By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Jan 5 2009 6:44PM
A lot's happened since they played their last game together, way back on June 15, 2004. Since that Finals loss to the Pistons when they were Lakers teammates, Shaquille O'Neal has played for two other teams, winning a ring with Miami in 2006. Kobe Bryant demanded a trade but ultimately stayed in L.A., and won the MVP last season.
On February 15 in Phoenix, O'Neal and Bryant's 56-month long stretch as ex-teammates could come to an end at the NBA's 58th All-Star Game.
Bryant is a lock for his 11th All-Star Game selection. He leads all Western Conference players with 1,280,912 votes through the second balloting. O'Neal won't be selected through fan voting -- Yao Ming has more than double the Diesel's 546,583 votes -- but there is a strong case for him deserving a spot as a reserve.
O'Neal is averaging 17.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. His 59.1 field-goal percentage ranks second in the league. His main competitors for the position are Andris Biedrins of the Warriors, Al Jefferson of the Timberwolves and Marcus Camby of the Clippers, but all of those players play for sub-.500 teams. Shaq's Suns would be the No. 5 seed in the West if the playoffs started today.
The fact that the game is in Phoenix also should help O'Neal, as the host city almost always ends up with a player on the roster. Amar'e Stoudemire is the only other Suns player in contention. He was behind only San Antonio's Tim Duncan for Western Conference forwards in the second returns, holding a slim lead over Denver's Carmelo Anthony for the starting nod.
The exhibition might not be the last time Bryant and O'Neal play together, either. Shaq told the Sacramento Bee in November that he would be open to a return to the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in 2010.