Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Return of the Shaq

Post #42 Topic: Here comes the Suns

I didn’t get a chance to address last week’s major NBA trade which had Pao Gasol going to the Lakers for a bag of coffee and an ESPN the Magazine fleece. At the time I learned of the trade I immediately considered the Lakers as the new favorites in the West. Some people say the Mavs are the favorites but lets face it, the West is won and lost through the big men, and Dasagana Diop is no more than a big big baby (I’m ballin, you just Erick Dampier son, I’m dirty, I get my Bill Lambier on ~ Weezie). With that in mind, some people claim that the Spurs remain the team to beat, and while I acknowledge their contenderness, the Spurs are getting old. While Parker and Ginobili haven’t been around forever, they are foreign players who came into the NBA later than the traditional college freshmen. Factor in 5 straight seasons of deep playoff basketball and you get extraordinary wear and tear. Michael Finley is old, Robert Horry is old, Brent Barry is old, and oh yeah… TIM DUNCAN IS GETTING OLD. Plus, the team has been decimated by injuries this year. Although I wouldn’t eliminate the possibility that the Spurs might contend, I would say that their chances have slipped since last year.

Then there’s the Jazz. The Jazz are certainly a great team with a large upside, a lot of young talent, and an experienced playoff coach. I just don’t know if I love the dynamics of this team yet. Sure Carlos Boozer is an interior force to say the least, and Deron Williams is one of the top 5 point guards in the game today (Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Deron, Tony Parker, Stephon Marbury (joke) Steve Nash). But I don’t love the supporting cast. I don’t like Kirilenko, and based on last summer’s events don’t believe that he likes the Jazz either (no sturgeon to poach in Salt Lake). Mehmet Okur doesn’t do it for me… if you have to rely on a big man hoisting threes then your team is clearly missing an element. An element the Jazz thought they provided by acquiring Kyle Korver… Unfortunately for them Kyle Korver is Kyle Korver! Paul Milsaap is good on the boards and that’s about it, and Ronnie Brewer is not consistent enough to be considered that necessary 3rd weapon behind Boozer and Williams.

Immediately exclude, in no particular order the Sonics, the Clippers, and the Kings… these teams can’t get their acts together; perhaps the Sonics are on the right track but that will literally take 4-5 years to determine (durant’s expected full development time). The Blazers are good but are too too young to stand up to the veteran-laden west. With a healthy Greg Oden my opinion on the Blazers changes drastically.

The Warriors are good but I will NEVER put my money on any team captained by Stephen Jackson. The wolves suck… and that’s all that can be said about them. The Nuggets are good but can’t rely on their big men (Camby and Nene), to remain healthy long enough to make them legitimate contenders. The Nuggets also suffer from the Jazz’s syndrome – no 3rd option.

That leaves the Hornets who I believe can make a decent run. They got the size (West and Chandler), they have the depth in scoring, they have the long range jumper (assuming Peja is healthy) and they have Chris Paul who LEGITIMATELY gets better every game… seemingly by leaps and bounds. For argument’s sake lets say the Hornets are competitors but longshots.

This left the Lakers for one. The Lakers have been a pleasant surprise this year. With the development of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom has been able to shift to that 3rd option role where he is meant to shine. And more importantly, Kobe is finding himself more open as Bynum is commanding double-teams in the post, and boy does Derek Fisher seem happy to be back Throw in Pau Gasol and the Lakers suddenly became my favorite to take the west (not to neglect that Phil Jackson bleeds championships). Gasol is 7 feet, but athletic enough to run the court. His European pedigree means he has good court vision, makes good outlet passes and can dish the ball out from beneath the basket to an open Kobe. When Bynum returns, the Lakers might just find themselves with the most devastating front court tandem… Throw in Odom as the 3 and the lakers should be feared.

That leaves the Suns. To get to the point, the suns traded Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’neal. If you are a dedicated DCMSG reader you will recall me saying that Marion is one of the most valuable players in the league. He plays defense, dives for loose balls, can shoot outside and play the post, makes good passes and more importantly for the Phoenix style of play, Marion runs the court. Shaquille O’Neal on the other hand does not run the court AT ALL.

So Shaq is slow and old and Marion is young and fast… Clearly the Heat won this one right? WRONG! The clear winners in this scenario are the Phoenix Suns. The following are the reasons.

