The NBA was rocked on Feb. 7 when it witnessed one of the most unexpected and illogical trades in recent history.
The Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns made the decision to trade forward Shawn Marion and guard Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat in exchange for center Shaquille O'Neal.
Why would the Suns take such a huge gamble on a banged-up, 35-year-old center? How can the 325-pound Shaq thrive in the fast-paced Phoenix offense? What in the world were the Suns thinking?
On the surface, the deal makes sense - for the 9-40 Heat. In Marion, they acquire one of the most versatile defenders in the game. Marion's athleticism gives him the capability of guarding any position. But the real coup was being able to get rid of the aging Shaq and his crippling $20 million salary. Now the Heat have two bona fide superstars to build the team around in Marion and Dwayne Wade. Even if Marion decides to opt out of his contract before next season to test free agency, the Heat will be afforded a ton of salary cap relief.
With the trade, the Heat are capable of becoming contenders again as early as next season. Envision this scenario: Miami finishes the season with the NBA's worst record (not a stretch of the imagination by any means), and win the NBA Draft Lottery for the first overall pick. They draft a hoops prodigy, such as standout freshmen O.J. Mayo of Southern California or Michael Beasley of Kansas State, who can contribute immediately, then make a splash by signing a big-name free agent. Marion, recognizing the potential of the group, decides to stay for the remainder of his contract. Throw in perennial All-Star Dwayne Wade, and the Heat have one of the best starting lineups in the league.
On the other end of the deal is the Phoenix Suns, who made the bold decision to dismantle their core of center Amare Stoudemire, Marion, and point guard Steve Nash. In the past three seasons that the trio has been together, the Suns have averaged 59 wins. They were on a similar pace this season, and although many pundits have been quick to point out that Marion was an unhappy player in the locker room, it certainly hadn't affected the team on the court.
The Suns did have several excuses to make this move. Marion had demanded a trade in the off-season. Shaq's presence allows for Stoudemire to move to his more natural position of power forward. The rival Lakers had just acquired center Pau Gasol, and Phoenix felt like they needed to counter. Shaq is a great locker-room personality and will boost team morale, but that seems to be the only thing Shaq can contribute anymore. He's played just 32 games this season, and not being able to work out has caused him to become out of shape.
In making this trade, the Suns broke up a wildly successful nucleus to take a gamble on an aging, injured Shaquille O'Neal. Still, the move will probably pay off in the end - but only for the Miami Heat.