I was doing a radio interview yesterday when the host and I started talking about Shawn Marion. A few hours before I’d gone on the air, Matrix had gone from “rumored to be unhappy” (a running storyline for the last few years with him) to actually publicly asking for a trade. Later on, he would tell one of our sources that it is “80/20” he’ll end up on the Lakers this season.
At the time, the radio host and I were talking about the pros and cons of a Marion-for-Andrei Kirilenko swap. The host pointed out that Marion had thicker skin than AK-47 and could better handle the sometimes rankling style of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan better than Kirilenko, while at the same time making the Jazz better from a chemistry standpoint. My reflex was to agree, but then we both stopped to reconsider the question: Does Shawn Marion have thick skin?
My answer: Yes and no. Marion does have thick skin in the sense that no matter what’s going on in the locker room or in his personal life, he never allows it to negatively affect his play on the court. He gives the same effort every night, consistently hitting that 16-point, 17-point, 10-rebound mark (with a few blocks, steals and assists thrown in) no matter the circumstances.
But in other ways, Shawn Marion is very sensitive. He’s made it no secret that he feels he’s been under-appreciated by the media and fans his entire career. He’s tired of hearing that he’s merely a product of the Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni system, even though he was putting up the same numbers long before point guard or coach landed in Phoenix. He’s sick of not making the NBA’s All-Defensive Team despite the fact that he doesn’t just put up impressive stats in the steals/blocks/rebounds categories, he does it while sticking small guards who are supposed to be able to blow past him and big forwards who dwarf him by as many as five inches.
When I wrote a feature on Marion in Dime #29 (Dec. ’06) tooted his own horn, as usual, since he feels no one else will do it for him:
“I’m a small forward and I’m top two or three in the League in rebounds? Come on, man. I get 21 points with no plays [being run for me], top five in steals, something like top 15 in blocks. I’m doing something that’s unheard of,” he said.
And later: “I know where I’m ranked. S***, I’m ranked pretty high. I consider myself one of the top players in the League.”
He claimed to be over the “I don’t get no respect” thing, but at the same time, his frustration was easy to pick up on:
“That stuff with me going on about not getting exposure … I mean, if it happens, OK. If it doesn’t I’ll get over it,” he said. “If you really wanna rationalize it, I do what I do and everyone else knows what I do. And karma is a bitch, know what I’m saying? Some people will choose to write about you and some won’t. I’m not worried about that anymore.”
So does he care or doesn’t he? Most recently, Marion attributes his trade request to lack of a contract extension (reports say he wants $60 million over three years) and that he’s “tired of hearing my name in trades.” Almost every NBA player I’ve talked to about trade rumors takes the same stance: It’s part of the business, and at least it means someone wants you. Do most of them really believe that? Maybe, but Marion making his issues public and using it as a reason to want to leave makes him look all the more sensitive.
This form of thin skin will ultimately push Shawn Marion out of Phoenix, likely ending their chances of winning the championship they’ve fallen short of in the Nash/Amare era. And it looks like it could have been avoided if Marion didn’t care so much about numbers and being praised beyond money (he’s the highest-paid Sun) and opportunities (he was second on the team to Leandro Barbosa in field goal attempts last season).
Don’t get me wrong; I like Marion. On the court I have more respect for his game than a lot of people I know, and off the court he’s one of the coolest NBA players I’ve talked to. The first time I ever interviewed him, on the day of Phoenix’s season opener last year, he was funny and engaging and took a genuine interest in the article being written on him. (Plus he answered the phone, “What up, this is Matrix.”) At the end of the interview Shawn started asking me questions: How long had I been at Dime? Where was I from? Did I like writing? That always sticks out to me. As did one of his final quotes in the story: “I’m cool, man. Things are good for me. What can you be disappointed about? I don’t need for nothing, I’m financially stable; I have no worries.”
That was one year ago. What happened during the Suns’ season to change things? Marion’s recent act; griping when he’s got it about as good as any basketball player can hope for, just doesn’t make sense.
And to some extent, I see where Shawn is coming from. I’m from a city where Ray Allen gained superstar status and love because he can do one thing exceptionally well: shoot. Meanwhile, Marion has sat in the relative background in Phoenix doing multiple things exceptionally well: he is the NBA’s version of a five-tool ballplayer. Like he told me in that interview last fall, he wants to be considered one of the greatest — if not the greatest — small forwards of all-time. But so far he doesn’t even get enough credit when it comes to his own team, let alone in history’s annals.
But is a trade going to remedy his issues? Let’s say Marion is traded to the Lakers. While he immediately jumps from third (behind Nash and Amare) to second (behind Kobe) in the pecking order, his team won’t be as successful. And he’ll learn, like Lamar Odom has, that his popularity in L.A. will always be dwarfed by Kobe. If he goes to Utah, he’ll still be third on the marquee (behind Boozer and Deron Williams) and his profile gets even smaller, as the Jazz won’t be on TV as often as Phoenix. And in this case, you can see him starting over with the same complaints and frustrations that have now fractured his relationships in Phoenix.
My gut says Marion will be traded, if not before the season tips off than before the February deadline. And when that happens, I don’t think Marion, the Suns or his new team will necessarily be that much better off for it. This seems like a classic “grass is greener” story, where Matrix could get what he wishes for, then find out it wasn’t all it’s hyped up to be.