Record: 61-21, first place (tied) in Pacific Division
The Lakers started 11-0 before Shaquille O'Neal strained a stomach muscle and had to sit out 20 games. Kobe Bryant stepped up in O'Neal's absence, and the Lakers went 13-7 without O'Neal. In February, the Lakers became the first team in 15 seasons to send four players to the All-Star game: O'Neal, Bryant, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. The Lakers went 22-3 in their last 25 games to earn a tie for the Pacific Division title.
Playoffs: The Lakers steamrollered past Portland and Seattle before getting clobbered by the John Stockton and Karl Malone-led Utah Jazz in the conference finals. The loss to the Jazz also set the stage for the departure of Van Exel. At the end of practice on the day after the loss to Utah in Game 2, most of the players participated in their usual ritual--gathering in a circle at mid-court, putting their hands together and chanting, "Lakers, Lakers, Lakers."
Not Van Exel. He joined the circle but was heard chanting, "Cancun, Cancun, Cancun."
Two games later, the Jazz sweep complete, all of the Lakers were ready for a vacation. But they couldn't help but believe Van Exel left before they did.
Shaquille O'Neal, the captain, went to management with the story, exacting a vow from Jerry West that Van Exel would never again wear a Laker uniform. The Lakers traded him in the off-season, sending him to Denver for Tony Battie and Tyronn Lue.