The On Deck Circle

Where practice swings don’t exist

Imaginary Player: Shaq Fu Cometh

Posted by Blake Murphy on February 9, 2008

This article has been submitted by Queens Intramurals Slam Dunk Champion Trevor Smith.

Aristotle once said that it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Perhaps it is appropriate that the subject these words ring most true of today is a man who invokes the immortal Philosopher King’s name. The “thought,” in this case, is trading for Shaquille O’Neal. It can be said with some certainty that Steve Kerr is not familiar with the Greek master’s work. Surely an enlightened man such as Kerr, he of four championship titles and the current GM of the Phoenix Suns, would never exhibit seeming total incompetence and peevishness by trading Shawn Marion, his most versatile player, for an ancient superstar whose game has slipped into the realm of ghastly and grave. The astute man that he is, Kerr would give consideration to such a trade for the appropriate amount of time (in this case, about 10 seconds) before laughing at Pat Riley and hanging up. “How the hell does the Diesel help us at all?” Kerr should have said. “How would he possibly work in Mike D’Antoni’s system? How will he run with Steve Nash?” As Aristotle suggested, these are the questions an educated mind would entertain without accepting. Evidently, Steve Kerr is not of an educated mind.

Yes, the man who dubbed himself Wilt Chamberneezy is moving again. In a trade that only Isiah Thomas believes is a good idea, the Suns have sent their best defender and finisher to Miami for the Ghost of O’Neal, an empty vessel of former glory who has been fastened to the injury list for almost two years. A decision so askew with common sense and totally deprived of shrewdness needs explaining.

“I know I shouldn’t have did that/ I know it’s gonna come right back…”- Ne-Yo

The shock created by this exchange of superstars lies not with the interests of either team, merely that they are such strange bedfellows. The Heat have openly been shopping O’Neal all season to no avail; evidently it does not help your trade value to be owed $20 million a season for the next two years whilst you are in the midst of your worst season as a professional. Phoenix meanwhile has had locker-room chemistry issues for years as first outlined in the sports journalism masterpiece Seven Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum. There was a clear divide between Marion and Amare over being the team’s Justin Timberlake (re: Alpha-dog) and successor to Nash as the face of the franchise. That issue came to a head before the season when the Matrix demanded a trade two days before training camp, only to balk in acknowledgment of his own denseness days later. Clearly for both franchises, the proverbial writing was on the wall: a trade of a key asset was necessary.

What has fans dumbfounded is that Phoenix seemingly got so little in return for Marion. Remember, there were serious discussions around the draft of a Marion for Garnett deal. That’s Kevin Garnett, the favorite for MVP and leader of the NBA’s best team. Regardless of whether or not Marion and STAT enjoy playing together, the Suns panicked in the wake of the Lakers getting Pau “Kobe’s BFF” Gasol last week. There is no debating that Stoudemire and Nash welcomed having Marion be traded in an effort to improve cohesiveness and bring a sense of collectivity back to the desert. They wanted a deal like this to happen. But the idea that they were really on board for bringing in an about-to-be 36 year old, 330 pound plus Centre that can’t run anymore? Like Public Enemy, I Can’t Truss It. Even if they had to trade Matrix (which I am not totally convinced is the case), they could have easily worked a deal that brought back D’Antoni-friendly players in return. Why not inquire about a Marion for Marcus Camby and Chucky Atkins? Camby is precisely the kind of defender the run-and-fun Suns need and Atkins would make a living in the deep corner waiting for Captain Canada to penetrate and dish. There was another player involved from the Suns side of this Lupe Fiasco: Marcus “You Wouldn’t Believe How Bad My Contract Is” Banks. It certainly seems like the Suns were fixated on trading Banks as well as Marion, and perhaps Miami was the only suitor willing to also take on the overwhelmed, underachieving backup’s contract. Whether it was chemistry, cash, or otherwise, something wasn’t right in the Suns locker room, but this sort of irrational move brings Kerr’s competency into question. Somewhere, Bryan Colangelo is laughing.

“There’s so much to be scared of/ And not much to make sense of…”- Coldplay

The Suns were the darlings of the NBA because of the break-neck style that Nash and D’Antoni brought with them four seasons ago. They made basketball beautiful again, rescuing it from the brutally physical game it had become under the watch of the Pat Rileys and Jeff Van Gundys of the world. No longer were fans subjected to total isolation plays every other possession. The ball-hording, clock-killing traditional post was nowhere to be seen in their new system. While Phoenix had yet to make it to the promised land of milk and honey that is the NBA Finals, they most surely had a good thing going. Back to back trips to the Western Conference Finals proved it. In fact, had it not been for injuries to Joe Johnson and Amare, the case could easily be made that they would have raised the Larry O’Brien at least once by now. And that is to make no mention of last spring’s Spurs (mis)series that included the Tim Donaghy fixing of Game 3 and the most unjust suspensions in NBA playoff history, where the letter of the law won out over its spirit. Suddenly the Suns felt a little older, a little slower, and began to question whether they could really win a championship with their system, the system that saved the NBA fan.

