The improbable pairing of the speedy Suns and the slow but
once-mighty O'Neal became official when he cleared a physical exam
O'Neal didn't talk to reporters, but he received a loud, long
standing ovation when introduced on the big screen while watching
the New Orleans-Phoenix game from a suite at US Airways Center on
First, he stood to acknowledge the cheers with both arms open.
He sat down again, but as the cheers continued, he got up once
more. He pointed to his ring finger, then
gave a thumbs up. The crowd went wild.
The trade, a dramatic move by first-year Phoenix general manager
Steve Kerr, signals an unexpected change in philosophy for the
Suns, adding a 7-foot-1, 325-pound center who has won four NBA
championships but has been plagued by injuries in recent years and
turns 36 next month.
O'Neal has been out with a hip injury and underwent an MRI exam
in Miami on Tuesday. He flew to Phoenix on Wednesday for the
"I'm well aware that I'm on the line," Kerr told The
Associated Press. "That's my job. That's why I'm sitting in this
seat. I'm comfortable with the decision. I think it gives us a
better chance to win, and a better chance to win in the playoffs."
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."
Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said he was wholly in favor of the
trade because of the quality of player O'Neal.
"It just makes us better," he said.
The coach is well aware of widespread criticism of the deal
because of a belief that Shaq is no longer a formidable player.
"I think you're wrong," D'Antoni said. "He is not going to
come to Phoenix and lay an egg. He is focused and ready to roll. He
wants to show the pundits that this was a great trade."
Team leader Steve Nash also praised the trade.
"There's doubts and a risk to everything," he said. "I know
that's going to be a favorite 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 was to be introduced at a news conference Thursday.
He has averaged 25.6 points and 11.5 rebounds in his 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
"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
The Heat have lost 19 of their last 20 games and have the NBA's
worst record at 9-37.
Before the trade became official, O'Neal talked to Suns players including Nash and
Stoudemire, The Arizona Republic reported. "I will not let you down," O'Neal reportedly told Nash on the phone.
Phoenix gambled that Shaq will be healthy and more motivated
when he moves to the desert.
"I do believe we showed Shaq a tremendous amount of respect by
sending him to a contender, probably the top contender in the
Western Conference and he's going to flourish there, he will help
them," Riley said. "He will give them a new life and a new hope
and a different game and so I think from that standpoint, he's
happy about that."
For the three-plus seasons since Nash came to town, the speedy
Suns have been darlings of NBA fans weary of the slow style that
has prevailed for years. But the Suns have fallen short in the
playoffs, never making it to the finals.
The addition of O'Neal doesn't necessarily put the brakes on the
running game, Kerr said.
"We ran when Kurt Thomas was here. He got the rebound, and
everybody else ran down the court," Kerr said. "We're still going
to run, but we feel like we'll have a better halfcourt team."
Marion, weary of being third fiddle to Nash and Stoudemire,
asked to be traded before the season began. He didn't get his wish
and, although he refused to talk publicly about it, remained
unhappy with his role.
Still, his talents fit well with the fast-paced style that coach
Mike D'Antoni wanted, especially with his ability to finish on a
fast break. He also was the team's best defender, guarding everyone
from Tony Parker to Yao Ming. Marion, who has spent all of his 8½
NBA season with Phoenix, made the All-Star team the last three
This season, though, he failed to make it, while Nash and
Stoudemire did. Marion has NBA career averages of 18.4 points and
10 rebounds. This season, he's averaging 15.8 points and 9.9
In a statement, Kerr thanked Marion and Banks for their contribution to the franchise.
"Shawn in particular has been a tremendous player for this organization the past eight-and-a-half years and his impact both on and off the court in Phoenix will not be forgotten," Kerr said.
The Suns have the best record in the West (34-14) but have not
played up to their own expectations. Their interior defense is
among the NBA's worst. Kerr apparently felt that without a large
presence inside, Phoenix could not combat the big men, such as
Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan, in the playoffs.
With O'Neal on the court, an obviously happy Stoudemire can play
his more natural power forward position.
"There's not as much pressure now, as far as being that center
position, that center stopper," Stoudemire said. "I've been
playing out of position for four years now. Now I'm back at my
natural position. Shaq is the best at his and I'm the best at mine,
so it's going to be great opportunity for us."
O'Neal's move west adds fuel to the already intense rivalry
between the Suns, the Lakers and old teammate Kobe Bryant.
"Maybe now I won't be the No. 1 enemy when we go there," the
Suns' Raja Bell said. "That's OK with me."
The trade required a significant financial commitment from
budget-conscious owner Robert Sarver because O'Neal is scheduled to
make $20 million this season and $20 million more each of the next
Marion makes $16.4 million this year and could opt out of the
$17 million final year of his contract after this season. Banks has
been in and out of the Suns' rotation the past two seasons.
To make room on the roster, the Heat waived guard Luke Jackson on Wednesday.
Signed as a free agent in December, Jackson appeared in 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
O'Neal entered this season talking about how he wanted to win at
least one more title, saying his "legacy" wouldn't be complete
unless he left the game with at least five rings.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.