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Friday, December 05, 2008

Wherever Shaq Goes, Controversy Follows

Isn't it interesting that every single one of Shaquille O'Neal's teams has had chemistry issues relating specifically to the Big Diesel? First it was Shaq and Penny in Orlando. Then it was--stop me if you've heard about this one--Shaq and Kobe in L.A. O'Neal did fulfill his promise to bring a championship parade to Miami--with more than a little help from Dwyane Wade--but when the Heat's ship began sinking O'Neal suddenly had health issues that magically disappeared soon after the Phoenix Suns traded for him, giving him a get out of jail card from the worst team in the league last season.

O'Neal has not even been in Phoenix for a full year and "Seven Seconds or Less" has already turned into "Days of Our Lives." I thought that O'Neal was petulant in Orlando, immature in L.A. and that he basically quit on the Heat but I must say that--based on what is publicly known--I don't think that the Phoenix drama is his fault, even though it revolves around what his presence on the team means in terms of tempo and shot distribution.

Steve Nash has openly questioned whether new Coach Terry Porter's slow down game plan will work; as an aside, with the Suns currently 11-9 and Mike D'Antoni's undermanned New York Knicks contending for a playoff spot in the East at 8-10, we may now know the answer to the question about whether Phoenix' success in previous years was due more to Steve Nash or to D'Antoni's system, a system which this season has vaulted journeyman point guard Chris Duhon to a place among the league leaders in assists.

Meanwhile, Amare Stoudemire is griping that he should be "that guy," the focal point of the Suns the way that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the focal points of their franchises.

You know that the world has been turned upside down when O'Neal is the mature voice of reason; he correctly said that the players don't need Coach Porter's permission to run--just get the rebound and go. O'Neal has been smart enough in Phoenix to understand that he would look like an idiot if he started demanding the ball the way that he did when Bryant was emerging as a star in L.A.; it seemed like the whole world was on the charismatic O'Neal's side at that time but everyone can see that O'Neal is in no condition to be a franchise player now. O'Neal is willing to rebound, defend and accept whatever low post scoring opportunities come his way, so the Suns should be glad that his arrival put an end to the rebounding problems that plagued them for years. As a TNT graphic showed during Dallas' 112-97 win over Phoenix on Thursday night, with O'Neal on board the Suns closed out last season on a 15-5 run; during those games they had a +3.9 rebounding differential and they averaged 112.0 ppg, which clearly proves that they can benefit from O'Neal's paint presence without having to slow down their fast breaking attack. They beat their perennial nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs, in two regular season games after acquiring O'Neal and seemed to have the Spurs handled in game one of their playoff series but when the Spurs came back to win that contest it apparently sucked all of the life out of the Suns--possibly even carrying over into their desultory start to this season.

Stoudemire scored a team-high 28 points versus Dallas and he attempted 21 field goals, 10 more than anyone else on the team. However, he only had five rebounds, he committed a team-high four turnovers and his Dallas counterpart, Dirk Nowitzki, was far and away the best player on the floor, scoring a season-high 39 points on 17-25 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds.

Stoudemire should be happy to play power forward alongside O'Neal, because both offensively and defensively O'Neal is really taking a burden off of him by matching up with the opposing team's biggest player. Remember how O'Neal pledged last season to help turn Stoudemire into the best power forward in the NBA? The problem is that Stoudemire is so focused on having a big payday in 2010 when he becomes a free agent that it seems like all he cares about is his scoring average. What about rebounding the ball, blocking shots and playing sound overall defense?

The ex-players on TNT and NBA TV are not at all sympathetic to Stoudemire's complaints. Chris Webber said that if he could have played with O'Neal and Nash then he would have won a ring; that led to a funny retort from Kenny Smith about whether Webber wanted to say something to former teammates Vlade Divac and Mike Bibby, who of course played the same positions alongside Webber in Sacramento that O'Neal and Nash respectively play in Phoenix. Webber also made the excellent point that unless you are averaging at least 10 rpg as a big guy you cannot say that you are the man. Charles Barkley echoed that last sentiment and added that a true franchise player never has to declare that he is the man; he simply dominates games and everyone else falls into line. Smith pointed out that Stoudemire is already leading the team in minutes and scoring and that the only reason his numbers are down from last year is that Phoenix is playing at a slower pace, hence there are fewer possessions.

