Lakers-Magic: The Shadow Of Shaq

Alex McVeighSenior Analyst IJune 3, 2009

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 15:  Shaquille O'Neal of the Western Conference team dances during the 58th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 15, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

It's funny how things work. This is the first playoffs since Shaq's rookie year that he hasn't been there. And yet, the two teams that are remaining are two teams that are still struggling to fill the hole he left, a whole as big as well, Shaq himself.

Shaq arrived in the Magic's fourth season of existence and had an immediate impact on the team. When the Magic won the lottery two years in a row, the NBA panicked and changed the way they do things.

He quickly brought them to the Finals, where they took advantage of Jordan's absence in the East, but they couldn't get past the Rockets.

Once Jordan returned, Shaq no longer had domination over the East, so he headed West, and the Magic have suffered ever since.

The Magic's next few seasons were filled with close calls and near misses, but never a return to the place Shaq brought them to.

Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, almost Tim Duncan, were given chances to take the Magic to the promised land, but they could barely get the Magic to the playoffs.

Then came the 2004 draft. The Magic bypassed a "sure thing" with Emeka Okafor, to take a center out of high school that was still wearing braces.

Howard was everything Shaq was not. While a physical specimen, he wasn't quite the freak of nature Shaq is.

Howard had that same sort of sunny outlook, but without the brash cockiness that Shaq haters love to bring up.

Soon, the lack of cockiness seemed to be his detriment. Where other players were losing and throwing fits and storming off the court, Howard always had a smile on his face, and he seemed to lack that nasty edge of the great big men of the past, like Malone or Ewing.

With a 40-point finale to the thrashing of the Cavaliers, Dwight Howard seems poised to not only make the Magic fans forget Shaq, but make the Eastern Conference forget about him as well.

Shaq's legacy with the Lakers is much more significant. Shaq brought them to the Finals for the first time since Magic and they were victorious three times before losing in his final year with what some called the greatest starting five ever assembled.

With a loss that year, the tension that had been boiling between Shaq's fun-loving demeanor and Kobe's win-at-all-costs demeanor came to a head, and we know how that worked out.

And it's funny how it all worked out. Kobe's mentality has led him to another Finals loss, while Shaq has another ring. Sure, Shaq was paired with a dynamic player in Wade, but sometimes that's how things go.

And since then, Kobe has faced questions if he can carry a team over the top, which he hasn't been able to do yet.

If he loses this Finals, that's three times he has failed to win a title as the best player, and to be honest, it could be the beginning of the end for him, which I'll discuss in a later article.

This is both the Lakers and the Magic's chance to rid themselves of the ghost of Shaq.Β  One of them is going to do it.

For the Magic, it's about the team. A team that was able to surpass where Shaq brought them.

For the Lakers, it's about one man, as it has been for so many years, Kobe.

He wanted to leave the Lakers because they didn't bring him help, so they got him help.

They needed a physical presence down low with Bynum out. Well, they have Bynum now.

One of these teams will finally end "The Curse of Shaq."

And the other one? Well, with the impending rise of LeBron, the return of KG and Manu, and another year for the Brandon Roy, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, they might not be back for a while.


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