The rumored Shaquille O’Neal to Phoenix deal is done. The big question now is what does this trade mean for Shaq, the Phoenix Suns, the Miami Heat and the rest of the NBA?
First let me start by addressing all the critics that say “Phoenix will not be as good (if not considerably worst) having aquired O’Neal.” I don’t know about you, but whenever you get a guarenteed hall-of-fame center while he can still play at an above-average level (18.16 PER), your team can’t get worse.
Is this an over reaction to the Lakers move getting Pau Gasol? Maybe. I tend to think it’s Phoenix doing exactly what Miami did two seasons ago, which is take advantage of an opportunity to win now while Shaq can still run and jump (albeit slower and not as high). Shaq looks to be the new (and largest) “contract killer” for hire. Meaning you bring him in for a short period of time to get the job done - get to the NBA Finals and play for an NBA championship. Something the Phoenix Sun team has not been able to do as previously constructed. Clearly O’Neal can no longer lead a team at this stage of his career, but he definitely can and has proven to be successful as a hired gun to get a good team over the hump (2006 Miami Heat). Yes, Dwyane Wade led that team, but does anyone believe they get to the Finals let alone win without O’Neal in the lineup?
What this means for the Phoenix Suns
While 70% of the United States (according to ESPN Sports Nation’s poll) thinks this deal doesn’t make sense for the Phoenix Suns here’s why it does.
The Suns becomes a more well-rounded basketball team. How? We already know the Suns can run and gun better than most teams in the league. And they do so very effectively with Steve Nash at the point. That won’t change as much as people seem to think with Shaq in the line-up. Rather, I envision O’Neal igniting the break with his rebounding and freeing up the younger, faster and more agile Amare Stoudemire to get out and run the break, taking Shawn Marion’s old role. Will Shaquille be running up and down with Nash, hell no. But whenever the fast break falls apart and the ball is turned over you now have a defensive safety net in O’Neal who likely will be lagging behind. Also, I expect Mike D’Antoni, an offensive guru, to implement a secondary break that incorporates the late-coming Shaq at the top of the key, very similar to what Roy Williams runs with his up-tempo UNC squad.
What you get is a more stable and diversified half-court offense. This is especially crucial come playoff time when fast-break points are harder to come by and it becomes more of a walk-it-up, half-court game especially against the better teams in the West. Phoenix can play high-low with Shaq and Amare. Can Gasol, Bynum, Oberto, Duncan or any other big in the West guard Shaq straight up? I don’t think so. Post O’Neal up where he is surrounded by some of the best 3-point shooters in the league and his passing ability is strong enough to pick doubling defensives apart. The pick-and-roll can be run with Shaq as well. He has never been known for having bad hands. With Nash’s passing ability and basketball IQ he will get the rock to Shaq in optimal scoring position.
Defense and toughness has always been a concern for this team, especially inside. Inserting 7-foot, 1, 325-pounds clogs up a lot of lanes to the basket. Will Shaq be blocking shots left and right or be as dominant on the defensive end as he has in the past? No, but where he doesn’t block shots he still alters many of them. His motivation to do so will be at a high level with the needed change of scenery and drastically better supporting cast.
Maybe most important of all is that Shaq will inflict some pain on the guys guarding him all while getting some players in foul trouble. And you can be damn sure he will use up his 6 fouls – hard. That provides an inside intimidation factor that was always lacking with Amare in the middle. So what if he fouls out? The Suns will just revert to their more up-tempo, wide-open style of play on offense. But last year’s playoff disappointment definitely played a role in this deal. Phoenix got beat up and hit in the nose – literally – by the San Antonio Spurs. O’Neal provides a presence to eliminate that soft image and weakness.
One final note on the Suns – moving Marion now gets value for him and eliminates another summer having to deal with the disgruntled forward.
How this impacts the Miami Heat?
Pat Riley has positioned his team to make a run the second half of the season. Getting Shawn Marion, a 18 and 10 guy to play along side Dwyane Wade is huge. Miami becomes younger, more athletic and maybe most importantly healthier by swapping Shaq for Marion and Marcus Banks. Miami has also sured up the point guard spot, at least temporarily, with the addition of Banks. He has been rotting on the Phoenix bench the last two season and now will finally get an opportunity to play extended minutes. He played a stretch with Minnesota where he scored 12ppg, got 4.7apg, shot 48% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc in 30 minute per night. I expect more of the same from him in Miami, if not better.
Cap flexibility. Riley has unloaded Shaq’s enormous $20M per year contract which completely opens up the possibilities for this franchise going forward. Marion’s $16.4M with $17.1M option adds more production and puts Miami in a better position financially. Picking up Marcus Banks is also a big deal considering Jason Williams will be a free agent this summer. I don’t expect the Heat to resign his erratic and, as of late, injury-prone Williams. They may actually use him as trade bait for teams looking for expiring contracts.
No matter how you look at, this deal is solid gold for the Miami Heat.
What Shaq to Phoenix means to the rest of the League
First off, Dallas, San Antonio and Denver are officially on notice. Another team in your conference has gotten bigger and better and standing pat might not be good enough now. Phoenix has filled a need for size and physicality that has been lacking the previous years.
In the next few weeks before the trade deadline (Feb. 21st) I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dallas pump up their efforts to get Jason Kidd or Denver make the Ron Artest deal happen. The West is just a beast right now. Detriot and Boston need to be weary if they have to face the Suns in the Finals because Kendrick Perkins damn sure can’t guard even a 35-year-old Shaq. And in no way is Sheed looking forward to that match up.
Best of all, as fans, we are guaranteed one of the most anticipated, exciting and competitive NBA playoffs in a very long time. It is a great time to be an NBA fan.
Make sense now? What do you think of the deal and how it will impact the rest of the NBA season?