It doesn’t matter how old Shaq is, if he can play someone’s going to pay.
On 7 February, Shaquille O’Neal was traded by the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. The move became official after Shaq passed a physical the day before.
On paper, the Suns gain one of the best centers in league history. In 16 seasons, The Diesel has won four titles and been an All-Star for all but two seasons. Over the course of his career, he’s averaged roughly 26 points and 12 rebounds a game.
In reality, all they’re really getting is a veteran who’s on the fast track to retirement. Shaq turns 36 next month and has been prone to injuries to his hip, foot and ankle.
His numbers have backed up the cause for alarm. The last two seasons have seen Shaq’s production significantly decline. Last season, he had career lows in points (17.3 ppg), blocks (1.4 bpg), rebounds (7.4 rpg) and free throw percentage (42%).
For me, this season has shown Shaq’s days are numbered. Shaq has only played in 32 games due to a hip injury. In that time, he’s just averaged roughly 14 points and 8 rebounds a game.
The move marks a transition for the Suns. Known for being a ‘run and gun’ offense, the team will now have to work around Shaq and his 325lb, aging frame.
Granted, first year Suns General Manager Steve Kerr did say that the move was to bolster the Suns half-court offense. As any basketball fan knows, no team can run forever.
However, the problem for the Suns is they had to lose to gain. Granted, Banks is a young player with unrealised potential who the team won’t miss. But Marion was one of their best players.
Up to the time of the trade, Marion averaged roughly a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds a game. In addition, he was shooting about 53% percent from the field, 71% from the stripe while averaging 36 minutes a game. In other words he did it all for the Suns and then some.
Meanwhile the Heat are sitting back hoping to reload for next season. With Marion and Banks in the fold, they should field a much more athletic team. The only thing missing is a healthy big man in the middle.
The Suns are gambling they’ll get the Shaq of old or at least of three years ago. They’re desperately trying to find a way to contend with the big guns of the West like San Antonio and Dallas in the playoffs.
I’m not sure Shaq is the answer. His health and production are both conspiring against him. It also remains to be seen how focused he’ll be for the rest of the season.
Nevertheless, all eyes will be on Shaq as he makes his debut tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers. Everyone will be watching to see if he can take down Kobe and still show that Shaq can attack.