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A Game of Interest

Monday, February 18, 2008

As many of my regular readers are probably aware, I am a lifelong Phoenix Suns fan. Having spent a number of my formative years in the Valley of the Sun, I look forward to each basketball season with hope that the Suns will finally be more than "The Little Team that Could ... And Darn Near Did" (to quote the title of a book about the "Fabulous Rise of the Phoenix Suns" by Joe Gilmartin after the Suns nearly won the NBA championship against the hated Boston Celtics early in the team's history).

It seems like most years the Suns have had pretty good regular seasons, but can't quite get over the hump when it comes to the playoffs. As the Suns are putting together another splendid regular season (the Suns are currently tied with New Orleans for the best record in the West at the All-Star break), many folks around the league have indicated that the still don't think the Suns could get it done in the post-season.

Last week, however, the Suns took a giant gamble. The Phoenix Suns made a trade with the Miami Heat to acquire Shaquille O'Neal in a trade that cost the Suns perennial all-star Shawn Marion.

On Wednesday, Shaq is expected to make his Suns' debut in a game against the long-standing arch-rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.

As a Suns fan, I am looking forward to this game with interest. I am a little mixed on the trade, but after hearing a number of NBA pundits rip the trade for a few days, I tend to think that it may actually be a good trade - or at worst, it was worth the risk.

Throughout the Suns' history, they have often been pursuing the elusive big man. From losing the coin toss for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor in those days) to the disappointment of William Bedford and the tragedy of Nick Vanos, the Suns have never really had a dominating Big Man. The only center in the "Ring of Honor" is Alvin Adams - who was a great player, but at only 6 foot 9 was clearly not a traditional Big Man. Probably the closest thing to a pretty good Big Man the Suns have ever had was Mark West, who put together a couple of decent seasons in the 1990s.

The arrival of Shaq provides the Suns with possibly the first legitimate Big Man in franchise history. The question, however, is if Shaq can still play. Shaq had a down season last year and is off to an even worse season this year. Many of the pundits think that Shaq is washed up and that the Suns should not have made the trade.

The conventional arguments against the trade are as follows:

1. Shaq does not fit into the Suns' up-tempo style and will slow the team down.

2. It is a bad idea to mess with the chemistry of a team that is on track to be the Number 1 seed in the West.

3. Losing Marion means the Suns give up their best defender on a team not known for defense.

4. It weakens the Suns bench, since Shaq will not be able to play the type of minutes that Marion played and losing Banks out of the rotation and the Suns already have a short bench.

There may some validity to some of these issues, but I think the case is not definite.

Here are my concerns then my arguments FOR the trade:


1. Shaq may really be hurt to the point of being just a shell of the old Shaq. I don't expect him to be anywhere close to what he was in his hey-day, but it would help if he was at least 80% of what he was when he helped Miami win the ring two years ago.

2. The Suns may try to make too many adjustments to fit Shaq's style of play instead of vice-versa.

FOR the trade:

1. Championship experience. Shaq has it - Big Time! He has been to the Championship with all three of his previous teams (Orlando, L.A. Lakers, Miami). In none of those teams did he have the complete surrounding cast that he has in Phoenix.

2. Size matters - especially in the play-offs. If you look at the teams that win NBA Championships, one fairly common element is a very good Big Man. (Yes, I know, the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls never had a very good Big Man - but they are the exception that proves the rule :) ). Going backwards, we have Duncan, Shaq, Duncan, Wallace, Duncan, Shaq, Shaq, Shaq, Duncan until you reach Jordan's Bulls (and in the middle of the Bulls' run you have Olajuwan with the two between the three-peats).

3. Marion was wanting out anyway. Those who view this as mortgaging the future, need to realize that Marion was not going to be part of that future anyway. That is unfortunate. I am a big Shawn Marion fan. He is a great all-around player who does not get the attention he deserves. I wish him well in Miami, but rather than just having him walk away at the end of the year, the Suns got one of the greatest Big Men in NBA history (even if it is an older version).

4. Shaq will not slow down the Suns (unless they let him). Remember that the Showtime lakers had Kareem at center. A fast break starts with a rebound (or, in the Suns case, sometimes a made shot by the opponent). Shaq has always been a pretty good rebounder - especially defensive rebounder - which triggers that fast break.

5. Shaq allows Amare to move back over to his natural position. Amare is a power forward who has been playing Center at an all-star level for a couple of years. Shaq's presence allows Amare to move over and not to be forced to play the other team's big man. Hopefully this will allow Amare to remain as fluid as he is without getting into the foul trouble that he tends to get into guarding the centers.

6. This trade should enable Boris Diaw to have a bigger role - he will probably get some of Marion's minutes. Diaw is a very good player. In the year that Stoudamire was out, Diaw filled in admirably and almost helped the Suns into the championship that year.

7. Shaq is a very good team player. Shaq passes very well for a big man. He also has shown (in Miami) a willingness to play second-fiddle when needed. He has a very good understanding of the game and should be able to adjust his game accordingly.

8. Shaq has shown an ability to "turn it on" when needed. He does not have to have a great regular season. He only needs to have a good play-offs.

9. This team does not need Shaq to carry it. It just needs him to contribute in the right way. I would be wary of trying to build a team around Shaq at this point in his career, but the Suns aren't doing that. They are asking him to be a relief pitcher and help them over the hump. I think he can do that.

10. The time to strike is now. Nash is not getting any younger and the Suns' window of opportunity is closing. The last time the Suns were knocking this close for a long-time was in the pre-Barkley days. (Prior to Barkley's arrival, the Suns had won fifty or more games in four seasons in a row and had advanced to the Conference Finals two of those years.) While I was skeptical regarding the Barkley deal when it happened, hind-sight says it worked out okay :) .

Soooo, I am looking forward to seeing the Suns play the Lakers after church on Wednesday night. I don't think we can necessarily tell a lot about one game and I would not be surprised if it does not take a little bit of time until the kinks get worked out, it will be interesting to see the beginning of a new era.

Just my thoughts,



Chris Anderson said...

I think it was a bad trade for the Suns. I understand it---they may have done it with the Spurs in mind. But I think it slows them down in a big way, and the loss of Marion and his high-energy game will hurt.

The only worse idea? Dallas giving up Diop in the trade to get Kidd. They're in a big man's conference (which I know contradicts my reasoning in the previous paragraph) and they just got smaller. Bad idea. Besides, Kidd would have looked great running the Cavs offense. Ouch.

Frank Sansone said...


If Shaq is as washed up as some of the critics are saying, you will be right and it is a very bad trade.

I am HOPING (yes, I'll admit it) that a more involved Diaw can off-set some of the loss of Marion on offense (who, by the way had totals of 16, 5, 26, 12, 24, and 11 in the San Antonio series last year) and that the rebounding of Shaq will more than offset the loss of Shawn's rebounding.

I can feel your pain in regards to not getting Kidd. Having Kidd on the Cavs would have been a major boost - and I can't stand the Celts, so anything that would help their opponents is a good thing. :)