NBA's Heat Deals Aging O'Neil to Phoenix

Shaquille O'Neal has been one of the most imposing centers in NBA history, but his body is beginning to break down. Now the Miami Heat is trading him to the Phoenix Suns. Bill Wolff analyzes the deal and whether O'Neal wants to go.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

The general manager of the Phoenix Suns told reporters yesterday, quote, "If it works, I'm a genius. If it doesn't, I'm a moron." He was referring to the trade that got his team Shaquille O'Neal for the Miami Heat. The trade - Shaq goes to the Suns in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. Now in baseball, a big trade from last week was made 100 percent official, complete with photo op, when a 28-year-old Minnesota Twin who signed a six-year, $137.5 million contract with the New York Mets, well, he donned his blue and white jersey yesterday. All right, here to explain what it all means to us is BPP's sports analyst, former ESPN producer and FOX sports personality and my current husband, Bill Wolff.

BILL WOLFF: Yes.

STEWART: Hi, hon.

WOLFF: How are you?

STEWART: I'm good. Thanks for...

WOLFF: I'm waiting for that thing about the old ladies and the rich guys (unintelligible) young guys, whatever.

STEWART: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: You can stick around for that.

WOLFF: I don't think I qualify in either category.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: That's a sport of an entirely different nature.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: Yes, indeed.

STEWART: All right, is Shaq worth the two players for which he was traded?

WOLFF: Well, we're going to find out. I think what Steve Kerr, that's the general manager of Phoenix, said about either being a genius or a moron is true. It's hard to know. Shaq - as everybody knows, Shaq was the best player in the game, maybe - I guess outside of Michael Jordan from about 1992 to about 1998. And then Michael Jordan retired and Shaq was the best player in the game for another five years after that. But Shaq is older. Shaq's about to turn 36 in March, and his body's breaking down. So if Shaq can recapture the rapture in Phoenix, then he's certainly worth Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. But it's a little more complicated than that.

STEWART: But aren't Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks fantastic players in their own right? Why would the Suns...

WOLFF: Well, that's why it's more complicated.

STEWART: Yeah.

WOLFF: Shawn Marion is certainly an excellent, excellent player. And Marcus Banks not as much, but Shawn Marion is an excellent player. Phoenix is the one team in the league which has had great success playing an up-tempo, run and gun, up and down the floor, exciting kind of basketball. I know, Alison, you love basketball.

STEWART: I actually like basketball a lot. I...

MARTIN: I'm totally into basketball.

STEWART: I will play attention for the next few months.

WOLFF: Well, and the Phoenix Suns play the kind of basketball that you like.

STEWART: Yes, I'm simple. I just like to run. The boys run up and down.

WOLFF: Well, they run and up and down and they take a lot of shots, and it's very flashy and it's fun. It's fun to watch.

MARTIN: Points. It's made for people with attention deficits syndrome.

WOLFF: Yeah, and look, it's a lot of fun but it has never succeeded in capturing a championship. No team without Michael Jordan has a ever won a championship without a big, strong, tough, effective guy who's seven feet tall standing in the middle. Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal.

It is generally believed that you got to have a big fellow in the middle, A, to play defense against the other guys' big fellow; and B, the game of basketball is about getting easy shots, not hitting crazy trick shots, but making the easiest, getting the easiest shots you can get. And there's no easier shot that a seven-foot tall guy dunking it. So the Phoenix Sun have apparently abandoned this run and gun style, which makes them so much fun to watch in favor of the more traditional NBA style with a big guy. That's why Steve Kerr is either a genius or a moron.

If Shawn Marion played that up and down game beautifully and they've given up on him and given up on that, and they're going for a slow, lumbering Shaquille O'Neal, which will alter their style of play. And if they alter their style of play and don't succeed, then Steve Kerr, the general manager, is a moron.

STEWART: We shall see.

WOLFF: WE shall see. Very interesting.

STEWART: Let's talk baseball, Johan Santana considered to be one of the best pitchers ever.

WOLFF: Yeah.

STEWART: He's the new New York Met. For people who don't know about him, can you give us a quick snapshot of who he is and what makes him so good?

WOLFF: He's left handed, he's about 28 years old, I believe Venezuelan, and for the last probably five or six years, he's been the best pitcher in baseball. He throws it hard. He makes it move. He's very clever. He's very good at the mental game, which is the one-on-one showdown with the batter. Just an outstanding, outstanding pitcher. He's won the Cy Young Award, which is the award for the best pitcher a couple of time. He's a tremendous, tremendous pitcher in his prime, 28 puts him right in the middle of this prime and he was available for trade because, after this coming year, he was to be a free agent.

And Minnesota, the Minnesota Twins are owned by a guy called Carl Pohlad. Carl Pohlad is the richest owner in baseball. He's a banker guy, and he's also the most frugal. He will not spend money on his team. And so, had the Minnesota Twins capped Johan Sanatana this year, he would have walked away and the Twins would have received no compensation for him, so they had to get rid of him because they were going to be too cheap to pay for him. That's why he was available. Else wise, if they could have signed him up forever and ever, they would have because he's just a brilliant, brilliant pitcher, probably one of the best in the game.

STEWART: Well, you touched on this a little bit. You mentioned that he is good on the mind games. One, report I read described him as a thinker.

WOLFF: Yeah, well, he's a combination. In baseball, the pitcher is known to have one kind or another of stuff. They say he's got great stuff. And what that means is he can throw it really hard and the ball moves, it tails away from hitters or jams them or curves, very unpredictable. So he's got great stuff.

The other part of the game is the mental part for the true baseball geek. The pitcher versus batter confrontation which happens, you know, 35 times a game. Each one is a little mental war between the pitcher and the batter. The batter wants to have good timing, he wants to know what to expect, he's got a tenth of a second to decide what to do. And so, he's guessing. The pitcher is, it's like rock, paper, scissors.

STEWART: Right.

WOLFF: You know, over and over and over again. And Johan sometimes is extremely good at being unpredictable, at knowing what the hitter wants to see and then crossing the hitter up, messing up the hitter's timing by changing what he's doing when he throws.

MARTIN: Bill Wolff, you are sport to join us this morning.

MARTIN: Thanks, Bill.

STEWART: Thank you so much.

WOLFF: Hey, good luck with that guy...

STEWART: Yeah, yeah.

WOLFF: ...with the old lady with the money and the guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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