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What are the Phoenix Suns thinking? Well championships of course

Posted Friday, February 8, 2008, at 7:52 PM

Shaquille O'Neal has always considered himself royalty, or perhaps a superhero if you believe in his movie roles or the Superman logo tattoo. So I suppose its only fitting that he finally get to wear the color associated with royalty.

Ladies and gentleman, Shaq Daddy is now a Phoenix Sun.

Upon being fitted for a uniform, he had to be one of the largest players since Charles Barkley to wear the purple and orange.

I'll admit, when I saw the news release about an O'Neal trade, I couldn't help but smile thinking it was the Pacers' own O'Neal headed elsewhere.

But alas, it is the Miami Heat that get to unload a burdensome contract and begin a rebuilding stage that has some extreme talent when you couple Dwayne Wade with Shawn Marion, who was acquired in the trade.

I'm still not sold on how effective O'Neal can be in the transition-based offense that is now the basis of the Western Conference. However, the Suns might be realizing that 120 points per game and 60 wins a season don't mean much when you get the quick hook from the postseason by teams who have a dominant post. (See San Antonio Spurs).

Frankly, I think the top dogs in Phoenix saw the writing on the wall with a 34-year old Steve Nash who has the automobile equivalent of 130,000 miles on those sneaker clad feet.

Nash has two or three years left at his current skill level, but you can see that nagging injuries have begun to slow him a bit.

O'Neal could be just the X factor that could help the Suns gain a title, if not for his waning offense, but for his ability to bang against an opposing team's front court for 20-25 minutes per game. Though his aching hip, knees and ankles have taken a pounding over a great career, he's still 7-feet tall and takes up a ton of space. That alone makes him imposing on the defensive side against teams who don't have a Dwight Howard type up front who can run circles around O'Neal.

I can't help but be reminded of the last time the Suns tried to make a blockbuster deal to acquire a different maker in the paint.

In 1992-93, the Philadelphia 76ers sent the 'Round Mound of Rebound,' Charles Barkley to the Suns in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.

Barkley was a little more in his prime at the time of the trade, in fact winning the league's MVP award after the trade, averaging 25.6 ppg. and 12.20 rpg. However, O'Neal could have just the boost on the franchise's short-term postseason goals.

The Suns reached the Western Conference Semifinals in 1993-94, but coughed up a 2-0 series lead to Houston, who also downed Phoenix in 1994-95. Barkley was eventually traded to those same Rockets after the 1995-96 season during which he averaged 23.3 ppg. and 11.6 rpg. The team finished 41-41 and Barkley was sent to the Rockets for a young man named Sam Cassell, as well as Robert Horry, Mark Bryant and another round mound of another sort, Chucky Brown.

It's highly unlikely that O'Neal is going to have a 23-of-31 shooting performance for 56 points, like Barkley did in his first playoff series against the Warriors, but the Suns have far more firepower now than they did then.

Shaq's 20 ppg. days are likely behind him but he has always saved his best for the postseason where he's averaged 25.5 ppg. for his career and 12.1 rpg. along with more than two blocks.

With Miami, even as his health declined, O'Neal still averaged almost 19 ppg. and nine rebounds a contest.

Like Sir Charles, O'Neal can still light up a room when he walks in with a joke and a smile. He's a great interview and he's learned from some of the best coaches around when you look back at Dale Brown at LSU, Phil Jackson in LA and Pat Riley in Miami. You can't argue much with four NBA championship rings either, but it's a fifth that Suns' GM Steve Kerr is banking on with the Suns.

In fact his job might depend on this experiment's success.

But Kerr of all people should know plenty about complementary players' roles on title teams after his stint in Chicago with His Airness Michael Jordan along with Scottie Pippen.

It was Kerr that hit the game-winning shot in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz to give the Bulls their fifth NBA title.

Eleven years later, Suns fans are hoping that Kerr can successfully pull the trigger once more to help Shaq win his fifth ring and end 40 years of postseason failure in Phoenix.



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