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Shaq for Matrix - It's Official

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There's plenty out there to read about this trade (which is now official).   For the Suns perspective (where they're none too happy) I recommend Bright Side of the Sun.  And rather than re-hash why I think it's a strange trade for the Suns, you can read John Hollinger's take at ESPN.com, with which I pretty much agree.

Still, there are some additional thoughts I have on the subject, as usual.

The thing that strikes me as just so strange about this is that you could make a very strong argument that the run-and-gun experiment in Phoenix was an unmitigated success.  Did they win three championships?  No.  But in 2005 Joe Johnson got hurt in the playoffs, in 2006 Amare was out all season, and in 2007 the league handed the trophy to the Spurs with the Stoudemire/Diaw suspensions.  Every NBA Champion has to have a little luck, and the Suns have had none.  But they have the best record in the Western Conference now, and honestly, why not go into the 2008 Playoffs and see if maybe this is the year that things break your way?  Wouldn't that make a LOT more sense than re-vamping your entire scheme in FEBRUARY?

It's also sad.  The Suns were a blast to watch.  Watching a young, dominant Shaq is about as much fun as watching me post up ClipperMax.  Watching an old, slow Shaq is more like watching my 73 year old dad post up ClipperMax (Papa was quite the baller in his day).  Shaq can be effective still, I have no doubt about that.  But not particularly entertaining.

I keep trying to imagine how these new Suns will play.  On that Nash/Stoudemire pick and roll, you had Matrix in the corner, Bell in the garden spot and Barbosa at the top.  Now, you're going to have Shaq... clogging the lane, right where Amare wants to go.  So what are they going to do?  Run pick and roll with Shaq?  He would literally have to roll to the basket.

Of course, this change in the Suns had already begun.  They gave away James Jones (career 40% from the three point line) for nothing (less than nothing really, since they had to send a pick with him).  They replaced him with Grant Hill (career 27%).  We think of the Suns as having three point shooters all over the court, but really they were down to Nash and Bell and Barbosa.  Well, big deal.  Most teams expect their guards to be able to make threes (the Clippers being a notable exception).  But at least they could still run.  Now, with Marion gone, they arguably have fewer shooters on the floor than most teams.  And whereas Marion was faster than opposing 4's and Stoudemire was faster than opposing 5's, there's no longer a speed advantage in Phoenix.  '7 Seconds or Less?'  Try '3 yards and a cloud of dust.'

The Suns ever-shrinking window of opportunity now looks like it came out of Polly Pocket's Glamor Mansion.  Shaq is (an old) 35.  Nash turns 34 tomorrow.  Grant Hill is 35.  And although they hated Marcus Banks, he was their second guard off the bench.  Now who plays if Bell or Barbosa or Nash gets hurt?  Piatkowski?  Their small window got smaller, and their short bench got shorter.

But more than anything, I'm struck by the sudden, astounding difference in the Western Conference.  In 2006, as the Clippers were building what looked to be an impressive low post dominated team around Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, I felt like maybe the NBA was passing them by, going in a totally different direction.  Indeed, in my Clipper a Day on Chris Kaman at the beginning of this season, here's what I had to say:

One can't help but get the feeling that [Kaman] is a terrific Betamax deck in a VHS world.  He won this round with the Warriors - but isn't it perhaps as likely that they would have chased him right out of Staples Center?  In the evolving NBA, where Shawn Marion is a power forward and Amare Stoudemire is a center, one has the suspicion that Chris is not so much a caveman as a dinosaur.

Well, guess what?  The Lakers and the Suns have gone back to Betamax.  Or maybe this is all Blu-ray - I can't keep up.  Ironic that I singled out Marion and Stoudemire as being the prototypes of a new NBA style.  So much for that.

Suddenly, the Western Conference has MASSIVE, traditional, back to the basket centers in LA (times two), Phoenix, Houston and coming soon to Portland.  I realize that things move in cycles, but it's like the pendulum just knocked me across the room.

Maybe Steve Kerr is right and everyone else is wrong.  Maybe Shaq's got a lot more left in the tank than any of us believe.  Let's face it, none of us really expected him to play that well two years ago and help Miami win a ring.  Maybe he's got another playoff run (or two or three) like that in him.  And this Suns team certainly has a lot more around him than that Miami team had.  Plus, no one really knows how bad it was with Shawn Marion.  Maybe that had just deteriorated to the point of no return.  (I do think we're going to find out how perfect he was for Phoenix when we see how ordinary he is in Miami.  Let's just say  I think he'll miss Steve Nash a little.)  So maybe it turns out to be the right move for Phoenix.

But my other favorite team just got a lot less fun to watch.