When I first heard of a possible trade basically involving Shaquille O’Neal for Shawn Marion, I was stunned.
A Marion move seemed inevitable with the bad blood that had developed over the offseason, when Marion felt slighted for having his name thrown into so many trade talks. But to deal away a bona fide All-Star for an aged superstar didn’t make a lot of sense. I pictured Phoenix Suns fans collectively grimacing, much like Paul Thomas Anderson’s reaction when Joel and Ethan Cohen were announced as the year’s best directors: a quick contortion of slight disappointment and surprise, followed by abrupt composure.
Composure came easy with the assurance of basketball analysts on ESPN. It began with the annoying Stephen A. Smith, who based his argument on Shaq’s past championships and the statement that one should never doubt Shaq (that mistake was made when he moved to Miami). Great argument, Steve.
Others followed suit. Magic Johnson used the same reasoning when interviewed during a Los Angeles Lakers game.
A rickety bandwagon was in the works. And soon, everyone was anticipating an O’Neal resurgence in Phoenix and a Suns team that now had a defensive presence and a dominating force down low.
So, in light of last week’s feature on Steve Kerr, the triggerman behind the deal, and the blowout at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, let’s take a look at O’Neal’s first week in Phoenix.
The theory behind this trade was that O’Neal could add to the Suns’ dismal rebounding and provide a much needed defensive boost. And so far, the rebounding numbers look great. O’Neal’s 11.3 rebounds per game with Phoenix has alleviated the rebounding woes that still have the Suns at the worst in the league against their opponents (a minus-5 margin).
At the offensive end, opportunities fall into Amare Stoudemire’s hands every time the ball does. With the tandem of Stoudemire and O’Neal, it is impossible for an opponent’s big man to leave Shaq and double Stoudemire, which has given him the chance to put up 32 points per game since Shaq joined the team.
But the defense is still stagnant.
The Lakers dropped an absurd 130 points against the Suns on Wednesday. The Detroit Pistons had 90 points with 12 minutes left to play and finished with 116 when the buzzer sounded.
Finally, there’s O’Neal’s offense to discuss: It sucks. That’s about it. I’m sure it’s tough for the 35-year-old to adjust to the Suns’ run-and-gun style of play, but averaging 8.6 ppg isn’t going to cut it.
A quick recap: The Suns are 1-2 since Shaq came over from Miami. People are saying it’s difficult to use these three games as a barometer, since they have all been against top contenders, but this is why Shaq was brought in--to make the Suns a legitimate contender.
As for the more detailed aspects of the game, O’Neal’s massive frame and ability to use it to throw around others has helped the Suns with their rebounding troubles. But the defense is still absent. And without Marion’s reliant 16 points a night, other Suns will need to take on the burden of scoring, something Stoudemire has certainly done, as well as Grant Hill, who is playing like his All-NBA days with the Pistons.
But with the competition in the Western Conference, this bandwagon will soon have to turn itself into the diesel truck everyone expected it to be, or else the Suns will have to deal with no home court advantage--or worse yet, finding decent greens fees in June.