In spite of Nash’s age, Marion’s discontent, and Amare’s total lack of defense, Phoenix still had the best record in the West when they made the Shaq deal. Essentially, this trade signifies them throwing their hands up and proclaiming, “We tried it our way and it didn’t work; we will conform.” In a league ruled by the Tim Duncans and Yao Mings of the world, it would appear that the Borg mentality wins out. Resistance is futile. Kerr convinced himself that he had to move Marion and that he needed a defensive body in return. In doing so, he killed the team’s style of play and completely altered its identity. The Suns were the Lewis Hamilton of the NBA but don’t expect that to still be the case. After all, Formula 1 McLarens don’t run on Diesel fuel.

“You fallin’/They applaudin’/Screaming at the screen/ Damn you fucked up/ Like your favorite movie scene…”- Jay-Z

Meanwhile, there is much rejoicing on South beach. The Heat and the oh-so-slick Pat Riley just pulled off almost as big of a coup as the Lakers did from Memphis only a week ago. Miami got a four-time All-Star that’s six years younger than Shaq at a lower price tag. Marion is a player that can guard four positions at the highest level and has the kind of versatility that makes John Hollinger’s head explode. How complete a player is he? In ’05-’06, he was the only player to rank in the top 20 in the L in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and minutes. He and Flash will be a formidable duo, even if Riley’s ridiculously overblown MJ-Pippen comparison is nothing short of laughable. With Shaq, the Heat have won nine games this season. They have the worst record in the NBA less than two seasons after winning a title. Clearly Extreme Makeover Home Edition is needed in Miami. The Heat are winners here regardless of whether Marion signs an extension at the end of the season. Even if he walks, they will have almost $17 million in cap room to lure a top-tier free agent. Selling someone on playing with DWade, in the Miami sun, with a potential top-five pick coming in from this ridiculously loaded draft does not look like it will be an arduous task.

For Phoenix, perhaps Kerr has been listening to Shaq’s song Connected one too many times (Video Description: See WD Crip walk! See Nate Dogg in a replica jersey! See Shaq rap!). It is there that The Big Quote lays down the following: “I’m still the world’s most dominant/TWIsm/The Dynasty/The irony is prominent”. TWIsM reference aside, Shaq’s arrival to the desert will probably begin with this same sense of cocksureness. He claims that he can still be a difference maker and that anyone who thinks otherwise need only pull his resume. With every pundit doubting him, O’Neal is angry. When Diesel gets angry, he gets motivated. “When I’m upset, I’m known to do certain things — like win championships,” he said at his first Suns press conference.

Certainly Kerr believes him, though that may be because he is the size of a refrigerator and could pick Steve up with one hand. He acquired O’Neal for one reason: to win a title, this year. The Suns window is officially 4 months long now, and Kerr was tired of watching the Suns get destroyed on the block, as they have been by every legitimate big this season. Whether it’s a side-effect of microfracture or not, STAT cannot guard elite forwards down low. Duncan, Bynum, D12 and Al Jefferson are all averaging at least 30.0 PPG against the Suns. The team clearly was not working as a united front and needed defense and rebounding to get them over the hump to win the championship that has eluded them during the Nash Era. But Shaq hasn’t played defense in at least four years. Even in his prime, O’Neal was not a mainstay on the All-Defensive Team. Defense is all about effort, desire, and self-motivation. Any Lakers fan familiar with the team’s locker room scale during the Shaq Era will tell you those are not his strong suits.

“All eyes on me (Until the day I die)/ Live the life of a boss player…”-Tupac

Some night in the near future all the talk will materialize and we will see O’Neal line up with Amare and Nash on the court. The realization will kick in then that this blockbuster, potentially crippling trade actually happened. Even though we will see whether or not the Suns can properly incorporate Shaq as early as the All-Star break, the real outcome will not be known until mid-June. The only thing that will bring fulfillment and a sense of wholeness to the situation is a championship ring on Nash’s finger and Shaq’s thumb. The world is now watching. Mr. Kerr, you have our attention.

This article has been submitted by Queens Intramurals Slam Dunk Champion Trevor Smith.

3 Responses to “Imaginary Player: Shaq Fu Cometh”

  1. Blake Murphy Says:

    Trev, great article as always. I like that you took a firm stance on the Shaq trade. The biggest question of the trade: does Wade even need Charles in his Fave 5 now that Marion is around? And secondly, is it weird that I pronounce Marion as if it were Omarion without the O? Help me T…

  2. JRD Says:

    Great rundown of the Shaq trade. Since I’m not exactly a basketball expert but also a Sun’s fan, it was refreshing to know that my non-follower take on the trade was pretty close to the mark. Shaq? in an entertaining run and gun? I’m pretty sure I’d be a better fit in sunny Pheonix… and I’m a white guy with a limp.

  3. AJ Says:

    Whoa, does that mean Riles is actually Ty Pennington?

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