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Playing Ball: The Shaq Trade Aftermath

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After having a good two days to stew and rant about the Shaq trade, I think I've finally figured out why this news hit me like a ton of bricks dropped on an already-aching head. It isn't that I wanted the Suns to stay small-ball forever, and it isn't that I was adamantly opposed to trading Shawn Marion either, even though he has long been my favorite Sun not named Steve Nash. As I said in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Suns have had the look of a team in need of a change for the better part of the season. In fact, when Robert Sarver said a few weeks ago that no  major moves were coming, I was even a little disappointed--for the first time in three seasons--because this time I really thought the team needed to make one. Still, I guess I was hoping that move would be for a young, athletic big guy who would allow Amare to move back to the four spot without changing the very nature of who the Suns are. But that was probably an unrealistic expectation to begin with. If that type of player was easy to come by, every team in the league would have one.

The other thing that bugs me about this trade is that for the first time in going on four years now, the Suns have a main rotation player that I truly do not care for in an "I've never met this person in real life, but the image he projects nauseates me" kind of way. Whether or not it's actually true, the media impression of Shaq has generally been of a guy who slacks off during the regular season, doesn't care about his conditioning, and doesn't really try until the playoffs. While the polite way to describe that is "pacing himself", another way to look at is that fans pay to watch regular season games too, and deserve to get their money's worth. The idea of having someone on my team who doesn't try his hardest until the months of May and June has never sat too well with me. But that's just my opinion.

Still, the Suns have Shaq on their team now, and it does little good to keep repeating over and over all the reasons I think it was a bad idea. In the words of TrueHoop's Henry Abbott:

"I feel like we're watching a craps game, and hearing long speeches about why the dice are going to come up seven or nine or whatever. Really? You know that? Isn't the truth that we don't know? Just roll the dice already. Play. That's all that matters."
OK, fine. Let's play.

Starting with last night's game, It seemed pretty clear to me from the players' demeanor that they are genuinely psyched about the trade. Either that, or they're extra-motivated by all of us saying it isn't going to work. There were times when I thought I was watching the Suns of two years ago--you know, short-handed, missing a key player, but fighting like tigers to make it work anyway. It didn't work in this case, but it sure was fun to watch. A week from now, I don't think the Suns lose that game. Last night, it appeared a few times they were expecting the Matrix to come out of nowhere to track down a loose ball or a rebound. Like the fans, they have probably become a little spoiled by that. But they'll adjust, and that adjustment should be worth at least the three points they needed to win. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing more of D.J. Strawberry, who has the potential to be a Marion-lite if not more.

On to Shaq's press conference earlier today. I wish I could say I came away from it fully on board with the trade and excited about the team's future, but I'm not quite there yet. Give it time. Besides, according to Shaq himself, all of this skepticism is a good thing:

"I look forward to making people eat their words, I really do...When I'm upset, I'm known to do certain things like win championships."
One thing we're getting with Shaq that we maybe didn't have with the Matrix is a guy whose primary motivation is winning a championship. While I always loved what Shawn brought to the team, and felt like he really laid it all out there whenever he stepped on the floor, it did bother me when he was quoted from time to time in ways that made it sound like he cared more about personal accolades than team accomplishments. In Shaq's case, it still seems to be a personal agenda--his "legacy"--but at least he wants that legacy to involve growing his collection of rings:
"Imagine a man taking his son to the Hall of Fame...Who has the most rings in the NBA? He'll say 'Bill Russell has 11, Michael Jordan has six'. I always want to be in the same 'breath of a pattern' [ed. or "breathera pattern?"] as a Jordan...I'm very, very selfish when it comes to how I want my story written when I'm done playing."
I guess that's better than being motivated by a desire to be the greatest small forward ever, or to win some individual award at the end of the season.

It's easy to see why fans and the media like this guy. Whether proclaiming himself the "assistant vice chair and general manager", crediting prayer for the chance to win "number five and number six", or launching the "Amare Stoudemire Project",  he brought laughter to the room again and again, while managing to seem both a little egotistical and charming at the same time.

"Start selling the T-Shirts now. All the marketing people I'm giving you this one for free: The Sun will rise in Phoenix."
Like I said, I am not yet ready to jump on the Shaq bandwagon and drink the Diesel-flavored Koolaid. I am "very, very selfish" myself when it comes to letting players into my inner sanctum of fan-hood. Shaq will have to earn it like anyone else. But I'm done criticizing and spewing venom over this thing. For the sake of the other guys on the team, I truly hope it works out, even if it means eating crow over everything I've said the past 48 hours.

Enough whining.

Enough wondering what might have been, or could have been, or should have been.

Let's just play ball.

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