Living the Fantasy: Shaq Lives

By NBA TV's Rick Kamla

"Hi, I'm Shaquille O'Neal..."
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
Miami's trade of Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks is as shocking as the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

It's shocking because it is an admission by the Suns that they cannot win it all playing smallball.

It's shocking because a soon-to-be 36-year-old Shaq is in the twilight of his career while the 29-year-old Marion is in the prime of his.

It's shocking because the previously prudent Suns are now on the hook for the final 2.5 years of Shaq's five-year, $100 million contract.

It's shocking because I thought Shaq was done for the year.

Freaks, it's highly ironic to me that a player who was supposedly all twisted up with a hip injury could suddenly pass a physical in order to be traded to a running team? I literally thought we had seen the last of The Godfather this season, so obviously he's a whole lot healthier than any of us thought. Either that, or the Suns are going to play the patience card with Shaq, working to get him ready for the playoffs, meaning his Suns' debut might not happen anytime soon.

But the bottom line is this, whereas Shaq was a fantasy dead man with the Heat, there is renewed life now that he's a Sun, who will settle for nothing short of a championship.

Until Shaq laces 'em up for the Suns, you can expect the fantasy value of every other Sun to increase as they attempt to make up for Marion's 15.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks. That is especially true for Grant Hill and Boris Diaw, who have been stepping on each other's toes in fantasy leagues for the past few weeks.

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When Shaq fully understands Mike D's system and gets healthy enough to play, he will start at center with Amare Stoudemire moving back to his preferred power forward position, Hill will play the three, and the backcourt will remain Steve Nash and Raja Bell, with Leandro Barbosa, Diaw, and Brian Skinner off the bench.

Shaq's presence could hurt Amare's rebounding and shot blocking because the latter will be that much farther away from the hoop with Shaq clogging up the middle. With Marion at the four, Amare was asked to guard the goal. That is precisely what Shaq gets paid to do, so look for Amare to become more offensive minded from the four.

Good news for the shooters, however, as Shaq's ability to draw double teams and ably find shooters on well-timed kick-outs should lead to better numbers from dudes like Nash, Bell, and Barbosa.

This blockbuster trade has breathed new life into Shaq's fantasy existence, and the same could be said of Dwyane Wade, who is currently dying on the vine in Miami.

With Shaq nursing his hip injury and the Heat losing virtually every game, there wasn't any doubt about the fact that Wade was going to terminate his 07-08 season well before its conclusion.

However, now that the Heat has turned the page to next season at the halfway point of the current season, there's plenty to play for in terms of jelling with his new teammates and getting a head start on a Miami comeback in 08-09. In this regard, the big winners in the fantasy world are the owners of D-Wade, who played an inspired game against the Pistons on Wednesday, going for 30 points and 12 assists in a 100-95 loss.

The owners of Marion are pretty happy right now as well because he is a lock to score more in Miami, where he is the number two scoring option from day one.

Marion's present scoring average of 15.8 is the lowest since his rookie season, and well below his career mark of 18.4 ppg. The Matrix has averaged better than 20 points per game twice in his career and he will top that magical plateau down the stretch for Miami.

When you consider that Marion is the seventh ranked 8-cat player despite a 15.8 scoring average, it's not a stretch to say he'll be a top three performer with his new team when he's averaging 20-plus. Remember, Marion was the No. 1 ranked 8-cat player back in 05-06'the last time he didn't have to share the spotlight with Amare.

As for Marcus Banks, he'll probably split time with Jason Williams the rest of the way. That is, unless J-Will suffers yet another injury, at which point the team will probably shut him down and hand over the reigns to Banks as he auditions for next year's starting job. (By the way, what was your favorite Smush Parker moment in Miami?)