Thursday, February 7, 2008

Is the Sun setting on Shaq?

By Rick Morris

Today's press conference announcing the Shaq trade to Phoenix cemented in everyone's mind the new state of the Western Conference (by the way, was anyone else wondering whether we were actually watching Shaq today or Aries Spears doing his imitation?). Dallas and San Antonio were already cemented as perennial powers still at the top -- then the Lakers acquired Pao Gasol seemingly out of nowhere in a blatant steal from Memphis to make themselves relevant for the first time since they traded Shaq for the figurative pitcher of warm spit -- now, Phoenix brings Shaq back out West to claim the final spot on the upper tier. New Orleans and Utah are also at a very high level purely in terms of their records, but neither has the combination of talent and proven records over the last couple of years to make anyone believe they are threats to make the Finals.

Give new Phoenix GM Steve Kerr credit. It took a lot of guts to shake up the Suns' roster and force changes on a squad used to playing at such a radical up-tempo pace. And the loss of Shawn Marion will really be felt (Marcus Banks not so much). For Phoenix, the Alpha and Omega of this deal comes down to the question of whether they have acquired a center who can even come close to resembling the Shaq of old. My guess? Given the high level he still managed late last season, the Suns will get enough of his production to take them far. The Suns have finally put an end to their longtime finesse image, but they've been down this road before with acquiring a superstar who they thought could take them over the top -- and Charles Barkley still has as many rings as I do. But if the Suns win a title with Shaq at any point in his remaining contract, he will have won titles for three different teams and will be on a very, very short list of the greatest players ever.

As for Miami, with Shaq on the shelf, they were in perfect position to win the Michael Beasley sweepstakes. Now, they're still going to be horrible enough to qualify for a top pick in the draft anyway and it's going to be so very deep in franchise player talent at the top and my colleague Jason Jones correctly points out that Derrick Rose would be just the point guard the Heat needs. But just to be on the safe side, now that Miami has replaced an injured Shaq with a healthy Marion, now would be a very good time for D-Wade to "suddenly" discover that his shoulder needs to be rested for the remainder of the season.

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