Shaquille O'Neal and the management of the Phoenix Suns are hoping the giant centre's arrival is the final piece in the puzzle as the franchise searches for its maiden championship that has so far eluded them in their 40-year history.
|The ring goes here: Shaquille O'Neal hams it up to the|
Phoenix fans [GALLO/GETTY]
The trade that brought O'Neal to Phoenix is one of the most unexpected in NBA history, a blockbuster deal that sent Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami and came together in just a few days under first-year Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr.
The criticism has been widespread from fans to talk radio hosts to newspaper columnists.
All claimed that Phoenix had acquired a once-great big man far past his prime, a 2.16 metre, 147 kilo Goliath who would stifle the Suns' trademark ultra-up tempo game.
And the Suns were taking on a contract that pays O'Neal $20 million each of the next two seasons.
Yet coach Mike D'Antoni and the Suns players said they were elated, that they believe O'Neal will be reinvigorated by the move and become a crucial component of their title run.
"We feel like our players are giddy with the possibilities,'' D'Antoni said.
"He's ready and focused. It's up to the coaching staff to do the tweaks without changing everything, and I don't think we have to.''
Steve Nash admitted he was "shocked'' by the trade,
"If you look at what happened the last 24 hours it was incredible,'' he said.
"You go through a whole bunch of emotions. It was very unexpected, but at the same time to get a chance to play with Shaquille O'Neal is pretty exciting.''
O'Neal has been out for two weeks with a hip injury and underwent an MRI exam in Miami on Tuesday.
He flew to Phoenix on Wednesday for the physical, and the Suns believe whatever ails the big guy can be cured by their doctors and training staff.
"It's a matter of flexibility in the joints and different things,'' Kerr said.
"They're very progressive with their rehabilitation and they felt very strongly that he's going to be more mobile and explosive than what he has been.''
A champion...and a risk
Kerr said he, D'Antoni and owner Robert Sarver spoke with O'Neal.
"He wants to be here. He's dying to be here,'' Kerr said.
"Shaquille is a winner, he's a champion and he was not happy playing in Miami for a team that's rebuilding. It was not a good situation.''
The Suns' Amare Stoudemire is a friend of O'Neal and talked to him about his new team.
"He says he's ready to roll,'' Stoudemire said.
"Whatever he needs to do he's going to be down for it, and he wants to win a championship, so we're on the same page.''
O'Neal will turn 36 next month.
"There's doubts and a risk to everything,'' Nash said.
"I know that's going to be a favourite talking point for all the media, but for us the talking point is we've got an incredible, huge, talented, charismatic player in our locker room now. ... This sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun.''
O'Neal has averaged 25.6 points and 11.5 rebounds in 16 seasons in the NBA.
This season, plagued by injuries and going through a divorce, he's averaging 14.2 points.
His 14-year streak as an All-Star choice came to an end this year.
He missed much of the 2006-07 season with a knee injury and finished that season with career lows in games (40), scoring (17.3 points), rebounds (7.4), minutes (28.4) and free-throw percentage (.422).
"It was a very, very hard decision for me. When Shaq came to the team four years ago, I always felt it was forever. We won a championship with him. We wish him nothing but the best,'' Heat coach Pat Riley said.
"We have to move on with our team. We're rebuilding. This is not the most desirable place to be right now.''
He denied that there was any lingering rift with O'Neal.
"I loved Shaq when I got him and I love him today,'' Riley said.
"I've been coaching 25 years and there wasn't anything that went on between Shaq and I that caused this. We simply looked at the big picture, where we are today, and we need to build around Dwyane (Wade).''