Can The Big Diesel Run on Premium Unleaded?

Barry Rothbard

Shaquille O’Neal is certainly not the most dominating player in the NBA anymore. He’s not as nimble in the paint as he once was. He’s not even the explosive force he was in Blue Chips. He still can’t shoot free throws and his numbers (14.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg) are at the lowest point they’ve ever been. So did the Phoenix Suns, currently first in the Western Conference, make a mistake by trading for seven-footer whose best days are clearly behind him?

I don’t think so. This trade will enable the Suns to win the NBA Championship, a feat they have yet to achieve during the Steve Nash era. Shawn Marion, the player the Suns sacrificed, is a great athlete, but he is incomparable to The Diesel. Shaq may not be an unstoppable force, but he is still a very good player whose size and strength are unmatched. After all, he’s also known as The Big Aristotle. He can still be an intimidating force in the paint, especially since he’s averaging two blocked shots per game. His presence in the center, if only for 20-25 minutes per game, frees up Amare Stoudemire on both ends of the court. Now, rather than having to guard a bigger, stronger opponent, Stoudemire will have the physical advantage. He won’t be as prone to foul trouble because he knows there will be another layer of defense behind him. In the event that he does get beat, the opponent will run into the brick wall that is Shaq. On offense, Amare will now face fewer double teams and will typically be guarded by a weaker defender.

The Suns have lacked a legitimate post defender since Steve Nash arrived in Phoenix. That is no longer the case. While Shaq may slow down their fast break, he clearly makes them a better team on the defensive end and will allow them to play better team defense. During his successful run with the Lakers, Shaq not only contained, but he consistently beat Tim Duncan down on the low block. Although the Spurs are a much improved team since, Shaq still proved he can slow down and stop Duncan, who has been unstoppable against the Suns. Suns management knows that to beat Duncan and the Spurs, they cannot simply rely on hitting all their threes – they need to play some defense, particularly against Duncan. With Shaq on board, this objective becomes much easier.

Another overlooked component to this trade is that Shaq simply knows how to win. No player on the Suns has ever been to the NBA finals. The Diesel has four titles under his belt and when the Suns inevitably face the Spurs and possibly the Pistons in April and May, they can rely on Shaq’s experience and leadership abilities. He is a proven winner who will step his play up when the game is on the line. When Shaq becomes angry and irritated, he is after all known for doing certain things like winning championships, it means the rest of the league should take notice. An angry Shaq is a scary Shaq for the rest of the NBA.

Yet the biggest reason this trade makes so much sense is because of the chemistry. Steve Nash has been upset all year with the way the Suns have played, despite their stellar record. In essence, Nash wanted the Suns to dump Marion for awhile now. On the court, it became clear Nash and Marion were not on the same page. There have always been whispers that Marion did not get along with his teammates, as displayed by his trade requests. Shaq immediately makes this team more tightly-knit group. Shaq is possibly the most loved and respected player in professional sports. He has a great sense of humor and he will take pressure off of his teammates with his loose demeanor. The Suns locker room will be a place of harmony for the next few months. Barring an injury, Shaq will undoubtedly reclaim the title that he has captured so many times before: NBA Champion.