexual assault. That weighs on him so heavily that I think we have to look at everything he said and did as a teammate this season with that in mind, and cut him some slack. By next season he'll either be in jail, or freed from this burden. Kobe will be a totally different person next season. He'll be much easier to get along with. Can't we try to work this out? To quote another L.A. guy, 'Can't we all just get along?' Give it a couple of months. If you still hate it here by January, I'll move you."
And I would say to Kobe: "Okay, we made you happy by moving Phil Jackson out. Now you worry about you. Shaq isn't going anywhere. The two of you won three championships together. Why don't you appreciate what a godsend it is to play with a big man like Shaq, and let's win a fourth?"
At least that's what I'd try before trading Shaq.
Look at the history of the NBA, you'll see how important a great big man is. Go back to George Mikan, then Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, up through Willis Reed, Wes Unseld, Dave Cowens, Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Moses Malone, Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Shaq. Every one a Hall of Famer, now, or inevitably. If a center wasn't the best player on a few championship teams, he was critically important, like Bill Laimbeer on Isiah Thomas's Pistons, and Robert Parish on Larry Bird's Celtics. Only Rick Barry's Warriors and Michael Jordan's Bulls had marginal big men. (Ben Wallace may not be a scorer, but on a defensive team like the Pistons, Wallace is clearly their most important player.)
If I owned the Lakers, you bet I'd try to re-sign Kobe; he's the best all-court player in the NBA. But is he enough to build a championship team around? Is he Jordan?
Miami, on the other hand, should be ecstatic. Not only will Shaq's celebrity fill up their half-empty arena the way Michael Jordan did in Washington, but the Heat will instantly become a contender for the Eastern Conference championship. The East is a far easier road to navigate than the West. As long as it has Shaq and Dwyane Wade, the Heat can get to the second round of the playoffs with Manny, Moe and Jack.
If this trade goes through, only Detroit and Indiana loom above Miami. But will Detroit keep Rasheed Wallace? Will anybody on the Pacers develop the onions to haul the team through the playoffs? Shaq could carry Miami to the NBA Finals by himself. Having coached Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, Pat Riley has to be drooling all over his Armani suits at getting Shaq. Riley is probably already angling for a way to strap Stan Van Gundy into an ejection seat, blast him into orbit and coach the Heat himself.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, before the Mike Krzyzewski story broke, when it was reported that Riley was in L.A. talking to Mitch Kupchak? Everyone assumed they were talking about the possibility of Riley going back to L.A. to coach the Lakers. Maybe not. Maybe Riley was just going back to fleece them out of Shaquille O'Neal.