NBA rivalries tend to change over the years.
Some rivalries seem to last, while others vary with changing times and personnel. One of the rivalries that has developed greatly over the last few seasons and looks like it has some staying power is the Lakers and the Suns.
Several attributes of this matchup contribute to the rivalry.
First it is a divisional matchup, as both teams play in the Pacific division of the Western Conference. The two have been at or near the top of this division over the last three years, making them both playoff teams.
If the in-season rivalry wasn't enough, these two Western powerhouses have met in the playoffs the last two seasons. Phoenix won both of these series, but even though the Suns won eight of the 11 games, every game has been tightly contested and highly competitive.
Both of these series had the Suns as the No. 2 seed and the Lakers at the No. 7 seed. This year, however, they both look to finish among the leaders in the West, possibly foreshadowing a later-round playoff matchup.
Perhaps the best element of this great rivalry, though, is the one-on-one matchups.
Probably the best point guard in the NBA, Steve Nash, matched up in recent years with Smush Parker. That matchup does not raise many eyebrows to say the least. This year however, Nash will face an excellent second-year guard in Jordan Farmar and a savvy veteran in Derek Fisher.
Raja Bell is not the best defender in the NBA, and he cannot shut Kobe down completely.
Honestly, who can?
However, nobody plays harder against Kobe, and Raja's pesky defense frustrates the MVP candidate. These frustrations manifested
themselves two years ago in the playoffs in a bit of a scuffle between the two.
But even against great defense, Bryant is easily the best scorer in the world. This matchup is the most important in this awesome rivalry.
Stoudemire is used to playing center for the Suns, and guarding Kwame Brown when the two teams play. The Lakers' trade for Pau Gasol changes a lot.
Now Stoudemire would be guarding a great young center named Andrew Bynum. And the versatile defense of Shawn Marion would be tested against the big game of Gasol. That is however, before the other trade.
The Suns' most recent acquisition, Shaquille O'Neal, changes everything.
Now Stoudemire is moved to the 4, where his athleticism should give him a slight edge over the more-traditional post game of Gasol.
O'Neal's veteran knowledge will be put to the test against the youthful explosiveness of Bynum. Similarly, Bynum will likely struggle to guard the bigger, more powerful four-ringed monster, the Diesel.
This move also creates one more interesting game-within-the-game. Lamar Odom vs. Grant Hill, two of the quiet producers in the NBA.
Hill is having his best year in a very long time. It will be interesting to see if he can guard the bigger Odom, or if D'Antoni
will be forced to alter his lineup to compensate for the enormous Laker front court.
Let's not forget this trade also rejuvenates the old rivalry between Kobe and Shaq.
The two separated years ago on bad terms. Since, the two have verbally made amends. But it is no secret that they hold each other in contempt to this day and would love nothing more than to one-up each other on a big stage.
Playing four times a year (which doesn't include a possible playoff series) should revitalize the old fire between the two.
Shaq just adds one more element to what is quickly becoming the greatest rivalry in the NBA.