A few weeks ago I heard about a potential deal the Suns might be involved in, but I brushed it off because around this time of year we hear all kinds of rumors. Then when the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, my mind started to wonder and mainly because there are two teams that the Suns view as huge hurdles to the finals: the Lakers and the Spurs.
I again started to worry because it meant more Shawn Marion trade rumors and one more round of those rumors could really destroy any progress the Suns made since the Garnett discussions last summer with regards to the Matrix.
Well, here we are again and this time it’s a done deal.
Let’s get one thing straight before I talk about the value of this trade and give my five reasons why the Suns had to make a deal for Shaq and my five reasons why it could work... Shawn Marion is one the best people and players I have ever had the pleasure of watching and the Miami Heat will find out what working hard for 48 minutes is all about when the Matrix arrives in South Beach.
Marion leaves as one of the most consistent and popular Sun players ever and he will definitely be a candidate for the Suns Ring of Honor when he retires. Shawn is the best combination rebounder and defender in this league since Dennis Rodman and the Suns will have to find a combination of players to replace what Marion brought to the table every night in those hustle categories.
I also know Shawn well enough to say that he will indeed miss Phoenix, but he understands that being traded virtually head up for the most dominant player that has probably played is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Although the Matrix factor will be missed, the Suns had to do something. Yes, they have the best record in the Western Conference. But something was not right. The dominance that we were used to see was not there on a consistent basis. We did not see the blowout games or the 20 to 4 runs that this team has spoiled us with over the last three years. The games seemed to be a grind and it wore on the fans and critics and caused us to think that maybe the Suns were becoming vulnerable. That, combined with the improvement of the Hornets, Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Warriors at the bottom of the pack, made a trip to the Finals look hazy and difficult.
So we also must assume the Suns front office and coaching staff had some of the same anxiety because they are extremely giddy at having the opportunity to put Shaq in a Suns uniform.
Here are five reasons why the Suns had to make this move for Shaquille O’Neal:
Steve Nash's window of opportunity is closing
As each year passes, the Suns cannot expect Nash to continue to create offensively for everyone. Pushing the ball on the fast break is one thing, but having to run the two-man game 40 possessions every night against physical defenses will eventually take its toll. Nash deserves a chance to add a title to his two MVP trophies.
Spurs have never won back-to-back championships
The last time this scenario came to bear, the Dallas Mavericks used a physical combination of Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop to wear down the Amare-less Suns to move on to the Finals against Shaq and the Heat. The Spurs have showed signs of wear and tear and the Suns do not want to miss out again on this opportunity.
Lakers add Pau Gasol factor
The Lakers could have said we traded for Pau Gasol on Halloween because it scared everyone in the Western Conference. I don’t even play anymore and it scared me. Imagine the frontline of Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Gasol. Then combine it with the athleticism and shooting of Kobe Bryant and it's obvious how every team is saying, "Why is Phil Jackson so darn lucky and why can’t he suffer for long?"
Throw in Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher and Ronny Turiaf. The Lakers look like a championship team this year.
Suns are 2-6 against the top teams in the West
The Suns have beaten the Lakers without Bynum and they beat the Spurs early in the season. They are 0-2 against the Hornets, lost twice to the Lakers with Bynum and got beaten by the Mavericks. The major reason for the losses has been an inability to defend the paint and the lack of defensive rebounding. Proof lays in the stats of the teams interior players when they play the Suns. Bynum averages 21 and 12. Duncan averages 27 and 17. Chandler averages 15 and 15. All above their season averages. And if you want to look further, Al Jefferson, who plays on arguably the worst team in the league, averages 32 and 16 in two Timberwolves wins this season against the Suns.
Combine this with the foul trouble of the Suns best offensive player, Amare Stoudemire, and we see why the Suns chose to pursue Shaq.
