Shaquille O'Neal regrets leaving Magic, wishes he had more patience

Shaquille O'Neal seemed to at least partly lament his move from Orlando to the Lakers in 1996 as a free agent

Shaquille O'Neal was larger than life in Los Angeles, hugging the city so hard before eventually bouncing out of it.

He'd be seen in the Valley in the morning, grabbing breakfast on Ventura Boulevard, then Beverly Hills in the afternoon for an expensive lunch on Rodeo.

Dinner, clubbing and whatever else? Of course. Hollywood? Venice? Wherever and whenever he wanted. The city was his, the Lakers' heir apparent to Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.

He peaked with three consecutive championships and was doomed when he and Kobe Bryant started fighting, O'Neal eventually losing the battle after, among other things, his infamous quote about getting surgery only on company time and the "Pay me!" demand he shot toward Lakers patriarch Jerry Buss during an exhibition game, of all things.

O'Neal's audience Friday was definitely pro-Magic, but he seemed to at least partly lament his move from Orlando to the Lakers in 1996 as a free agent.

"Do I regret it? I never fully answer it. I regret it sometimes," he said before being inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. "Is this where I started and should have stayed? I actually wish they made it a law that whoever drafts you, you gotta stay there your whole career."

O'Neal signed a seven-year, $120-million deal with the Lakers but seemed nostalgic while reflecting on an Orlando team that also had riveting guard Penny Hardaway.

"That's why I kind of regret it, because we had a young, fabulous team," O'Neal said. "We really did. And it's a shame that we got torn apart. But I think about that all the time. I try not to live my life now on 'ifs' or 'would've, should've,' but do I regret leaving here in '96, yes I do."

O'Neal, now 43, was the top pick in the 1992 draft and never did better in Orlando than getting swept in the 1995 NBA Finals by Houston.

He joined a Lakers team that didn't win a championship with him until 2000, infused with veterans and an ever-improving Bryant in Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson's first season with them.

"I wish I would have had more patience," O'Neal said. "I wanted to be protected from the bashing [in Orlando]. What I mean by that is I wanted to win then. Even when I got [to L.A.], I still got bashed. It took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there, with those guys out there, I could win right away and that wasn't the case.

"Now that I'm older now, I wish as a youngster I would have had more patience."

O'Neal was traded from the Lakers to Miami in 2004, where he won another championship in 2006, his fourth and final. He retired in 2011 and quickly became a TNT analyst.

Orlando hasn't had much success since O'Neal's departure, returning to the NBA Finals in 2009 but losing to the Lakers in five games. Then the Magic lost a top-flight center to, again, the Lakers, though Dwight Howard stayed only one season in Los Angeles before going to Houston in 2013 for less money as a free agent.

LAKERS LOTTERY BALLS

Forget playoff pushes. No Lakers title parades this June. The real race is for a bottom-five draft pick that the Lakers don't have to give to the Philadelphia 76ers. The regular season ends April 15, the draft lottery is May 19 and the NBA draft is June 25. Below are standings of the five worst teams after Saturday's games and odds to land the No. 1 overall pick, which will be Duke center Jahlil Okafor until further notice:

1. New York (14-59, 25%)

2. Minnesota (16-56, 15.6%)

3. Philadelphia (18-55, 19.9%)

4. Lakers (19-52, 10.4%)

5. Orlando (22-52, 10.3%)

LAKERS AT BROOKLYN

When: 12:30 p.m. PDT Sunday.

Where: Barclays Center.

On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 19-52; Nets 31-40.

Record vs. Nets: 0-1.

Update: Despite the Nets’ sub-.500 record, they are only half a game behind Boston for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. The Lakers lost to the Nets last month, 114-105, getting outscored in the third quarter, 40-20. Lakers forward Ed Davis had 16 points and 14 rebounds that night at Staples Center. The Lakers haven’t been swept by the Nets in the season series since 2005-06.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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