Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): While superteams and dynamic duos have become the norm in this day and age, it was much more of a rarity at the turn of the century.
In a recent Q&A with Sports Illustrated’s Jacob Feldman, Raptors legend Vince Carter revealed that he once recruited Shaquille O’Neal to join him in Toronto.
“The only time I can recall is I tried to get Shaq to Toronto. I felt like it was close. It was tough at the time, just because … a lot of guys were like, ‘What’s Canada about?’ It was tough to convince players that it’s a great place until they’re actually there. Even me, when I worked out for them, I didn’t really know what they had to offer until I was actually there.”
In the true spirit of the offseason, it begs the question: What could have come from a pairing of Vince and Shaq with the Raptors in the mid 2000s?
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): My initial thought: the Raptors don’t wait until 2019 to hang a championship banner.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): That’s quite the initial thought.
Adams: Prime Vinsanity and a near-prime Shaq? In the mid 2000s Eastern Conference? Outside of the Pistons, there’s not much else to keep them from at least making a few trips to the NBA Finals.
I’m not saying it’s Kobe-Shaq … but don’t forget, in this hypothetical there’s also a young Chris Bosh. That’s a pretty frightening trio.
McGregor: That trio would easily make Toronto the class of the East, but a banner? I’m not sure they’re hanging with San Antonio, or Dallas, or Phoenix…
Rafferty: The Heat with Shaq and Wade would’ve still been better than the Raptors with Shaq and Vince, right?
Adams: Yeah, but the Raptors don’t have to be better than the Heat with Shaq and Wade. They have to be better than the Heat with Lamar Odom and Wade.
McGregor: Young Wade went crazy in the ’06 Finals, are you saying you’d take him over prime Vince? Or … that he and Shaq were a better suited pair?
Rafferty: I was thinking more along the lines of if you do think they are better, that’s probably their path towards winning a championship – them being the 2005-06 Heat.
Adams: It’s hard to argue that Carter was better than Wade. I wouldn’t go that far. But I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think that they could have been good enough to get the job done.
Let’s not sleep on Carter’s prime either. The guy was a legit 40% 3-point shooter in a time before everyone could do that. We don’t really think of spacing as a thing in the mid 2000s, but if Shaq was still banging out All-NBA First Team nods on those Heat teams, imagine the destruction he would have done playing alongside a two-guard that could shoot?
In that vein, Carter’s a little reminiscent of Kobe. Obviously, he’s not Kobe … but that fit isn’t too dissimilar either.
Rafferty: But who is surrounding them? Are we assuming that it would’ve been the 2004-05 season, before Shaq was traded to the Heat? Because if so, we’re looking at a starting lineup something along the lines of Rafer Alston, Vince, Jalen Rose, Bosh and Shaq.
Adams: Let’s throw him on the 2004-05 Raptors. In which case Toronto has to trade for him. That probably means Bosh and Rose are sent back to the Lakers. Remember, they got Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler for him.
So scratch that whole Vince-Shaq-Bosh trio thing.
McGregor: At first glance, it looks like a lineup of Alston, Vince, Morris Peterson, Donyell Marshall and Shaq
I … don’t hate it
And yes, 2004-05 is the season that Marshall sank a then-NBA record 12 3-pointers in a game.
Rafferty: He shot 41.6% from 3 that season on nearly six attempts per game. Man oh man.
Adams: Skip To My Lou throwing lobs to Carter AND Shaq? Yes, please.
In all seriousness, you could do far worse than Alston, Mo-Pete and Marshall surrounding what would have probably been the best duo in the league.
Who else is even in that duo conversation circa 2005?
Rafferty: In the West: Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
In the East … I’m not sure.
Toronto’s hypothetical duo would have mopped the floor with any of those other East duos.
McGregor: Basically, a duo of Shaq and Vince is easily the best in the East and probably the best in the league if they clicked.
That season, at 32, Shaq was putting up 22.9 and 10.4 while shooting 60.1% from the field and finished second in MVP voting behind Steve Nash. Sheesh.
Adams: Carter’s numbers on the surface seemed impressive – 24.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
That sells short of where his game was at that time. His season was basically a tale of two halves: the underperforming malcontent in Toronto and the rejuvenated star in New Jersey.
Assuming he’s happy with Shaq, it’s not hard to imagine him throwing up those Nets numbers for the whole season in Toronto, even when factoring in that his would-be point guard Rafer Alson isn’t exactly Jason Kidd.
Rafferty: So it sounds like the consensus is that they would’ve been the favourites in the Eastern Conference and, if all things broke right, the best duo in the league.
McGregor: Yep. At the very least.
Adams: Right. And that’s without even going down the path of the potential butterfly effect … they probably never draft DeMar DeRozan or trade for Kyle Lowry and certainly not Kawhi Leonard. Basically it’s a ‘what if’ that completely rewrites Raptors history.
Rafferty: I guess that’s a story for another day.
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