Suns set? Not really.

. Wednesday, February 6, 2008
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It's done. Shaquille O'Neal is headed to Phoenix.

The disgruntled and oft-injured 14-time all-star managed to beg his way out of Miami just two seasons after Dwayne Wade helped him win his fourth NBA title and, more importantly, his first without embittered battery mate Kobe Bryant.

In exchange for O'Neal, the Heat get a versatile backcourt player in Marcus Banks and fantasy hoops darling Shawn Marion, whose real-life game isn't too bad, either.

To the casual NBA fan, the move looks like a no-brainer. Even some of the league's more experienced pundits have openly said that such a transaction vaults Phoenix toward, if not to the top of the Western Conference.

After all, it gives Phoenix something this generation's Suns have never had. It gives Phoenix the one thing that many believe has held them back from reaching the NBA finals. It gives them something that all of the other Western Conference team who have bested them have had - a bruising presence in the paint.

Or does it?

Let's not kid ourselves. Shaq isn't the type of dominant center he used to be. To say that old age has not been kind to him would be an understatement.

Every Superman has his Kryptonite. In Shaq's case that amber-colored rock is better visualized through x-rays and MRIs that have revealed the toll his 350-pound frame has taken on his knees, ankles and feet. As a result, he's played in only 72 of 129 games since he last hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Even when he is healthy enough to suit up, his contributions have been marginal at best. He's rebounding at a 7.8 per-game average and his 14.2 points per contest have made Diesel look more like a Hundai running on Arco unleaded.

Suns' GM Steve Kerr has said that the aquisition of O'Neal would allow Amare Stoudemire to play at his more natural position, power forward. Kerr also said that even when Shaq is not healthy enough to play, Boris Diaw will be more than a servieable substitute.

As for Banks, he was wasting away at the back end of an already deep Phoenix rotation, making him extremely expendable.

Those are the things the Phoenix front office will point to in order to make the deal seem like a steal.

But it wasn't. Those truths don't outweigh the most glaring on of all - that the Suns are less suited for a run at the title now than they were before.

Marion was Phoenix's best rebounder while also being one of the one of the league's most versatile and effective defenders. And above all else, Marion was a perfect fit for coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense.

Shaq, needless to say, is not. He's a plodder, an over-bearing one, but a plodder nonetheless. Even in his most energetic and limber years, he was still more of a lumbering bull than an agile gazelle.

Marion was the gazelle. He was Amare Stoudemire with a jumpshot. He was Steve Nash's go-to guy on the break. He fit in with the herd.

Shaq doesn't. He is the bull in Phoenix's fine china shop. He is an oversized, ill-fitting, warn-down cog clogging up the middle of an otherwise well-oiled machine.

His presence in the Phoenix frontcourt is not a step closer to a Western Conference crown. It is an testament to the short-term success, but long-term failure of the Suns' offensive system. Nothing more.