Though I’d think Dwayne Wade’s Jordan-esque performances would be more fun to obsess over, the Palm Beach Post’s Karen Crouse suggests that the Lakers made the right choice in picking Kobe over Shaquille O’Neal.
The Heat is deep into the playoffs and The Big Diesel is in the shop. In the Heat’s Eastern Conference semifinal four-game sweep of the Washington Wizards, O’Neal sat out the first two postseason games of his 13-year career, begging the question:
Was Jerry Buss right?
Buss ” or “that old man,” as O’Neal referred to him recently in a USA Today story ” is the Lakers’ owner who decided last summer that if he couldn’t keep both his superstars, he’d go with sizzle over size.
He paid a mint to keep Kobe Bryant, who is six years younger than O’Neal, and traded O’Neal to Miami. Call him deluded ” you wouldn’t be the first ” but Buss had the feeling O’Neal was a farewell tour waiting to happen.
Instead it was the Lakers that everybody waved bye-bye to this spring after they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. While Bryant stumbled under the weight of his ego, O’Neal led the Heat to the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference and mentored superstar-in-waiting Dwyane Wade.
O’Neal got to crow first. But who’s to say Buss won’t end up crowing last?
It could happen. Imagine Phil Jackson returning to coach the Lakers and Bryant allowing himself to be coached and the dynamism of Jackson luring a strapping free agent, say, Cleveland’s 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, to L.A.
O’Neal’s value to the Heat has been immeasurable, his presence immense. Wade may be the engine driving the team but O’Neal is the fuel. If he’s not good to go against Detroit or Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals, it’s going to end badly for the Heat.
And then what?
During his introductory news conference last July, O’Neal promised Miami he’d deliver an NBA championship to the city.
He didn’t say when. But you have to believe that O’Neal, at age 33, is on the clock.
He dropped a lot of weight and became a devout gym-goer because he wanted to prove Buss wrong. O’Neal got himself in great shape and his body still betrayed him.
O’Neal told USA Today that Buss “is not man enough to look in the mirror and say he (messed) up.”
Not to be contrary, but maybe, just maybe, upon further reflection Buss won’t have to.
There are more holes in Crouse’s premise than there are in Charlie Pickett’s underwear. Miami are 8 wins away from their first title, and even at 70%, Shaq is more than a match for anyone the remaining field can line up against him. The Lakers have a shot-hog, psuedo GM in Kobe, a bunch of parts that don’t fit, and not nearly enough balls in the lottery.