In an LA Times piece today in which he recapped the Shaq-almost-to-Cleveland-at-the-trade-deadline deal, writer Mark Heisler dropped this little bomb:
Oh, and Shaq, who's still broadcasting his love for Phoenix, is saying privately he wants out, upset to the highest level of upsetivity, as he once said, at almost being traded, or the team's return to running, or both.
Who knows how accurate that is. Is Shaq sending secret "I want out" signals to someone who may or may not be his pal in the LA media? I have no clue.
At today's shoot-around, Sports 620 KTAR's intrepid reporter Johnny Villarreal was the Johnny-on-the-spot with this follow-up on this story. Or not story.
Based on the reaction from the team and Shaq, I am leaning towards "story."
Here's what Johnny V had to say:
When I asked Shaq if he had a minute to talk he said "No, I'm done".
Also asked Steve Nash and Alvin Gentry about Shaq still being upset and if they sense anything from him. They had very little to say on the matter.
Nash- " it's intangible stuff that's hard to quantify, I hope he's not unhappy, we just want him to be happy and feel good about himself and ready to play."
Gentry- " All my efforts and energy is trying to get this team to playing as well as they can and I don't concern myself with anything that has to do with that."
Yours truly was not on the scene today and can only add what I've been saying for weeks now: Shaq and Nash on the court are not (yet) playing well together.
The obvious reaction from the Shaq-hating world is going to be a resounding "I told you it would end bad." The great Bethlehem Shoals took his turn in the Sporting News today and I am sure we will hear from others, as well.
I am not going to overreact here and jump on the bash-Shaq wagon nor am I going to defend him from rumors.
I will, however, step back and look at this from Shaq's point of view as to why he might be justified if he is frustrated:
- Shaq came to Phoenix and on Day 1 pointed to his empty ring finger. He fully expected to be competing for a title. While many see him as the reason that's not happening, he certainly felt that he could add something this team was missing. Championship experience. Inside presence. Personality.
- While Shaq hasn't (yet) said anything about his front court running mate, he came to Phoenix talking about the best big man in the game (Amare), but after playing next to him has been notably silent on that topic. Was he disappointed in what he found?
- This season the Suns tried to go to a slow-down defensive, power offense game that both suited Shaq physically and, in Shaq's experience, is what's needed to win in the playoffs. His teammates quickly rebelled against what Shaq rightly or wrongly believed to be a winning formula.
- One can imagine Shaq's frustration at his locker room mates who weren't willing to give it a fair shot. I've made my frustration at the same well known so perhaps that's just my bias showing through here.
- I doubt it's me though, given what Shaq's said consistently all season about needing to play better defense and "Man-the-f*&k-up" and how he's shooting at a near career high in FG% and FT% and wanting the ball more.
- Now with Gentry's replacement of Porter, the Suns have returned to a style of play that is completely antithetical to Shaq and what he does and knows. Doesn't he deserve to be frustrated by that? He must think that this style isn't going to win in the playoffs. He knows it's a style of play that doesn't suit his game, with which he still feels can dominate. After two dominating games against the Raptors and Lakers, he said he can do that any night he gets the ball. Since then, he's seen his touches go down and Nash's go up in the last four losses. Is it any wonder?
- And finally, the trade that almost was. By coming a Ben Wallace away from almost being moved to Cleveland, the Phoenix Suns told Shaq in no-uncertain terms that your ring-winning days are over. In Phoenix. They sent the message that he's expendable and that the team does not see itself winning with him.
- Shaq might be looking for the easiest path to a final touch of glory but in that he's no different than Karl Malone, Sam Cassell, Gary Payton and tons of other great players in the final stages of their careers who went to where the winning was good. The difference is Shaq, unlike those guys, has shown this season that he can do more than contribute. I don't blame him for wanting to win and wanting to be somewhere where he can help a team win. Phoenix is clearly not that place. That's the message he was sent when the team almost traded him for cap space.
I have no idea how this will turn out but it likely won't, in fact, end well. Just remember when Shaq is sounding off about all that went wrong in Phoenix that just because it's coming from Shaq doesn't make it wrong.
Ed note: Don't forget that the Suns are more than an off-the-court neverending soap opera. Hopefully the drama on the court tonight against the Mav's will count for something.