When: June 2009
"Can he do it without Shaq?" That was the question many critics had after Shaquille O'Neal left for South Beach. For a few years the definitive answer was "no." The Lakers finished 11th in the West and missed the playoffs in their first season without Shaq then got bounced out in the first round of the playoffs in the next two seasons. In 2008, the Laker front office worked some magic to acquire Pau Gasol in a trade from the Grizzlies and the Lakers reached the Finals but lost to the Celtics in six games.
The next year the Lakers reached the Finals again but this time they were victorious over the Orlando Magic thanks in large part to Kobe Bryant's 32 PPG average. The Black Mamba won MVP honors for the series and finally proved that he could win without The Diesel.