Top 15 Massive "What If's" Of Shaquille O'Neal's Career

Shaquille O’Neal was the headliner of the 2016 class of inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Shaq was inducted on the basis of retiring as a Top-10 career scorer, a four-time NBA Champion, a three-time NBA Finals MVP and only the third player ever to win the league’s, the All-Star Game’s and the NBA Finals’ MVP awards in the same season. Shaq’s career, from Orlando to Los Angeles to Miami and beyond, was one of the greatest careers in the history of the game, and his assertion that he is one of the greatest big men to ever play the game is not far from the truth.

With all of the accolades and history that Shaquille has been a part of, one has to wonder how his career would have progressed if some things had been changed. Just as with any other famous person or event, if a single thing is changed, the entire course of events pertaining to that event could be altered and, with Shaq’s career, a few simple changes might also alter the entire course of what eventually became a Hall of Fame basketball career

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15 What If: Shaq Had Stayed in School?

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Shaq left Louisiana State University after his junior year, and was the number one overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. Shaq was selected by the Orlando Magic, followed by Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner. However, if Shaq had stayed in school, Mourning would have been the number one pick and would have ended up in Orlando, unless for those who believe that the lottery is rigged, Washington wins the lottery and Mourning ends up with the Bullets.

Either way, Shaq would have been selected in the 1993 draft and more than likely would have gone first to Orlando instead of Chris Webber. However, if Mourning is already in Orlando, there is a chance that the Magic passes over Shaq like the Trail Blazers did when they selected Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Also, if Shaq goes number one to Orlando, there is a chance that Webber gets drafted third by Golden State, which is where he started and finished his career anyway.

14 What If: Shaq Isn’t Drafted First in 1992?

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In 1992, NBA experts debated which big man should be selected with the first overall pick. The choices were Shaq, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner, each man a top pick if they are drafted separately. However, they were all eligible the same year and Shaq was the player who was chosen first in that year’s draft. However, if Shaq is not the first pick, but is instead selected second, he could have ended up being taken by the Charlotte Hornets, unless again, you believe that the lottery is rigged, in which case Charlotte wins the lottery and takes Laettner anyway. If Shaq goes third, then he ends up in Minnesota.

As it turns out, Minnesota only won 19 games in 1993, while Orlando won 41 and just missed the playoffs. The Hornets qualified for the playoffs and upset the Celtics in the team’s first season after Larry Bird retired, before losing to the Knicks. With Shaq in place of Zo, the Hornets might defeat the Knicks, only to run into the buzz saw that was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

13 What If: Chris Webber is not Traded for Penny Hardaway?

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After Shaq’s rookie season, the Orlando Magic would win the NBA Draft Lottery again and would select Chris Webber, only to trade him to Golden State for Penny Hardaway. The Magic were hoping to create a new version of the Kareem-Magic duo that the Lakers enjoyed during the 1980s. However, if Webber is not traded for Penny, then Penny ends up sharing a backcourt with Latrell Sprewell while Shaq shares a frontcourt with Webber.

Both teams finished the season with identical 50-32 records, so it is possible that there might not have been much change there, but two significant events of that year might have been altered. Webber was voted as the Rookie of the Year that season, but sharing the court with Shaq might have given that award to Hardaway. In addition, Shaq finished second in scoring that year, but only because David Robinson scored 71 points on the last day of the season. It is possible that Shaq’s scoring numbers would have been lower had he played alongside Webber instead of Penny.

12 What if: Shaq Had Been Selected to the Dream Team?

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Just as with the 1992 NBA Draft, the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team, the original “Dream Team,” elected to carry one college player alongside of the 11 future Hall of Fame players who had been selected to play in the Olympics that year, and had to select between O’Neal, Mourning and Laettner. In this instance, Laettner was selected over his contemporaries to join MJ, Magic, Bird, Barkley and The Mailman in Barcelona. The belief was that even though many felt that Shaq would have the greater career, Laettner was a more complete player.

If Shaq had been selected, he would have had to share center minutes with David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, which might have caused some internal problems, while Laettner’s versatility allowed him to play either center or forward. The team might still have been overwhelmingly dominant with Shaq in tow, but the difference would have been that instead of the team featuring 11 future Hall of Famer inductees and Christian Laettner, it would have featured 12 future Hall of Famer players.

11 What If: Shaq Had Stayed in Orlando?

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Here is where things really start to go crazy in the career of Shaquille O’Neal. After four years in Orlando, Shaq became a free agent and Lakers GM Jerry West, believing that he could sign Shaq, traded center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the rights to Kobe Bryant. The two conditions of this event are if Shaq decides to stay in Orlando before or after the trade.

If Shaq decides to stay in Orlando after the trade for Kobe, then the Lakers are forced to find a center because Elden Campbell was really a forward who happened to be seven-feet tall. If Shaq decides to stay in Orlando before the trade for Kobe, then Kobe Bryant stays in Charlotte, and the Lakers field a team featuring Campbell, Vlade, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones and Anthony Peeler, which is a young team that's similar to the team the Lakers have right now.

