The 2003-04 LA Lakers, featuring Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, are considered one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history.The lineup was made up of four Hall-of-Famers and the team were heavy favorites to capture another title that year.The heavily-retooled team had the potential to start another three-year run at the championship.
The popular belief behind the 2004 LA Lakers’ embarrassing loss to the underdog Detroit Pistons was the inability of the whole team to play as a unit. While that may be true to some extent, the real story could be simpler than mastering the intricacies of Phil Jackson’s triangle.Sports Illustrated senior NBA writer Howard Beck, in an episode of “The Ringer’s NBA Show,” explicitly pinned the blame on two warring superstars.
“In those finals, Kobe at that time had the worst field-goal percentage of any postseason series of his career and he was forcing it. And Shaq was shooting at a high percentage, he wasn’t as effective as he had been a couple of years earlier, but still, Shaq was still dominant.”
“Those two are the reason that they didn’t win… It wasn’t the failure of a super team, it was really the failure of Shaq and Kobe.”
“Kobe’s going 1 on 5, he’s ignoring Shaq. Shaq and Kobe, of all the ups and downs they have, when they would come together and be on the same page, they were unbeatable.”
In the 2004 NBA Finals, only Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant averaged double figures for the LA Lakers. Shaq had 26.6 PPG while Bryant posted 22.6 PPG. However, the disparity in field-goal attempts and the efficiency of the shots support Beck’s analysis.
The“Big Diesel” took only 84 attempts, making 53 of them for an outstanding 63.1%. On the other hand, the “Black Mamba” had 113 shots, hitting only 43 of them for a horrific 38.1% efficiency. Had there been a concerted effort to involve Shaq and play off of him when the double teams came, the series would have been more competitive.
Basketballhistory could have been a lot more different had the star-studded LA Lakers, led by Shaq and Bryant, managed to grab another title. A second three-peat would have been a big possibility, considering that their two superstars were unstoppable as a duo.
The 2004 Detroit Pistons were deserving champions after beating the Shaq and Kobe LA Lakers
The underdog Detroit Pistons nearly swept the star-studded LA Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Howard Beck has a very interesting analysis of the team that ended the Shaq and Kobe partnership in Hollywood. He said:
“This idea that The Three Musketeers, All for One, One for All, goody little Pistons with no stars beat the big bad Goliaths with all their Hall-of-Famers was an over-mythologized narrative. It really wasn’t the full narrative.”
Beck contended that several members of the LA Lakers were on their last legs. Rick Fox, Karl Malone and Gary Payton were aging stars who were hardly factors in the ‘04 finals. However, the three veterans still combined to provide solid and crucial numbers for the purple and gold.Malone, in particular, was an underrated contributor in the finals.
The LA Lakers looked a distinctly different side after the legendary power forward suffered an injury. His injury didn’t cost the team the title, but it did help the Pistons dominate the Lakers.
“He was the only one keeping Shaq and Kobe from killing each other” – Howard Beck says Karl Malone was the glue of the 2003-04 LA Lakers team with tensions between Kobe and Shaq
That being said, those Pistons teams were monsters who greatly deserved the championship. They went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals and played in back-to-back NBA Finals.While the 2003-04 side won the Championship, the 2004-05 Pistons fell just short.
They lost a very close seven-game series against the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs, who had also established a dynasty of their own.