Shaquille O'Neal should star in one of those home-buying reality TV shows because he sure knows how to trade up to a classier neighborhood. Maybe call it Flip This Career.
In yesterday's surprise NBA trade that moved O'Neal from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for star forward Shawn Marion and guard Marcus Banks, the biggest winner was O'Neal himself.
Approaching 36, he goes from last-place Miami (Southeast Division) to first-place Phoenix (Pacific) in the third move of his career (not counting being drafted) that saw him land with a team poised for a run at a championship.
Granted, Shaq's presence always helped his new teams become contenders, but no one can deny that he has been blessed by being in the right place at the right time.
O'Neal's charmed NBA life had him drafted by the Orlando Magic, which made it to the NBA Finals before being swept, then traded to the powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he won three titles. He moved to Miami for a successful championship run two seasons ago, and now he jumps from the dead-end Heat to the front-running Suns.
Miami does well, too, getting rid of the aging Shaq, who was doing it little good, and adding Marion, who is 6 years younger and a whole lot more productive.
As far as Phoenix is concerned, well, the result goes one of two ways - either it's huge (meaning a championship) or a bust (no championship) - not much of a middle ground.
With the Suns, O'Neal will be surrounded by stars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire - a situation reminiscent of, if not analogous to, his Lakers days and one that gives him another opportunity to perform on the big stage in the postseason.
Marion makes sense for Miami as it tries to rebuild 1 1/2 seasons removed from its own championship. An up-tempo forward, Marion has averaged 36.4 minutes while playing in 47 games and accounts for about 16 points and 10 rebounds a game. In contrast, Shaq, bothered by a bad hip, has played in just 32 games, averaging 28.5 minutes and about 14 points and eight rebounds.
Tactically, the Suns must figure O'Neal helps them match up with the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan and the Houston Rockets' Yao Ming and gives Stoudemire an opportunity to play in the better-suited role of power forward. And should Phoenix want to downshift and play a slower, inside game, Shaq allows it to do just that.
There is, of course, the danger that O'Neal has nothing left in the tank or his hip injury really is incapacitating. It's a gamble for the Suns, but if it pays off, the prize is that elusive championship. And that has been O'Neal's history.