It’s a tough question to ask now that Kobe Bryant has tragically passed away. Still, when he and Shaquille O’Neal were with the Los Angeles Lakers, many believed the dynasty fell short of living up to its full potential.
In turn, it results in the obvious question: How many titles should they have won as a duo if both stayed with the Lakers?
Shaq and Kobe captured three championships together from 2000 through 2002 during their time as teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers and went to four NBA Finals overall, losing to the Detroit Pistons in 2004. But did they sell themselves short?
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal Lakers Titles
O’Neal has said multiple times in the past that he and Bryant should have won six titles had they gotten along. Remember: the whole reason why the Lakers traded Shaq to the Miami Heat during the summer of 2004 was because he and Kobe simply could not see eye to eye, and their relationship was getting worse and worse with no signs of any type of resolution.
So let’s say everything was puppies and lollipops and rainbows between O’Neal and Bryant: how much more hardware would they currently own?
Well, I think people tend to forget the fact that Shaq was clearly on the decline by the time Los Angeles traded him. As a matter of fact, O’Neal only had one great year with the Heat before falling off a cliff.
He still remained a good player and was a pivotal piece in Miami’s title run in 2006, but he was a mere shell of the player he once was and was no longer a guy who could consistently dominate night in and night out.
Taking that into consideration, even if O’Neal and Bryant were perfectly fine with one another, it’s hard to imagine them having won any more than two more titles with one another.
Yes, Bryant was on the ascension at that point and actually hit his peak after Shaq was gone, so Bryant was probably good enough on his own to lead the Lakers to one more title after 2004, but what about the rest of the roster?
Lakers Title Chances Were Bleak
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were expensive, and Los Angeles would have had to find a way to fill out the rest of its team with those two guys eating up a ton of the franchise’s cap space.
That was perfectly fine during Shaq’s prime years, as you could put a bunch of cardboard cutouts on the floor with O’Neal and Bryant and they still would have been able to manage, but with O’Neal no longer able to carry that load anymore beyond 2004, it would have been difficult.
Also, let’s not disrespect the 2004 Pistons: that team was really, really good. They were tough, deep and remarkably dominant defensively, so even if Shaq and Kobe Bryant were clicking at that time, I’m not sure the Lakers would have beaten Detroit that year.
So, really, it’s entirely possible that three was the magic number for O’Neal and Bryant. Even if they got along swimmingly, father time is father time, and it began eating away at Shaq in 2003 (when LA lost in the second round of the playoffs) and never looked back.
A legitimate argument can even be made that the Lakers should not have even won the title in 2002, as it has been widely accepted by many that the Sacramento Kings were actually the best team in the league that year and were simply given a raw deal by the officials during that seven-game Western Conference Finals bloodbath.
Even then, it was clear that O’Neal was no longer the same player he was in 2000 and 2001, as his health was deteriorating and he had lost some of the freakish athleticism that made him such a dynamic, unstoppable force in the earlier stages of his career.
We can sit here and analyze all we want, but the fact of the matter is that we’ll never really know how many titles Shaq and Kobe “should” have won together, because if we are going to play that game, then we have to question if they even “should” have won in 2002.
Lakers What-If Scenarios Are Eh
Now, did O’Neal’s questionable work ethic cause his career to go downhill faster than it should have? Maybe, but we are also talking about a guy who was 7-foot-1 and around 350 pounds. There is a chance that no matter what O’Neal did, injuries would have hampered him anyway, because when you are that size, taking care of your body is not exactly easy.
And for those of you criticizing Shaq for being fat and out of shape? A lot of you are probably 5-foot-10 weighing 230 pounds and can’t even keep that weight off. So imagine, then, how difficult that is for a person of O’Neal’s gargantuan size.
Maybe Shaq should have worked harder and not been such a baby when it came to having to share the limelight with Kobe. And maybe Kobe should have been more unselfish as a teammate and passed the damn ball.
But their brash personalities made them who they were and were a significant reason why that Lakers team was as invincible as it was for a three-year stretch.
Shaq and Kobe Bryant won three championships in a row, which is something no team has accomplished since. Not even the Golden State Warriors.
That alone makes them worthy enough to celebrate without having to wonder how many Larry O’Briens they “should” have hoisted.