Does Kobe Bryant have to tell anyone that he is "that guy" for the Lakers? How about LeBron James in Cleveland? Can you imagine Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan or Julius Erving making such a statement during their primes? Often, it seems that people who talk about being "that guy" are in fact, not really "that guy" after all--such as Stephon Marbury, the self proclaimed best point guard on the planet. Amare Stoudemire is a very good player but he is already the focal point of his team's offense anyway so, as Smith noted, it is not clear what he is complaining about in the first place. Stoudemire is playing alongside two former MVPs and has a talented supporting cast with Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, so if he wants to be "that guy" there is a simple solution: lead the Suns to the top of the standings. There is no question that the Suns have enough talent to be an upper echelon team; the question is whether or not they are willing to do the necessary work at the defensive end of the court to reach that status. It is much easier to complain and make excuses than it is to stay focused and work hard. If you are "that guy" then you set the tone for your teammates in terms of playing hard on defense, work ethic and overall intensity.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:57 AM

6 comments

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6 Comments:

At Friday, December 05, 2008 11:42:00 AM, Blogger Joel said...

I've always considered Amare to be a very overrated player. He is an explosive scorer when facing up, running the floor, or finishing off the pick-and-roll/pop, but his post game is underdeveloped and he isn't a very good (or willing) passer. More importantly, he doesn't know how to impact the game without putting the ball in the basket. Making plays for others? See above. Rebounding? Optional. Defense? Maybe on holidays and special occasions - maybe.

This guy should never be in the same conversation as the likes of Duncan, KG, or even Nowitzki. All of those players have all-around games and have shown they can do what it takes to lead their teams to success, while STAT (true to his moniker) is only interested in putting up numbers and being 'The Man'.

 
At Friday, December 05, 2008 10:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave, I don't think that a big 2010 payday is what drives Amare to want to get tons of points. He will be offered a max contract regardless of defense/rebounding or his scoring average. Even if the Suns miss the next 2 post seasons, he will be offered a max contract. Whether or not he should be is another matter entirely.

What Amare doesn't understand, is that while he is a huge part in Phoenix's success, he is also the biggest reason for their postseason failures. Time and again his Suns were beatend by a Spurs squad that preaches the exact same things that he doesn't want to do.

Z

 
At Saturday, December 06, 2008 12:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

amare is no shaq shaq was the man in his prime he had to say it because kobe and penny didnt understand they place shaq put them in they place they wanted to be the man when everybody with half a brain new shaq was the man kobe had to manuver and use his leverage when he was a free agent to get what he wanted and be the man penny got hurt after shaq and went down. shaq has nuthing to do with what amare was saying shaq is not they best player and not in his prime nomore so amare needs to step his game up i dont know why you bring shaq up in te controversy he had nuthing to do with it.

 
At Saturday, December 06, 2008 1:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

I agree with you. The only aspect of his game that he has improved since he came into the league is his shooting touch, both on free throws and on midrange jumpers. To truly be an elite player he must work on his rebounding, defense and passing, as you indicated.

 
At Saturday, December 06, 2008 1:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Amare is the one who is bringing up 2010 and saying that he wants to be mentioned in the same breath with LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

I agree that one of the reasons that Phx has not won a title is that Amare falls short in the key areas that you mentioned.

 
At Saturday, December 06, 2008 1:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Shaq did not "have to" say anything in his prime; he should have let his game do his talking. He walked away from a championship caliber team in Orlando and was very fortunate that Kobe and Phil Jackson arrived in L.A. or he would have kept losing in the first round.

As you should know--because we have gone over this many, many, many times--Jerry Buss decided not to re-sign Shaq independent of whatever Kobe was going to do. All of the involved parties have said so, including Shaq himself. You are like one of those WWII Japanese soldiers in hiding on an isolated island who thinks that the war is still being fought; the war is over and the truth has come out that Kobe did not force Shaq out of L.A.

I brought up Shaq because every single team that he has been on had serious chemistry issues directly relating to him. I made it clear that although I think he was partially or completely at fault in Orlando, L.A. and Miami I don't think that he is at fault in Phx. However, it is his arrival and the decision to focus on getting him the ball in the post that has irritated Amare and, to a lesser extent, Nash.

Shaq is portrayed in some quarters as a great leader and teammate, so it is interesting how much strife follows in his wake. That is why I brought his name up.

 

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