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A Huge Sunspot Appears

Shaquille O'Neal
Two years removed from winning a title in Miami, the struggling Heat deal Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix for four-time All-Star Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. (Associated Press)

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Most teams would have put up with Marion's self-absorption because he can flat-out play. He's the most versatile defensive player in the league, probably the only one who can adequately guard Jason Terry one possession and Dirk Nowitzki the next. Marion, not Stoudemire, has been the Suns' best rebounder, even though he's only 6 feet 6. Marion plays James Worthy to Nash's Magic Johnson, finishing all manner of lobs and flips. The Heat is about to get a whole lot better because Marion will join Dwyane Wade.

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That's the argument against what the Suns did, the one that focuses on Marion being uniquely qualified to do all the dirty work the Suns ask. On a defensively challenged team, he was the best defender. And it's easy to line up the arguments against getting Shaq at this point. Once the game's best player, he's plodding or injured.

My first reaction to the deal was that Kerr and anybody who supported the trade had lost their minds.

But that's the knee-jerk reaction that doesn't take into account several factors, starting with this: The Suns couldn't get past the Lakers and Spurs as constructed. With so many teams in the West being bigger and stronger, other than D'Antoni they knew they had to do something, and Shaq simply fell out of the sky? Asked his initial reaction to Miami offering up Shaq, Kerr said: "I was shocked. If you look back on what happened in the last 24 hours it was incredible."

On the plus side, Shaq will inject some much needed life into the Suns' locker room. He'll be the mentor Stoudemire has long needed but never had, and allow Stoudemire to move to power forward for which he's better suited.

Shaq will play better post defense, even in his reduced state, than the Suns have played in many years. Minnesota's Al Jefferson was averaging 36 points and 16 rebounds against the Suns this season. Tim Duncan was averaging 27 and 17. Andrew Bynum, a kid, was averaging 21 and 12. Yao Ming was averaging 21 and 10. The Suns are now counting on Shaq to stop that. Also, Shaq is such an unselfish passer, he doesn't have to score a bunch of points to be a factor offensively.

The person who changed my mind about the trade was standing in the visitors' dressing room before the game. Byron Scott, a candidate for NBA coach of the year, didn't like the trade for the Suns; he loved it. Scott flashed back to the end of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career, when he was nearing 40. Magic, Worthy, Scott and either A.C. Green or Michael Cooper, would run the Showtime Lakers break with Kareem bringing up the rear. "And when we needed to slow it down, wait for him and throw it in to him in the playoffs," Scott said, "he could still command a double-team, as Shaq will. He can either score or find a great shooter."

D'Antoni swears the offense can be tweaked to include Shaq and doesn't need to be overhauled. And the Suns had better hope so. You pause to take a breath in the Western Conference and several teams can run right past you.

The Suns have come to realize, as evidenced by this stunning trade, that even they are no longer immune.


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