Six games into the Shaquille O’Neal era in the Phoenix desert, and Steve Kerr is probably reaching for the extra strength Maalox right about now.
The move – bringing an old, broken down Shaq in for one more NBA title run – was roundly criticized in most media circles. The reasoning from the Suns point of view was that Shaq just needs motivation. Put him in the West, where all the good teams play, and watch Shaq go. Put him in Kobe’s division, and watch him put the Suns on his back, leading them to the Pacific title. Put him where he has something to play for, where he can go earn his fifth ring while denying Kobe a shot at his fourth.
Put him back on a plane to Miami, and ask for Shawn Marion to please come home.
Steve Kerr, called “gutsy” by some for pulling the trigger on the deal, has to be nervous after watching the Suns lose at home to the 76ers on Saturday night. The 119-114 victory by Philly dropped the Suns record to 2-4 since they decided to go “gutsy.” It was also the first time this year the Suns lost back-to-back home games. So can we blame Shaq, or is it something else ailing the Suns? Let’s look at Shaq’s impact.
Shaq’s first game in a Suns uniform was one of the great NBA games this year, as the Lakers defeated the home Suns 130-124. Shaq scored 15 and grabbed 9 boards in 29 minutes and freed up Amare Stoudemire to score 37 and pull down 15 rebounds. Kobe Bryant went off for 41 for the Lakers in the victory. Shaq looked energized in the game. It was a moral victory though the Suns came up short.
Game two was against Boston, and the Suns pull out a victory 85-77 at home. Shaq only scores 4 points, but grabs 14 rebounds in 26 minutes of play. Any victory over Boston is a quality win, but Boston shoots horribly, 38.5% in the third game of a five game West Coast trip. Still, hope springs eternal for Shaq fans in Phoenix.
Game three is an absolute debacle as the Suns are blown out at home by Detroit 116-86. Shaq scores 7 points and gathers 9 rebounds in 33 minutes of play. Shaq turns in a very Shaq-like performance at the free throw line, going 1-8. At one point nearing the end of the third quarter, Phoenix is down 90-54, but they rally to cut it to a 30 point loss by game's end.
Shaq’s fourth game is against Memphis on the road. Of course, they won; they were playing Memphis. In the 127-113 victory Shaq scores 13 and grabs 11 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Game five was the next night against New Orleans, and the Suns went down in defeat 120-103. Shaq scores 15 and only gets 7 boards in 32 minutes. Chris Paul shreds the Suns with 25 points and 15 assists as Phoenix drops under .500 with Shaq.
Game six at home last night against Philadelphia was Shaq’s worst. He scores 8 points and grabs 7 rebounds in 26 minutes. He doesn’t shoot a single free throw. Phoenix, recently the top seed in the West, goes down to the seventh seeded team in the East. At home. Not good.
The only thing Shaq really does for the Suns is free up Stoudemire to score and rebound more, but he does nothing for the real MVP of the team, Steve Nash. In fact the deal has been subtraction for Nash as he lost Shawn Marion in the deal. The Suns have been a run-and-gun team under Mike D’Antoni for years, and inserting old Shaq and subtracting young Marion won’t suddenly make you a title contender.
Steve Kerr certainly was “gutsy” when he made the Shaq trade, but he was also foolish. He was gambling that somehow he would get the Shaq of yesteryear, the guy who scored 25 and pulled down 15 a game. But that Shaq is gone, replaced by the one who scores 10 and grabs 8 boards a game. NBA general managers don’t trade the former; they only move the latter once they are past their prime and running on empty.