Kobe v. Shaq

 —  November 11, 2004

This blog got its start after the summer of turmoil, where Kobe stayed (and saw the rape charges dropped) while Shaq and Phil Jackson were shown the door. You can say its all in the past and that we need to move on, and you’d be right. But to me, in the same way you can’t properly understand the United States today unless you understand motivations and ramifications of the Civil War, you can’t understand this Laker team without understanding what happened last summer.

Here’s how I think it went down:

Last year for the Super Bowl, we know that Jerry Buss went to Kobe’s to watch the game. By the time he was driving home (if not before he went), having won or lost more money on Adam Vinatieri’s kick than I make in a year, it became clear to Dr. Buss that next year he was not going to be able to keep Kobe, Shaq and Phil Jackson and make another run the Larry O’Brien trophy.

That left two choices for Buss: 1) Keep Shaq and Jackson, use the money freed up by Kobe leaving plus the drawing power of Shaq to bring in some free agent talent, and make a run at the title for a few more years, after which there would be a three year or so rebuilding period where the team would not make the playoffs; 2) Keep Kobe and jettison Shaq and Phil, putting the team out of championship contention for a couple of years but not out of the playoffs, and rebuild around the 25-year-old star.

Thing is, if you listen to those close to Buss (such as his daughter and team president Jeanie, who talked about this in a radio interview) there really was no choice — Buss can’t stand the idea of missing the playoffs for that long. He loves the action, the excitment of the post season, she said, and that he would not trade three years of missing the playoffs to win another title or two. Besides that motivation, the business side of him said building around a 25-year-old rather than an aging big man was the smart move. Plus, Buss has a personal affection for Kobe, in some ways like he did for Magic. With all those factors, the decision was made.

The process started back in the middle of the last NBA season, and Shaq and Phil read the writing on the wall. When it was all said and done Mitch Kupchak got the best deal he could, not a great one but the best he was going to find. Phil wrote a book. Shaq bought Ronnie Seikaly’s old house.

I’m not sure that’s a fairly tale happy ending, but I think that’s why and how it went down. That’s what got us to where we are today.

Now, let us speak of this ugliness no more and move forward.