The Portland Trail Blazers and the Greg Oden factor
The Blazers are the team of the future. If Greg Oden lives up to his promise and LaMarcus Aldridge and All-Star Brandon Roy continue to grow, the Suns will have another couple of big bodies to deal with over the next few years.
So now that I have given you why the Suns made the move, here are five reasons why it could work:
First let me say this... I have heard the comment about Shaq is a shell of himself so on and so forth. Give me a break. I predicted the Heat would struggle this year and it was not because of Shaq. It was because of the players Pat Riley surrounded him with. Riley basically signed and drafted players that can’t throw the ball into the post and most importantly did not strike fear in teams with their jump shooting ability. This can ruin any big man that is a threat to post up and be productive in this league, including one of the most dominant ever.
So it’s absurd to judge Shaq on what he has done this year. He deserves to be judged on what he can bring to the Suns.
Suns rise immediately to one of the most physical teams
Shaquille O’Neal is a wall. The most overhyped stat is blocked shot. What about deterrence and altering decisions with the ball? The Suns are at the top of the league in blocked shots, but are viewed as a weak defensive team. The reason they blocked shots is because they got a ton of opportunities. Now that statistic will go down, but the opposition’s in-the-paint scoring will too. That means teams will take more jump shots and the Suns are better at that game than anyone in the league and now they also have the interior scoring of Amare and Shaq to boot.
The Suns are the worst defensive rebounding team in the league because they could not command space. Shaq will allow Amare, Grant Hill, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, etcetera, to be better rebounders because he will eat up space and punish offensive rebounders with long outlet passes – thus allowing Nash and Leandro Barbosa to leak out.
Finally, Shaq will protect Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire from physical play. Players are physically afraid of him and he will punish you if you take shots at his teammates. I would love to see Robert Horry throw Nash to the floor with Shaq around to punish Parker or Duncan.
Three players that command serious defensive attention
Shaq, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire will cause teams to change their defensive philosophy during the course of the game, which is extremely difficult to do.
Case in point. How will teams defend the Suns when they run the high pick-and-roll with Amare? Normally teams will rotate the weak side big defender over to challenge him. Well, if that occurs you have Shaq on the weak block flashing in for a pass from Nash or a guard trying to block him out. If teams get silly enough to rotate a small player to Amare, then they allow Raja Bell or Leandro Barbosa to have wide open three-point shots on the weak side.
Mike D’Antoni can use his full playbook now with the back-to-the-basket dominance of Shaq.
Improve the running game
The biggest fallacy about the Suns and their running game is that Shaq will slow them down. I believe it will speed them up and give them more opportunities to run. I have already talked about possessions and the physicality Shaq brings to the Suns.
Now couple that with better confidence with your defensive rebounding – thus allowing Nash, Barbosa, Hill and Bell to run out earlier. The Suns could be even more potent. Also throw in Amare running more because of not having to fight and box out big centers.
I never saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar running the lanes for the Lakers, but I did see him igniting it with rebounding and long outlet passes, and then coming down on the block with commanding presence.
Amare will become more dominant
Because of the matchup nightmare Shaq would bring, Amare Stoudemire will benefit the most.
Foul trouble should decrease and scoring and rebounding should go up. Also watch for his weak side defense to produce more blocked shots and steals. We have never seen what Shaq could do with a young dominant power forward beside him and he has one of the best in Stoudemire, who should be ecstatic at the chance to stop battling centers every night.
Nash can play without dominating ball
This might be the most important cause of the Shaq trade and here is why.
D’Antoni would love to keep Nash on the floor and use him off the ball, but he knows the offense would stall. The addition of Shaq and his great passing out of the post will allow the NBA’s best three-point shooter to spot up for periods during the game and punish defenses for doubling.
Case in point. Grant Hill throws it in to Shaq with Nash and either Barbosa or Bell on the weak side and Amare on the elbow waiting for the short jumpshot or the run to the basket if they double off of him.
This will destroy any defense and if Shaq stays healthy the Suns will be the team to beat come playoff time.