Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. It just sounds nuts, doesn't it?
That's because it is nuts. But might it be the good kind of nuts? Is it possible that Suns general manager Steve Kerr is a gambling genius, that by rolling the dice on putting a building right smack in the middle of his team's highflying offense, he might finally bring an NBA championship to the desert?
That would be cool, because it's so off the wall. And speaking of the wall, it moved a 16th of an inch in the last year, which would make it quicker than Shaq right now.
That's the thing. It's praise for O'Neal to compare his mobility to a building's. And that's when he's even on the floor. The floor of the building, I mean. The one that he's about as mobile as.
The trade was contingent on O'Neal's passing a physical in Phoenix Wednesday, which he did. He's missed the Miami Heat's last six games and 14 of the last 18 with a hip injury. He played 59 games in the championship season two years ago, 40 games last year, and he's played 32 so far this season. It would be an upset if he ever again gets to 50, never mind 60.
But the Suns don't really need him to play a lot of "regular-season" games. What they need him to do is rebound and defend and launch outlet passes in the playoffs. The thinking here is that the Suns' run-and-gun style, so entertaining, so influential even, hasn't brought the big trophy to Phoenix.
The trade would seem to be an indictment of coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, but there were reports that he was behind the trade all the way.
What the Suns have lacked during their run of the last few years is interior defense, and they've also been limited by having to play Amare Stoudemire, who's naturally a monster power forward, as an undersized center. On top of all that, Marion, angry about not getting a contract extension, had reportedly become a big chemistry minus for the Suns.
Chemistry is bunk in baseball. Not in basketball.
Please stand by. I'm trying to talk myself into this.
So what has to happen is that the Big Diesel has to accept that he has entered the final phase of his career, the one in which he's not a focal point on offense but has to do all the blue-collar stuff underneath.
The last time O'Neal got traded he made a big show of accepting a reduced role, saying the Heat were Dwyane Wade's team, which was a big statement coming off his years-long power struggle with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Shaq was true to his word long enough to win the title that first year, but lately he's been complaining about a lack of touches as the Heat have stunk it up to the tune of 9-37, a record that would not have looked better had Shaq been getting more touches.
So things better work out quickly.
What else has to happen is the Suns have to replace Marion's 36 minutes, 16 points and 10 rebounds every night, only some of which O'Neal can contribute, and only when he's healthy. A career 25-point scorer, O'Neal's averaging 14 this year. Marion's also a fine defender who can pretty much play all five positions. Even grumbling, Marion's a hell of a player.
It feels like the Suns gave up on their philosophy a little too soon, doesn't it? Yes, they got bounced from the playoffs short of the Finals for the third time in a row last year, but who knows what would have happened in that second-round series against San Antonio and beyond if they'd been able to play Game 6 at full strength. Could last year's Suns have won two games against the Spurs and then beaten Utah and Cleveland? We'll never know.
This year the Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns' tormentors in the last three playoff seasons, both look vulnerable, though the Lakers suddenly look like title contenders since the Pau Gasol trade and the Jazz and New Orleans Hornets aren't pushovers. The Hornets beat the Shaq- and Marion-less Suns Wednesday night on a buzzer-beater by Peja Stojakovic. Shaq watched from a suite.
The Suns haven't been happy with their season so far but they still have the best record in the West. I love the idea of rolling the dice, but the trade for Shaq seems more like a desperation move by a team that doesn't need to be making desperation moves. And if it doesn't work out, it's really not going to work out: O'Neal's contract, which has two years remaining after this one, will be an albatross.
For the Heat, it's a terrific move. They get Shaq's huge contract off the books and they can either sign Marion to an extension or lose his contract after this season. That gives them a chance to do something they weren't going to be able to do with Shaquille O'Neal standing still in the middle of the floor -- when healthy enough -- and drawing $20 million a year in salary: Build another team around Wade, who's still only 26.
The Lakers and Heat could meet in the Finals in a few years and both look back on trading Shaq as the first step on the road there.
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Dickie V returns with a question -- this column answers [PERMALINK]
Dick Vitale returned to the air Wednesday night for the first time following surgery on his vocal cords in December. He did Duke's win at North Carolina on ESPN, and in between his and partner Mike Patrick's 437 mentions that Duke-Carolina is the greatest rivalry in college sports, Dickie V actually criticized college basketball.
"You know, Mike," he said during garbage time as the teams trudged to the Duke free-throw line for the 614th time in the final two minutes, "I've been doing the game 29 years, I coached high school, college and pros for a number of years totally, and I wish there was some way at the end of the game, I can't think of it, some way to speed it up, some way to take away the boring fouls, going to the line following every play. It just takes away the rhythm of the game."
"It does," Patrick said, "but I don't know what the answer is."
"I don't either," Vitale said.
I do. This column has been campaigning for years for its elegant solution to this very problem. First of all, no foul shots, period. If the problem is boring foul shots, then get rid of foul shots. I'm always surprised I have to explain this stuff.
And in the last two minutes of the game: No timeouts, and the shot clock is 10 seconds.
You want to speed up the game? That would speed up the game. And unless it's down by 20 or so, the trailing team would have a chance to rally without having to rely on the leading team missing its boring free throws.
It's the best idea for basketball since they cut the bottom out of the peach basket.
Previous column: Good riddance, Bob Knight
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