Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Big Mastermind

I’m sure you’ve heard that the Phoenix Suns are in dire straights.

The Suns have fallen to ninth in the playoff race. They’ve gone 5-5 in their last 10 including two in a row before the all-star break. They lost to a group of mediocre teams: Charlotte, New York, Golden State, Chicago, Minny, and even Philly should be thrown in there. Those are teams that a squad who fancies itself championship material just can’t be losing to on a consistent basis.

Coach Terry Porter was just given the axe after a mere 50 games this season.

Owner Robert Sarver wants to cut costs at any expense, despite swallowing the remaining $4 million on Porter’s contract, including trading away his most valuable asset in Amare Stoudemire.

Steve Kerr, who ruined the team by demanding a defensive-minded approach on a roster with nothing but offensive-minded players and then trading his best defensive players away (Marion, Bell, Diaw) for offense-only type players (Shaq, Jason Richardson), has put everyone and their mother on the trading block…well, all except for the one player who can’t physically play any defense at all (Nash).

At the center of the storm, is a man who is trying to weasel his way into another situation that will add rings to his fingers. It’s surprising that more people haven’t seen this obvious ploy, especially considering he’s the biggest man in the NBA.

Shaq is trying to become a Laker again. All year the signs have been there. He’s been downplaying the feud between him and Phil and him and Kobe since September. His exact words were "marketing ploy." When the all-star game shaped up to feature him, Phil and Kobe once again, he started rehashing about how the three of them created the drama, created the interest, but that there were no hard feelings. He’s been repeatedly saying how he and Kobe were the best duo the league had ever seen. Talking about how much he respects Phil. Two weeks ago, he out of the blue declared Kobe as the best player in the NBA, making it a point to rate #24 over Lebron.

During the all-star game introductions, he donned a mask and danced with the JabbaWockees instantly becoming one of the most talked about highlights of the weekend. Having created enough of a buzz with the media about the “dynamic duo” in the weeks leading up to the game, despite only playing 11 minutes during the game, he was named co-MVP with Bryant. He even laughed, heartily I might add, at Kobe’s joke about “Steel Magnolias.”

This after a summer in which he mocked Kobe in a freestyle with the chorus, “Kobe, tell me how my ass taste.”

See, Shaq, despite the jovial appearance and goofy personality, is truly a mastermind. His whole performance, this whole “I love Kobe and Phil” rhetoric is all part of his greater plan.

He’s trying to remind L.A. how fun and cool and Hollywood he is. He’s trying to get himself out of the sinking boat that is the Phoenix Suns and put himself into a position that maximizes his showmanship as well as gives him the best chance to get ring number 5 and possibly even 6 over the life of the rest of his contract. And what a way to exit.

Come back to Los Angeles. Reunite with Kobe. Repair old wounds. Swoop in and ride Kobe’s superior talent and hard work, but receive all the credit and fame, knowing that the naysayers will discount Kobe (who hasn't won without Shaq) and give all the credit to him. If they win rings, it'll just be like old times. Exactly like old times in fact.

See, in order to be considered the best, he has to get more rings. Nobody’s touching Russell’s 11. Besides, Russell played during a different era. An era where one team dominated and it just so happened that Russell was on that team. I’m not discounting his greatness at all, but to hold any NBA player up to that standard is unrealistic.

Therefore, the modern day bar is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s six. And Shaq knows this.

He also knows that the Lakers have plenty of bigs. Andrew Bynum will be coming back, perhaps this season, so taking back-to-backs off won’t hurt the team at all. He knows that Pau Gasol is the perfect complimentary player for his skills, unlike Amare.

He also knows that a big segment of Los Angeles still loves him and that an equally big segment of L.A. (perhaps the same segment) loves the idea of trading Lamar Odom.

Hopefully, Mitch plays this one as smartly and patiently as he's played it the last couple of years.

Seeing as how the Suns are now going to revert back to team basketball under Alvin Gentry and fastbreak a lot more, Shaq’s all-star numbers are going to take a severe hit.

His welcome in Phoenix has outworn itself quicker than any of his last few stops.

So he wants to revisit his best and most memorable stop.

From the inside looking out, it sure seems like Shaq needs L.A. Badly.

Too bad for him, the feelings aren’t mutual.

Somewhere, there’s a message about not burning bridges, something about karma…

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