The Phoenix Suns got bigger a few weeks ago. Bigger championship hopes. Bigger expectations. Bigger, literally.
In February, Suns general manager Steve Kerr knew he had to shake things up. There was a group of teams in the West playing better than his and he knew it was going to be a tough fight with the playoffs just around the corner.
So Kerr went out and traded for the 7-foot-1, 210-pound man known simply as “Shaq.”
The move was criticized, many questioning why they’d deal for an injury-plagued older player. Kerr didn’t listen and the critics have since been silenced.
The Suns, who are 16-9 since the move was made, are playing their best ball of the season. Most importantly, the deal has Amar’e Stoudemire emerging as a legitimate MVP contender.
“Getting Shaq allowed me to play my natural position,” Stoudemire said, referring to the power forward spot. “I don’t have to go up against all the big guys anymore and can play away from the basket.”
Stoudemire is averaging 25 points, fourth best in the league, and close to 10 rebounds a game. The 25-year-old is having more fun than ever before.
“It’s a lot of fun. That’s what this game is all about,” Stoudemire said. “You really have got to enjoy the time while you’re playing… When you’re winning, it’s a lot of fun, you feel really good about it.”
O’Neal is one of those endorsing Stoudemire for MVP, something he used to do for another former teammate: Kobe Bryant.
“Amar’e is really our go-to-guy and he’s playing fabulous; he’s putting up MVP-type numbers,” O’Neal said, sitting on metal folding chair inside the New Jersey Nets’ visiting locker room. “Everybody else is just asked to play roles and that’s fine with me at the timber age of 36.”
The man may be a “timber“ 36, but O’Neal is playing as well as he has in years. The 14-time All-Star is finally healthy and, for once in his career, he’s not being counted on as the team’s only leader.
“It’s cool. I’m on a team that I have a lot of guys can do a lot of different things. I’m not really asked to do much,” O’Neal said.
They may not fully count on Shaq, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a scary presence on the inside.
“He’s a different beast. The guys huge, man. He’s a massive beast,” Stoudemire said.
That massive beast was brought in to bring home a title — nothing too big for him to handle.