Kobe ends up in Charlotte with Glen Rice, and Shaq and Penny have another chance to get to the Finals, except for the fact that the Bulls would win 72 and 69 games over the next two seasons and Penny’s body would start to break down.

10 What If: Phil Jackson Had Not Become the Lakers Coach?

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Prior to winning championships in Los Angeles, the Lakers were coached by Kurt Rambis, who is remembered for his inability to co-exist with Dennis Rodman. After the 1999 season, Phil Jackson was brought in and three championships immediately followed. If the Lakers were not able to nail down Phil, then the Lakers would have been in a unique situation because they seemingly were not completely sold on Rambis as a coach, even though he took them to the second round of the playoffs.

If they had not been able to get Phil, guys like Chuck Daly, Mike D’Antoni, Bill Fitch and George Karl were available, but between these four coaches, there were only three championships and Fitch’s title came with Larry Bird in 1981. The Lakers could have chosen to go with one of these veteran coaches, or they could have stayed with Rambis, or gone with assistant coach Larry Drew. However, none of these scenarios gave Laker management hope for returning to championship form and none of these men as a head coach has won a title or even been to the NBA Finals since 1999.

9 What If: Shaq had Received that Final MVP Vote?

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After the 1999-2000 NBA season, Shaquille O’Neal was voted as the league’s Most Valuable Player for that season. Shaq received 120 of the 121 first-lace votes, with Allen Iverson receiving the other first-place vote. That single vote kept Shaq from being the first ever unanimous MVP winner in NBA history. After the 2015-16 NBA season, Golden State’s Steph Curry was voted as the first unanimous MVP in the league’s history, as he would receive every first place vote. This led to many commentators questioning the greatness of Curry’s season compared to other nearly-unanimous MVP seasons.

If Shaq is voted as the first unanimous MVP, Curry would have been spared the scrutiny of his season as the feat would already have been accomplished. However, in 2013, when LeBron was voted as MVP, receiving all but one first-place vote, the lone holdout might have been compelled to think that if Shaq was unanimous in 2000, then there would have been no way that James was not in 2013.

8 What If: Shaq Stayed in Better Shape?

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During the Kobe/Shaq/Phil Jackson years with the Lakers, one of the biggest points of contention between Shaq & Kobe was the fact that Kobe felt that Shaq didn’t work hard enough on his craft. Kobe felt that Shaq should treat injuries and workout during the offseason, and Shaq felt that he could work himself into shape during the season. Due to nagging injuries, Shaq’s appearances dropped from 79 games in 2000, to 74 in 2001, and then to 67 in 2002 and 2003. Before the 2003-04 season, Shaq elected to delay foot surgery until just before training camp, electing to get fixed “on company time.”

If Shaq had focused more on his fitness, and had chosen to use the offseason to repair his injuries and to get his body ready for the season, he might have been able to play in the games that he missed. With a career average of nearly 24 points per game, by playing in an extra 200 or so games, Shaq would have finished with nearly 5,000 more points, which would have placed him just under or just over the career total of Kobe Bryant, which might have pleased Shaq. However, it might have convinced Kobe to play an additional season, which might have had a dramatic effect on the Lakers future.

7 What If: The Lakers Had Won the NBA Championship in 2004?

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In 2004, Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined Shaq, Kobe, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Horace Grant to form the league’s first acknowledged “super team.” Shaq and crew teamed together on three championships and Grant brought four personal titles to the team, so with the new additions, it was assumed that this Lakers squad was predestined to win the NBA title. Unfortunately, Malone, O’Neal and Fisher all missed large portions of the season due to injury. However, despite this, the Lakers made it to the Finals before losing in five games to the Detroit Pistons. After the season, Shaq, Fox, Fisher, Payton, Malone, Grant and Phil Jackson would all be working somewhere else or retired, leaving Kobe to pilot several mediocre years in Los Angeles before winning a championship in 2009.

If the Lakers had won the championship in 2004, it is possible that the Lakers might have won several more, as everyone who left the team, except for Horace Grant, might have been able to be convinced to stay with the team. If this happens, the Heat might not win the championship in 2006, as Shaq might still have been in Los Angeles, and Tim Duncan might not have won in 2005, leaving him behind Kobe and possibly Shaq in terms of career titles.

6 What If: Shaq Had Stayed in Los Angeles After 2004?

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After losing in the 2004 NBA Finals, the Lakers suffered a grand exodus of talent and included in that group that left the Lakers was Shaq. Shaq was traded to Miami, primarily because of an inability to get along with Kobe Bryant, but one has to wonder what would have happened if Kobe and Shaq had been able to get along, and Shaq had stayed in Los Angeles.

