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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Moving Man

I'll start off by saying this; Shaquille O'Neal is an accomplished and highly decorated basketball player. Four-time champion, 3x NBA Finals MVP, league MVP in 2000, ROY, 15x all-star, 2x scoring champ, etc. Man of a thousand self-imposed nicknames. The guy has been very effective over the course of his career. He's also been entertaining, with everything from successful movies and endorsements to platinum selling rap albums. You can say he's been quite successful in his endeavors.

But if you look a little deeper into his basketball exploits Shaq's career has followed some interesting trends. It began early, back in his days with the Orlando Magic. Shaq's came into the NBA with a bang, putting up 23 & 14 a game. Although the team improved by 20 wins, they still missed the playoffs. In the off-season, Orlando swaps draft pick Chris Webber for Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway (remember him?). Shaq, Penny & co. lead the team to its first 50-win season before they get swept in the 1st round. In Shaq's 3rd season, Orlando wins 57 games makes it all the way to the NBA Finals. Flash forward to season 4 (w/ Shaq being out most of the season injured), the Magic win 60 games with Hardaway having a much larger role on offense (Penny averaged 27pts per game when Shaq was out). Shaq decides to jump ship and sign with the Los Angeles Lakers is 1996 (also the same year Kobe was drafted & traded for), leaving the rising star Hardaway and Orlando in the process.

Shaq's early years with the Lakers saw a lot of impressive stats, but also injuries. It also saw the talented & charismatic Kobe Bryant blossom into a superstar, and with the help of coach Phil Jackson the duo eventually led the Lakers to 3 straight championships. But of course, all was not well in paradise. With Kobe's game progressing MVP caliber, Shaq starts complaining that the young guard focuses too much on his own offense. The feud gets pretty nasty in the media and eventually leads to Shaq getting traded to the Miami Heat, where he joins another young, talented guard Dwyane Wade. Notice the trend yet...

While in Miami Shaq helps D-Wade lead the team to a ring and still takes shots at Kobe, even calling Wade the best player he's ever played with. Also as was the case in Orlando & Los Angeles, the young guard Wade comes into his own as one of the best players in the league while injuries and weight issues are causing Shaq's abilities to deteriorate. He's subsequently dealt to Phoenix (not the destination of his choice). Shaq plays somewhat effectively with the Suns before being dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers and joining yet another superstar in G/F LeBron James. The Shaq experiment in Cleveland is a failure as the team loses to the Boston Celtics, with whom the 39-yr old "Big Nomad" just recently latched on with, claiming that he is focused on winning 2 more rings before he calls it quits.

Let's look a little deeper into these trends. Trend #1: No team can win with just Shaquille O'Neal carrying them. He does not possess the game changing ability of a Hakeem Olajuwon. He's more like a Patrick Ewing, who was good enough to almost do it but not enough to get a team over the edge. Shaq needs a great guard/wing player to get him the ball for him to be effective. Penny, Kobe, D-Wade, Steve Nash & LeBron to be exact. Hell, he even had Scott Skiles & Nick Van Exel at times. Not bad at all.

Trend #2: Until this last signing, Shaq always seemed to find a way of riding the coat tails of the best young perimeter players of that time, and once they begin to get more shine than him he's ready to jump ship. This didn't happen with James as Shaq only there for one season and James pulled his highly publicized free agency circus act. I'd be willing to bet that if Shaq hadn't already burned a bridge with Miami and Pat Riley he would have attempted to join the Heat's collection of veterans.

Shaq's signing with the Celtics proves a couple of things. He realizes that he is not the force he once was earlier in his career. Shaq turned down more money and a starting role to play a small backup role for the aging Celtics. Also, he lacks true loyalty. Even though he never experienced the full affect of the Lakers/Celtics rivalry first hand, I doubt any other Laker great would even consider signing with the "enemy". That's unheard of. How about this perspective; with all of the moving around and bridges Shaq has quietly burned, which team is going to retire his jersey once his career is finally in the books? Your guess is as good as mine.

One thing is true; Shaq is one of the most dominant players at any position in NBA history. He was an entertainment success off the court and a monster on it. I only wish he ended his career with a little dignity instead of prostituting his services off to anyone willing to throw some money his way. And if winning was the most important thing to him, he would have hung around LA a couple more years and kept that dynasty intact.

Just a thought. Have fun sitting the pine while Chicago & Miami run away with the East, "Big Sidekick".


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