Desert Dud?: Why Shaquille O'Neal Won't Work in Phoenix

Brandon NealCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2008

In recent history, the NBA has provided fans with some of the most irregular transactions we can imagine.

The Phoenix Suns are no strangers to these.

In 1992, the Suns stole one of the greatest forwards of all time—Charles Barkley—by trading away Jeff Hornacek and a couple of players you may never hear of in your lifetime.

(Props if you know Jeff, but he was a fantastic shooter.)

The end result: Sir Charles won an MVP that season with Phoenix and the Suns were ousted in the NBA Finals by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

Flip the switch to 2008.

Shaquille O'Neal, who may be the worst center for Mike D'Antoni's run and gun offense, is awaiting his first game as a member of (gasp) the Phoenix Suns.

The trade itself wasn't so bad. Shawn Marion is a free agent at season's end and it was expected that the Suns would let him go, safely assuming this because of their interest in the cap situation (letting Kurt Thomas go to the Sonics for a second rounder made this more obvious after the Joe Johnson trade for Atlanta's pick).

The Heat get out from under Shaq's overweight contract (no reference to O'Neal there), and bring in a player who may help them win 20 games this season. Both teams win when those factors are considered.

But I'm sorry to inform the Suns fans that, once you incorporate Shaq into your offense, you become the biggest losers.

OK, so it has been repeated many times that O'Neal won't be a major part of Phoenix's run and gun system. This is completely false and here's why:

1) O'Neal is unable to move out of the paint.

You'd love this if you were a half-court team that wants to beat up the frontcourt, slow down the game, and drag the opposition through the mud, but Phoenix is on another planet. When Shaq is stuck under the rim, the screen and rolls between Nash and his teammates are useless if Steve decides to pass out of them, because instead of attacking the rim, the Suns will have to settle for a mid-range jumper, unless they believe they can dunk over their own teammate. 

Assuming Phoenix pounds the ball inside to Amare, he isn't exactly "inside" anymore.

Amare's forte was his ability to dunk. The Suns are 63-62 when Amare is playing power forward and there's a reason for that. Putting Stoudemire a few feet away from the rim means he's going to shoot the ball more, and after watching him attempt a three-pointer last night against the Hornets in a clutch situation, you have to wonder if he's going to try and turn himself into Utah's Mehmet Okur.

If you feel good about that, you'll be disappointed for the rest of the season.

2) Shaq demands the ball to be effective.

I'm a devoted Lakers fan and I've seen plenty of O'Neal, even in his days at Miami (because I simply hated the Heat at that time). If you're willing to admit that Shaq can average six points per game in the Suns' offense, so be it—you can stop reading from here on out. Otherwise, you can only wonder what happens when he does receive the ball, if you've avoided watching him all these years.

Here's a secret: Putting the ball in Shaq's hands will not only delay the offense, but also keep it out of Steve Nash's hands. If the Suns want to score in seven seconds or less, they might want to do that with Shaq riding the pine.

3) He still can't hit his free throws.

Phoenix shoots at nearly 79 percent from the charity stripe. (At this time, they are tied for fifth in the NBA.) Within the final three or four minutes of the fourth quarter, the Suns can unload a massive amount of points because of their speed and ability to get to the foul line. They wear their opponents down.

In Los Angeles, Miami, and Orlando, the fans will be the first to admit that Shaq does not belong on the court late in a close game.

With that in mind, how does Phoenix set up an offense against a powerful Spurs and Lakers team in the playoffs with O'Neal on the bench? You can depend on Amare, but what happens back down the court?

O'Neal won't be there to defend the likes of Duncan or Bynum/Gasol in that situation, and if he is on the court, expect him to go to the line and miss his free throws instead.

Kerr and the organization seem to think they have brought in one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. Quite frankly, they are missing out on at least 10 better options.

Alonzo Mourning, who was underrated for his services in Miami the last two or three years, averaged more blocks per game this season, all while playing a full quarter less than Shaq. O'Neal has also picked up an average of four fouls in less than 30 minutes per contest, a statistic he nearly reached two years ago as well.

Even then, Shaq's body is his greatest enemy, causing him to miss a mass amount of games in his last three seasons. Excluding this season, Shaq has only played in a total of 99 games in his last two years, which is just 17 games more than a full NBA year. After missing a number of games for Miami this year, Shaq's weight is said to be down to an amazing 312 pounds in earlier reports, now listed at 324, but the weight loss may not reflect his work ethic more than it does his injury status and his age, and dropping 20 or 30 pounds in less than a couple of months is tough on the human heart.

Phoenix needed to roll the dice, but trading for an aging, half-court monster in Shaquille O'Neal may fatally wound the Suns for years, especially with Nash's back problems and father time at his doorstep.

The Miami Heat nearly sacrificed their future for one ring (and that could still be the case), but with Phoenix out in the tougher conference, running an incompatible offense and not having a Phil Jackson or a Pat Riley coaching Shaq in practices and during games, the trade makes little to no sense for a team that was one hip-check away from the NBA Finals last season.

Look on the bright side: If it falls through, the Knicks have enough to offer for Shaq.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.