Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The notion of Shaq as GM
By Marc Stein
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Can you dig it? Does Shaquille O'Neal have a future working the phones as a GM?
George Mikan. John Kundla. Fred Schaus. Pete Newell. Bill Sharman.
And, of course, Jerry West.
Those are some of the names of the general managers who filled that highest of high-profile posts with the Los Angeles Lakers before Mitch Kupchak built a championship team of his own.
And then there's Shaquille O'Neal.
The same Shaq who used to tell anyone in Lakerland who would listen: I'm better than all of 'em.
In the same shameless manner he's prone to proclaim his boundless greatness several nights a week from the TNT set, Shaq used to say it all the time back in the day: Convincing Gary Payton and Karl Malone to play for the Lakers almost for free in the 2003-04 season made him the best GM they've ever had in L.A.
So if you find it beyond-belief outlandish that Shaq would be campaigning for the suddenly vacant GM job in Orlando -- where his NBA career began and where he still lives -- you haven't been paying much attention for, uh, roughly two decades.
Not that I'm going to get too worked up about the possibility. Not that I can foresee Shaq, with roughly zero front-office qualifications, coming anywhere close to getting the job.
The Magic aren't talking publicly about their GM or coach search and refused comment Wednesday night when asked specifically to respond to my ESPN The Magazine colleague Chris Broussard's report on "NBA Countdown" that Shaq and Orlando officials could meet as soon as next week to discuss the opening.
But here's my best read on the subject with the help of a few observers plugged into the league's front-office grapevine: Shaq has been lobbying behind the scenes to be considered for the position, and the Magic -- in spite of the nastiest of divorces with O'Neal in the summer of 1996 -- are willing to at least sit down with the 40-year-old and give him the courtesy of hearing what he has to say.
That's a long way from actually hiring Shaq. A L-O-N-G way, to borrow from Larry Bird's spelling technique, from letting Shaq come back to a franchise he leveled as a free agent to be the guy who either convinces Dwight Howard to finally commit to the Magic long-term (after feuding with Dwight for years) or immediately takes on the monster responsibility of trying to find a sensible trade for Howard before next season (as rookie GM).
The mere mention of Shaq, even if he turns out to be something more than a courtesy candidate, surely (and sadly) overshadows the most interesting part of Broussard's notebook-on-TV report, which revealed that the Magic's secret dream is trying to find a way to convince Doc Rivers to leave the Boston Celtics to come back to Central Florida.
Now THAT makes sense. It's the longest of long shots with Doc only just finishing Year 1 of a new five-year, $35 million contract to coach the Celts, but Orlando's thinking there is steeped in sound logic. If they could somehow convince Rivers to rejoin the Magic -- even if Doc insisted on a management-only role -- Dwight would surely be wowed. And the number of true stars in the Magic Kingdom would instantly double.
Don't have a clue how the Magic plan to convince Boston to let Doc out of his contract, but why let details get in the way? The mere idea is the smartest we've heard out of Orlando in years.
I still tend to think that hiring Donnie Walsh to replace Otis Smith will wind up being the best available move for the Magic as they launch the post-Stan Van Gundy era, but there's no reason not to aim high. Go for it, Magic.
Chase Doc. Ask for permission to speak with him when Boston's season ends. Better idea than anything we've heard so far. Better than all of 'em.