The two questions I’ve heard most regarding the reportedly imminent Shaq-for-Shawn Marion trade:
1. Why would the Suns do that?
2. Can Shaq even keep up with the Suns?
The answer to #2 is “Yes.” Look, it’s not like the Suns run 90 fast breaks per game. They do push the pace and Steve Nash is wired to constantly look for transition opportunities, but they don’t need five men sprinting down the court to put up the points the way they do. A lot of their system is rooted in high pick-and-rolls, which Shaq doesn’t have to be a track star to participate in. And since Amare Stoudemire is gonna be the main one running those pick-and-rolls with Nash, all Shaq has to do is get in position to rebound.
So on to #1. Why do the Suns want Shaq? Why do they want a 35-year-old who’s obviously in decline, seemingly always hurt, and might throw off their delicate chemistry if he doesn’t get the ball as many times as he’d like?
The Suns want Shaq because they need defense. More specifically, they need defense in the likely event they run across the man who’s been kryptonite for them in the postseason: Tim Duncan.
The Suns haven’t forgotten last year’s playoffs. Whine as they might about the Amare/Diaw suspensions and the Tim Donaghy game, they still got sent home. They haven’t forgotten how Duncan coldly destroyed them in Games 1-3. They haven’t forgotten that Duncan gave them 24 points, 13 boards and 9 blocks in the close-out Game Six (with Amare in the lineup). They haven’t forgotten the ’05 Western Conference Finals, either, or Duncan’s 31-point, 15-rebound effort in the close-out Game Five.
Last week, the Suns hosted a Spurs team that was as close to struggling as Spurs teams get. They’d dropped three in a row, were in the midst of a long road trip, had been starting slow every game, were playing without an injured Tony Parker, and were fresh off getting upset by an inferior Sonics squad. (The highlight of my season as a Seattle fan.) Don’t get fooled into thinking this was just some normal regular season game for the Suns — they know they might have to get through the Spurs to win a championship, and last Thursday was a test. And they failed. Phoenix was winning for most of the game and seemed to have it in hand before San Antonio went on a run in the fourth quarter. In the end, Duncan hit the game-winning bucket, and finished with 16 points, 17 boards and 7 assists.
The Suns have seen the writing on the wall: They aren’t ready to beat the Spurs in a seven-game series. By picking up Shaq, who’s averaging 1.7 blocks per game, is still a more than capable post defender, who’s historically given Duncan problems, and still has something left in the tank, they’re hoping to solve that problem.