The Worst Possible Trade

Wed, 02/06/2008 - 9:01am

By Nick Prevenas

[img_assist|nid=3499|title=Shaquille O'Neal - Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=290|height=389]Shaquille O'Neal enrolled at Louisana State University in 1989, a year after George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the presidential election.

He released his first rap album, the seminal "Shaq Diesel," 15 years ago, the same year Nirvana's "In Utero" came out. He starred in "Blue Chips" 14 years ago, eight months before "Pulp Fiction" was released.

The point being? Shaquille O'Neal is old and past his prime.

Despite all of this, the Phoenix Suns willfully sought out Shaq, giving up an All-Star-level player (Shawn Marion) in order to acquire the worst-possible fit for their up-tempo offensive philosophy.

Seriously, there is no way anyone involved with the Phoenix Suns can justify this trade. It's incomprehensible. It's unfathomable.

This season, the 35-year-old (36 in March) Shaq is in the midst of his worst statistical season. His averages of 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds are well below his career numbers of 25.9 and 11.6.

And, in case there was any confusion, 7-foot-2, 340-pound centers don't get better as they age.

Shaq is battling arthritic toes, calcified knees, herniated back discs and, most recently, hip problems. He has missed 14 of Miami's last 18 games due to injury.

When he's "healthy," O'Neal is a shadow of his former self, averaging four fouls in 28 minutes of action this season. He is impossibly awkward in his attempts to defend against the high screen-and-roll against quicker teams, and his legs no longer possess the spring it takes to recover.

It must be asked: Do the Phoenix Suns have scouts? Have they watched Shaq play this season?

This will be the first All-Star weekend since 1992 that will come and go without a Shaq appearance on the court.

Only a handful of teams could properly utilize Shaq's remaining skills. It would take a slow, plodding, half-court oriented team to maximize what Shaq has left to offer.

Naturally, the only team interested in O'Neal is the free-wheeling Phoenix Suns.

Have you ever played pick-up basketball at your local YMCA? If so, you know how maddening it can be when you're in the midst of a spirited, back-and-fourth contest, but you have one guy on your team who has no interest in running the floor. They clog things up and they make everyone miserable.

Now, new general manager Steve Kerr expects Shaq — the same Shaq who has struggled mightily all season long — to run the floor with Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa and the remarkably entertaining Phoenix squad? Please.

Supporters of this deal point to how this Suns team could never win a title as it is presently constructed. They say Phoenix needs a big body to bang with the Tim Duncans and the Yao Mings of the world.

And if this was five years ago, it would be a different story altogether.

However, nobody honestly believes Shaq is keeping up with any of the high-profile big men out West, right?

Supporters of this deal might point out how Marion's attitude was poisoning the Suns' locker room and a deal had to be made.

However, these supporters fail to mention that Marion's unique skill set has been vital to Phoenix's success these past 3-4 years. They don't mention how Marion is among the greatest rebounders for his size and they don't mention how his elite defensive abilities have helped cover up the deficiencies of his teammates (Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and so on).

If he was really that unhappy, why not trade for someone like Andrei Kirilenko? Someone who might actually fit in with Phoenix's style?

Now, everyone who faces the Suns will simply run a high screen and roll. Heck, the New Orleans Hornets could score 150 points against the Suns if they run either David West or Tyson Chandler to the top of the key to set a pick for Chris Paul.

Shaq won't be able to cover it. Neither will Nash.

And on offense? Forget it. Shaq occupies the same paint area that Stoudemire has dominated. Now, Phoenix is going to have to deal with a moody Stoudemire if Shaq takes all of his touches down low.

And those fun, highlight-reel fast breaks we've been accustomed to seeing from Phoenix? They will be in short supply, as Nash will be forced to slow up the offense while Shaq lumbers up and down the floor.

This is one of those rare NBA trades where one of the principles involved got worse in the short term AND the long term.

Not only is Shaq sharply declining, he's owed $20 million next year and $20 million the year after that. His contract doesn't expire until 2010.

Since Suns owner Robert Sarver has been so reluctant to pay the luxury tax in the past, look for him to force Kerr to deal another one of the team's assets in order to accommodate Shaq's massive contract.

Remember, this is a franchise that has given away valuable first-round picks for years in order to steer clear of the tax threshold. Imagine the Suns with Luol Deng and Rajon Rondo (two of the players selected with those picks).

Since moving to the Arizona area three years ago, I quickly jumped on the Suns bandwagon. Seduced by their style of play, they represented to me what basketball should look like when it's played at its highest level.

Last spring's Suns/Spurs playoff match-up was easily the most entertaining series in quite some time. The Suns had a legitimate chance to win before the NBA and the referee-who-shall-not-be-named intervened.

Now, the Suns panicked in the face of the Los Angeles Lakers' recent Pau Gasol heist and made the worst possible deal.

It's a colossal mistake on every level.

I can't handle this anymore. I need to go outside, take a walk and calm down.

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