On Saturday night, the two greatest franchises in NBA history will meet in a late-season matchup when the Boston Celtics, fighting desperately to play up to their potential, meet the Los Angeles Lakers, who will need an Old Testament miracle to make the playoffs in LeBron James’ first season with the team.
Saturday night will also be about Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, which is often the case whenever former teammates face each other.
As rumors swirl that Kyrie could be interested in teaming up with LeBron again this summer with his free agency looming, there are questions that need to be asked.Namely: Are Kyrie and LeBron the new version of Kobe and Shaq, a tandem that ended too soon? Or are they a duo that served its purpose?
To answer that question, we must first answer whether Kobe and Shaq really ended too soon.
“You can make the case that Kyrie and LeBron broke up too soon, but I don’t think you can make that case for Kobe and Shaq,” Yahoo Senior NBA Writer Vince Goodwill told the Daily News.
“With what Kobe did after they broke up, knowing how toxic their relationship was, it was time. With Kyrie and LeBron it never seemed like it was toxic.”
On July 14, 2004, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Shaq to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a future first-round pick.
They had to.
After winning three consecutive championships, and losing a headscratcher to the Detroit Pistons in their fourth-straight Finals appearance, something had to change.
Shaq and Kobe didn’t get along, at all. The Lakers had to make a decision: Keep their young 25-year-old superstar in Kobe or stick with Shaq, the 32-year-old aging big man.
Well, we know how that story ended.
The Lakers picked Kobe, and he would go on to win two more championships with the Lakers and cement himself as maybe the greatest Laker of all time.
Shaq would win his fourth and final ring with Dwyane Wade in Miami that next season, in what would be one of his last great seasons.
They say time heals all wounds, and as time passed, Kobe and Shaq became friends again.
“The most dominant one-two punch ever,” said Shaq in his one-on-one TNT interview with Kobe from last year.
But for all that Kobe and Shaq were with their three championships together, it makes you wonder if Kyrie and LeBron could have obtained more than the one championship they captured before their three-year run ended.
Because when you really think about it there was never any real “beef” between Kyrie and LeBron. It was more about a 25-year-old wanting to carve out his own legacy.
“Kyrie never really had the opportunity to be the captain of a good ship, and by that, I mean a team that’s competing at a high level,” NBCSports Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely told the Daily News.
“When he first got to Cleveland, they sucked and he was all they had that was positive … And from what I understand, Kyrie did not know that prior to signing that extension that LeBron was coming aboard.
“He went from being that main girl to being a reliable side chick.”
Even after Irving was so vital to the Cavaliers coming back from being down 3-1 against a 73-win team in the Finals, it felt like he still lived in LeBron’s shadow.
Irving had several big games in that series, and hit the go-ahead shot in Game 7, to go along with LeBron’s iconic block and Kevin Love’s shutdown defense on Steph Curry. Still, he didn’t get an equal share of credit. He was LeBron’s sidekick.
After losing to the Warriors in the Finals the following year, Irving wanted out and got his wish. But as the Celtics have failed to reach expectations all season, they have been rumors that Kyrie may want out again. Being the leader and face of a franchise isn’t easy, and it’s a lesson that his mentor Kobe Bryant also once had to learn.
People often forget that back in 2007, Kobe Bryant wanted out of Los Angeles. After finally getting a team of his own. Bryant was fed up after the Lakers had been bounced in the first round of the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
“I would like to be traded, yeah,” Bryant said then to Stephen A. Smith on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York. “Tough as it is to come to that conclusion there’s no other alternative, you know?”
The grass isn’t always greener.
“I recall how frustrated Kobe was and how he called everyone in the media over that summer and expressed how upset he was and that he wanted to be traded to Chicago,” longtime Los Angeles Times NBA writer Broderick Turner told the Daily News.
“I remember during training camp in Hawaii when Lakers owner Jerry Buss told the media that the Lakers would look into trading Kobe if they got the right deal. But in the end, Kobe stayed and the Lakers got Pau Gasol from Memphis in a trade. Kyrie forced his way out to Boston a year after the Cavs won a title. Kyrie loves Kobe and tries to emulate him from what I’ve been told.”
After a disappointing inaugural season in the LeBron era, the Lakers will have enough cap space to sign a max contract player, and have a boatload of young talent to use as trade bait. With Kyrie mum on his free agency plans, having admitted this season has been a frustrating, and famously calling LeBron to smooth things over, could it be that we’re headed for a reunion between Kyrie and LeBron?
Could Kyrie ride into town to save the Lakers?
“I think it would cause major division amongst NBA fans. It would be a public relations nightmare for Kyrie that he might never be able to recover from,” said Blakely. “To reverse course and reunite with LeBron after LeBron’ing LeBron?”
“Because even if they won a title, it would be an asterisk next to it. He wouldn’t get the ownership that I think that he’s looking for, and frankly, the kind that his talent deserves.”
But who knows?
If you would have told me that Kyrie and LeBron would have led an epic comeback to beat the Warriors before it happened, I wouldn’t have believed you.
And after watching what happened in 2004, I would never have believed that Shaq and Kobe would be BFFs again one day.
Sports are crazy and strange things happen all the time.
I would be in favor of another round of Kyrie and LeBron.