The Suns were lacking a low-post presence. They have enough scoring elsewhere with Bell, Barbosa, Nash, Stoudemire, Diaw and others to continue scoring at their 100 per night clip. What they didn’t have was someone who could really clog the lane on the defensive side, keeping opponents away from driving in what had become notorious as one of the most porous defenses in the entire NBA. But not anymore. Not with Shaq down low. Old and hobbled or not, opponents think twice about driving the lane with Shaq down there. Running into the Diesel is uncomfortable and likely enough to make the Duncans, and the Gasols and the Pauls (damn he’s good… DAMN) think twice about charging the lane.

The Suns were lacking a proven winner. Shaq has won and won often. He knows how to preserve himself in the playoffs, knows when to lay his body on the line and knows when to get in his own teammate’s faces. This presence will be invaluable come the stretch run.

The Suns needed someone to play considerable minutes that DOESN’T NEED THE BALL to be effective. The Suns already shoot enough, averaging nearly 3 points per game better than any other team (other than the Warriors). They have a roster full of guys who want to shoot the ball. Now, they’ve swapped one of those guys that wanted 25 shots/night (and god knows how good he’ll be now that he’s gonna be getting those shots in Miami) for a guy that knows his role, and will consequently be happy hoisting up 10 shots a night. Upon being traded, Shaq said to Steve Nash, “Don’t worry, you can count on me”. As he’s demonstrated in the past, Shaq’s word is usually worth its weight in gold. Sure the Suns might score less, but those guys (see right above) will get better chances to heat up which means until the Suns are down by 15 with 3 minutes left… they will not be out of any game whatsoever.

The Suns can still run and gun. Fastbreaks don’t require full-team participation, and Nash will still have Amare to run with. Previously, when the Suns ran they all ran. Now Shaq can guage the success of the fast break and stay back if necessary, forcing the opposition to think twice before exploiting fast break turnovers, and turning them into their own drives to the hoop.

Shaq gets rejuvenated by changing locations. It happened in Orlando when he lead them to the championship. It happened in LA when he won 3 titles. It happened in Miami where he won one more. If the Suns’ brass was right, it very well might happen again in Phoenix.

Shaq is going to get open looks down low. Other teams still have to double nash and Amare, and what better person to find an open Shaq than Steve Nash? ANSWER: NONE!. In fact, one could venture to say that Shaq has never played with a PG that is so skilled at dishing the ball.

Marion didn’t want to be there. He said it past summer, and voiced it again recently. Sure he’s a bright young star, but he’s a bright young star that needs a chance to shine. In Phoenix Marion played a 3rd fiddle… if Pat Riley is smart, he will play the 1st in Miami.

We get to watch the painfulness of Shaq shaking Kobe's hands TWICE AS OFTEN!!!

Perhaps the most convincing factor in determining the Phoenix Suns victorious in this latest exchange of behemoth assets is their desperation. The West has long been dominated by the Lakers and the Spurs. Steve Nash is now 33; who knows how long he can maintain his torrid on-court pace. In other words, the Suns need to win now. With other Western Teams emerging as legitimate contenders (Blazers, Hornets, Jazz, LAKERS!!!), the suns time is now. The Suns play like a hockey team with each member being conscious of every other member’s position at all times. Its important that they added that final piece before those “familiar” players left Phoenix for more financially lucrative offers. Over the past 10 years, no player has been as efficient as Shaq at taking a near-winner and turning it into a bona fide champ. Note to the rest of the west: Here comes THE SUN!

DCMSG’s NBA FINALS PREDICTION: Lakers over the Celtics in 6.

Other Notes

Fish make great pets. When they die you don’t need to cry about it; you can just dip them in flour and fry them for a delicious treat.

Is there really another American Pie movie coming out? This makes 7. That makes 6 more than they should have made to begin with.

Someone do something to get TV writers back; last night Colbert wasn’t only not funny, he was inadvertently racist and racism is NEVER FUNNY – NEVER!

Why do some people smell so good and others smell so bad? There are some people that I like to sit next to just because they smell amazing. There are also some classes that I am angry I chose to take just because of one smelly person who sits halfway across the room.

Stop it with the high-pitched sneezes people… seriously.

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