If Shaq stays but Phil leaves anyway, the Lakers would still have been great, but possibly not a championship team. However, if Shaq stays and Phil also stays, there is a chance that Derek Fisher does not leave for Golden State, and Fox and Payton might not get traded to Boston, which precipitated Fox’s retirement. Malone might also play one more year and, if Vlade Divac still comes to L.A. to retire a Laker, then Shaq has a quality backup and one more addition to the super team. On top of this, this team might also have been good enough to defeat the eventual champion Spurs and prevent former Laker Robert Horry from winning his sixth of seven championship rings.

5 What If: Shaq is Chosen to Stay in L.A. Instead of Kobe?

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The trade of Shaq allegedly came about because Kobe gave a “him or me” ultimatum to Jerry Buss and Laker management. However, if the Lakers had replied to Kobe by trading him and keeping Shaq, the Lakers and the league would have been very different.

Fisher left and signed with Golden State, but if Shaq stays, Fisher might have stayed as well. Also, the deal that the Lakers got for Shaq might not have been the same deal that the Lakers would have been able to get for Kobe, which means that Miami might still have had Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant, which is the team that Miami had that was unable to get through the Eastern Conference, meaning that Dwyane Wade does not win his first ring.

The Lakers might still have been good enough to derail the Spurs, instead of missing the playoffs, as the Lakers did in the season immediately after Shaq’s departure.

4 What If: Shaq Goes Somewhere Other Than Miami in 2005?

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When Shaq was traded to Miami, he teamed with Dwyane Wade and, within two seasons, Shaq would win his fourth NBA title. The Spurs would win titles in 2005 and 2007, and then the Celtics would win in 2008, before the Lakers would win another title, this after Pau Gasol was acquired from Memphis. However, if Shaq had nixed the trade and had insisted on being sent somewhere else, the entire complexion of the league could have been different.

Shaq was born in New Jersey, went to high school in Texas, and went to college in Louisiana, so he could have chosen one of those locations. Shaq would not have wanted to go to New Orleans or the Clippers because they were bad teams that were not going to get better simply due to his presence. There was also not room for him in Orlando or Houston because of Dwight Howard and Yao Ming. That leaves Dallas, San Antonio and the Nets for Shaq to have chosen from. If Shaq had gone to any of these three teams, whichever team he had chosen could possibly have won the NBA title.

3 What If: Shaq had Retired as a Laker?

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Shaq’s final season in the NBA was the 2010-11 season. Shaq finished his career with the Boston Celtics, hoping to lead the Celtics back to the NBA Finals. Were Shaq the Shaq of his youth, the Celtics might have regained the title. However, if Shaq had decided to rejoin the Lakers before his retirement, he would have been a member of the defending champions and might have made the Lakers the favorite to win the title again.

In Boston, Shaq was sharing center minutes with Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. In Los Angeles, he would have been Andrew Bynum’s backup, and would have allowed Pau Gasol to stay at his true position, thus protecting him from unnecessary punishment. Shaq and Kobe with Gasol, Artest, Odom and Fisher might have been enough to defeat the Dallas Mavericks, the eventual champions in 2010/11 who beat the Lakers in the second orund. Shaq would have gone out on top, and Kobe would have gotten his sixth ring, and he might have retired earlier, except for his desire to have scored more points than Michael Jordan.

2 What If: Shaq Had Worked on his Free Throws?

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Shaq was never a good free throw shooter. Over his career, he missed nearly half of the over 11K free throws that he attempted. The Hack-a-Shaq strategy was conceived because of his inability to be a dependable shooter from the line. Just as with the number of games that he missed during his career, with the number of free throws that he missed, Shaq’s career numbers would have been different.

The oddity of the free throws comes in the fact that if Shaq had been a better free throw shooter, Shaq might not have been fouled as much as he had been. If he is not fouled as much, then he does not shoot as many free throws, so his point total might not have been much higher than it was when he retired. However, if Shaq is not fouled as much, then he is allowed to finish many of his moves, which gives him more made baskets. More made baskets mean that Shaq does, in fact, score more points. Either way, if Shaq were a better free throw shooter, his career point total would have been higher.

1 What If: Shaq Had Never Made Any Movies?

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After Shaq’s rookie season, Shaq appeared in Blue Chips alongside Nick Nolte. Soon after, Shaq appeared in films such as Kazaam and Steel, and critics were proclaiming Shaq as one of the worst actors of all-time, appearing in the worst films in movie history. However, if Shaq had never appeared in those films, his reputation as a performer outside of basketball would not have taken those hits.

Despite the fact that Shaq’s debut rap album was certified platinum, sports reporters, some who are not rap fans, insist that Shaq is also the worst rapper they have ever heard. However, selling one million copies would seem to insist otherwise. Just as does the fact that Shaq continues to be offered movie roles.

Shaq would not have had to take criticism over his poor free throw shooting, with the critics citing his entertainment forays as the reason for Shaq’s not working on his game. At the same time, had Shaq never taken those first acting jobs, eventually Hollywood would have seen Shaq’s personality and charisma and he would still be asked to appear in motion pictures. So we don't see much of a change here...

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