If I asked you to name the superteams of the last 20 years, there would probably be a Lakers team in there. Chances are, it probably wouldn’t be the ’03/’04 Lakers. Kobe and Shaq had already won three rings together, had a bad loss against the Spurs in the playoffs the year before, and it was obvious one of them was leaving at the end of the season.
Still, when Karl Malone and Gary Payton join a team that already has Shaq and Kobe on it, it can’t be considered anything else but a superteam – at least from a management standpoint. We now know that Shaq played that entire year knowing Kobe threw him under the bus with investigators during his sexual assault case – a death nail in an already strained relationship. With Gary Payton and Karl Malone on the team, expectations were sky high, and Phil Jackson was concerned about managing all those egos.
“He was so concerned about the team’s psyche that he hired a therapist that specialized in narcissism to try and understand the team better.”Bill Simmons, The Book of Basketball Podcast
Phil Jackson was never afraid to try new things that would help him coach better. Shaq shared that Phil would give them books to read, burn sage and make the team meditate. But when your coach needs an expert in narcissism to try and manage the team, things are probably not going to end well.
Payton never worked within the triangle. Malone managed to contribute, but the Shaq – Kobe relationship was gone, and no therapist was going to help there. The Lakers lost to the Pistons in the Finals, and Shaq was traded to Miami.