Got a chance to do a quick Q&A via email with Ben from Ben's Suns Blog in advance of the game. My answers will be posted over there, Ben's answers are below. Enjoy.
ClipperSteve: Shaquille O'Neal - What the hell? Did this guy find the fountain of youth in the desert? I didn't think we'd ever see Shaq playing this well again, and certainly not this early in an NBA season.
Believe me, I'm just as surprised as you are. I thought the trade for Shaq was a necessary and bold move by the organization in order to fill some of our gaps. Last year, I thought Shaq played about as good as we would see. Truthfully, it really propelled Amare into a beast and all Suns fans were excited to see even more of that this year. Many of us saw the Diesel as being even more of a compliment to Amare and there was even talk of Amare having an MVP-type year. I absolutely never predicted that Shaq would play so well that he'd turn into the focal point of our team, nor did I want him to at the start of the season. Now, it's hard not to justify him being an all-star and being the MVP of the team. It's truly mind boggling.To Shaq's credit, though he has been calling for the ball more; he's also producing when he gets it. A huge criticism of mine for Amare this year was that he wanted to be the man (in the likes of Lebron or Wade) but he wasn't justifying getting the majority of touches and/or shots. This year, Shaq has played out of his mind individually but he's also involved the collective team. Much of the credit for Shaq's success is our training staff and Aaron Nelson. He's rejuvenated Grant Hill, kept Nash fresh when D'Antoni rode him into the ground, and has helped Shaq find his stride.It's scary to think what this team is capable of if everyone can accept their roles (i.e. the Mavericks game). I guarantee no one will want to face them in the playoffs.
ClipperSteve: Whose team is this? Is it Shaq's team? Nash's team? Amare's team? Terry Porter's team?
Great question. In my humble opinion, this team is a two-headed monster of Shaq and Nash. We need Shaq's presence in the post but we need Nash to create. In following the team, it's clear that Amare has taken a step back in terms of a leadership role. It's really Nash and Shaq who will propel this team to what they could be and the team will live/die with their play.
Having said that, the Porter experiment has made some fans excited and driven others crazy (I'm guilty of both). I think that he and Steve Kerr have a bold, yet necessary, vision for the Suns and it will certainly take some time to develop. At the beginning of the year, we virtually stopped running which translated into losses. Shaq certainly was playing well and keeping us in games but we didn't have that blend of half-court sets and our run & gun. With the acquisition of J-Rich, it's allowed the Suns to mandate a need for running, but when we need to slow it down we have the Big Cactus playing phenomenally.
However, I think it was necessary that we went through that phase and experimentation period to discover what our strengths and weaknesses are. Porter has a more disciplined approach to coaching which I think was absolutely needed four our younger guys. All in all, many of us are still in a wait-and-see phase.
ClipperSteve: The team seems to be playing really well since the Jason Richardson trade. What is he bringing to the team, and why has he fit in so well?
I can't even begin to describe my excitement regarding the trade when it happened, and it's intensified even more now. With the acquisition of Jason Richardson, the Suns immediately became younger and more athletic at the 2 guard causing other teams to game plan for that position; whereas they certainly didn't have to with Raja. Boris has been a thorn in the Suns side for quite some time and Suns fans were sick of waiting for him to fulfill his potential. Richardson gave us a Joe Johnson-type player that we haven't had since 2004-2005 who can create his own shot and run the floor. Raja and Boris, as it was widely reported, were a cancer in the locker room so having two great guys in Richardson and Dudley immediately jump started the Suns into having fun and smiling again.
We really should be undefeated since the trade if not for the incredibly lucky shots that were made late in the game by the Blazers, Spurs, and Pacers. We also didn't lose that much on defense with Raja losing a step in recent years (he gave up 50 to Jamal Crawford for crying out loud). Richardson has played beautifully thus far and will improve even more with time in our system.
He's also (aside from the DUI) been a team player, willing to sacrifice some of the shots he was getting in Charlotte for the betterment of the team. He gives Nash another weapon in the post (he's proven to be an effective post player thus far) and an athletic guy off the break. With J-Rich, Hill, and Barnes we have a solid group of tough wing-type players who can all score and defend fairly well.
Thanks for your time Ben. Remember to stop by Ben's Suns Blog for my answers to his questions. If I recall correctly, they were pretty good answers. But I was pretty sleepy at the time, so who knows really.