Following the implosion of the famously stacked 2003-04 Lakers team that featured a couple of Hall of Famers, a frustrated Kobe Bryant agreed to return to the Lakers. His only condition was that both Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson were no longer a part of the team. The management of the Lakers granted his wish, and Phil Jackson was let go, and Shaq was available for trade.
According to reports at the time, over 20 of the 30 NBA teams inquired about acquiring Shaq. According to his 2011 memoir, “Shaq Uncut,” Shaq made it completely known his preferred destination was the Dallas Mavericks followed by his hometown New Jersey Nets, the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. The Dallas Mavericks, in particular, were O’Neal’s clear number one destination according to multiple reports.
In Marc Stein’s Article, Shaquille O’Neal has quietly and publicly lobbied for trades to the Mavericks at various points in his career, going all the way back to his time with the Lakers. O’Neal and Cuban are genuine friends, and O’Neal owns property in Dallas and has always liked the area.
Furthermore, in his personal biography “Shaq Uncut,” O’Neal shared his admiration for Dirk Nowitzki, “I always respected Dirk Nowitzki‘s game…[In 2004] it came down to two teams—Miami and Dallas. Mark Cuban flew in and sat down with us, then he went back to the Lakers and said he’d trade anybody for me except Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk was his guy.
In the famous Bill Simmons piece “The Book of Basketball,” there was a discussion on how many titles would the Dallas Mavericks win with Shaq as their starting center. “Dallas had the best chance [of getting Shaq if Bill Duffy never forgot to fax Miami Anthony Carter’s player option], which means they would have avoided that crippling Dampier move, gotten Shaq, and kept their best four guys (Nowitzki, Howard, Stackhouse, and Terry). How many titles are we thinking there? Two? Three? When I emailed him about this last summer (subject line: “Insanely Random Question”), Cuban responded, “[I have] no idea if we would have gotten him, but I know Shaq wanted to come.” O’Neal, on various occasions, said Dallas was his favorite NBA city and how we would have enjoyed his life in Dallas.
The Lakers ultimately denied the trade request, demanding Dirk Nowitzki in return for Shaq’s services. As such, Shaq to the Mavs never happened. Considering the Mavericks made it to the finals in 2006 and won 67 games in 2007, a trade to get Shaq would’ve likely placed them as championship contenders for many years to come. The greatest weakness of the mid-2000s Dallas Mavericks was a perceived lack of toughness and the hole they had at the center position, which involved Erick Dampier, Shawn Bradley, and DeSagana Diop.
It’s important to stress out that even in his 30’s, Shaq was still the best center in the league and even an MVP candidate for the first couple of years while playing for the Miami Heat. He made an additional four All-Star appearances during that period. The question remains if O’Neal was paired with Dirk Nowitzki in his prime, who eventually won the 2007 MVP, would the Dallas Mavericks become a dynasty from 2004 onwards?