Is Pat Riley Responsible for Shaq's Decline?

David WangAnalyst IJanuary 11, 2008

He was once an unstoppable low-post force who broke backboards for a living.

Now even 6’9” rookie Al Horford can slow him down dramatically.

Where did Shaquille O'Neal's dominance go?

Is he too old? Is he too slow for the contemporary up-tempo style of basketball? Or has he simply lost his competitiveness?

Maybe Miami Heat coach Pat Riley is somehow responsible for the former superstar's continued decline over the past four years.

Before the 7'1", 325-pound center was shipped from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant after the 2003-04 season, O'Neal had been arguably one of the most dominant centers to ever play the game.

His rare combination of power, strength, quickness, and court vision allowed him to take full control over an entire game.

When he is playing one-on-one against any player in the post, his pure size with the addition of his variety of post moves lets him score at ease. If he is doubled, or even triple-teamed, his superb court vision gives him the opportunity to pass out to open shooters.

It was this full package of skills and talents, along with star teammate Kobe Bryant, that gave the Lakers a three-championship dynasty.

But once Shaq left, the Lakers crumbled.

Heat fans had playoff hopes and championship dreams when O'Neal swept into South Beach. What these anxious fans did not expect though, was that their savior was about to crumple as well.

Sure, the Diesel kept his promise of bringing a championship to the beautiful city of Miami, but he didn't carry the team like he did with the Lakers; Finals MVP Dwyane Wade did.

Pershaps it is because Shaq is getting older; he no longer has the capability of maintaining constant control over his immense body mass. 

But if he wants to be compared to the greatest post-players in history like he is compared to, he should still be playing basketball the way he did when he earned MVP of the season in 2000.

Shaquille O'Neal is still only 36 years old.

At this age, Karl Malone was named to All-NBA First Team.

At this age, Wilt Chamberlain was still grabbing 19.2 rebounds per game and shooting  with 65 percent accuracy.

At this age, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still leading his Lakers to NBA Finals, and dropping his deadly sky hook over everyone.

To say the least, Shaq should not be declining this fast.

So what made his game so lame?

Pat Riley.

The moment Shaq arrived in Miami, Pat Riley had high expectations for him.

The one that stood out the most concerned Shaq's weight problem.  Riley expected him to maintain 13 percent body fat. 

This may not seem much for a professional athlete, but 325 pounds of mass is a completely different story.

The reason Shaq is so hard to stop is because of his sheer size, and then Riley wants him to keep "fit" like the smaller players?

That's like telling Michael Jordan, "Don't jump so high!"

After all, Phil Jackson never rode Shaq about keeping his body fat down, and they succeeded.

In addition, Riley is a very strict coach, and when he wants his plays to be executed, they must be executed to perfection.

But most of the plays are designed for Dwyane Wade to score, and there is a possibility that after being the team's leading scorer over the years, Shaq had an issue with it.

It is evident in Shaq's statistical line. The years before he went to Miami, he averaged 27 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.  In his four seasons with the Heat, he merely averaged 14.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a night.

It should also be noted that the for the last three seasons, he has neither averaged over 20 points or 10 rebounds a game.

Here, we have evidence that his decline is not about his age or injuries, but because of the team. 

And the one who is responsible for the team is Pat Riley.

It is highly likely that Riley is somewhat responsible for Shaq's continual decline in his game performance.

It is high time for Riley to give Shaq the green light to play the game he once played.