Commentary: Shaq trade hurts 2008 version of Suns

Published On:
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
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The acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal made sense.

Last season.

Consistently kicked out of the postseason, the NBA’s Phoenix Sun run-and-gun offense had consistently been countered by a half-court style limiting the home team’s strategy. That forced an offense built on rapidity to slow down and adhere to speed limit.

So the urgency exhibited by team vice president Steve Kerr could be understood. In a way, getting O’Neal via trade was a fail-safe initiative for the organization.

If history is any sort of measure, though, it was foolish to assume the Suns could break through in the 2008 playoffs and finally win the Western Conference title, which they’ve only managed to do twice in their history.

The Suns had been unable to do it with one of the league’s most exciting and prolific offenses pre-Shaq and, while effective, the Suns brand of basketball had been proven inept when it mattered most.

So Kerr logically tried to fix something already broken. The worst that could have happened actually did occur: a similar exit in the postseason.
But going forward, the Suns will have to earn their own keep. Shaq’s addition was like administering a Red Bull to a tired Suns team. The boost was meant to propel the Suns team just enough.

“I look forward to making people eat their words,” O’Neal zealously told the media after his acquisition.

But like too many Red Bulls, the crash came way too early as the run-and-gun faltered and the half-court offense didn’t emerge.

It offers a terrible omen for the 2008 campaign, which begins in just eight days.

The trade for Shaq last year, which cost the Suns Shawn Marion, will resemble what business majors refer to as paying "delayed interest."

Translation: While last season the Suns paid with their usual premature exit, this season they’ll have to pay a little more.

That’s because Shaq isn’t exactly youthful. The 36-year old center is only getting older in a sport that is consistently getting younger.

They say one of the first things that goes with youth is the ability to stay fit and stay healthy.

Last season, with both the Suns and the Miami Heat, O’Neal averaged just less than 29 minutes per game, in part due to a lingering hip injury.

What good is one of the greatest centers in history if he’s only playing about half the game?

There’s yet to be full convergence between Shaq and his fellow teammates.

It’s like adding an extra large bumper to a racecar. You might be protecting your racecar, allowing the driver to get inside and be more aggressive, but you’re also losing speed and agility.

The Suns needs a fellow post player as well. Yes, Amare Stoudemire is a great frontcourt player, but he’s not as good now as Shaq was at a similar age.

When O’Neal is out of the game, the Suns will learn how short-handed they really are.

The interest the Suns are and will continue to pay because of importing Shaq is terrible, especially in this economy.

They have two different teams, one with Shaq and one without. All in all, the Suns are going to find this 82-game season to be the longest in recent memory for each.

Reach the reporter at joshua.spivack@asu.edu.