It really bothers me, in any industry or line of work, when people outside of an organization believe that they know more about the inner-workings of said organization better than those designated to run it. This questioning/second-guessing/revisionist critique of sports general managers is the most egregious and haphazard, in my experience. The Phoenix Suns acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal last week is the most recent example of this that really bothered me.
As sportswriters or fans, everyone is certainly entitled to their opinions–this post is a perfect example. And, many of the opinions expressed by people that I know or follow were very negative towards the Suns acquiring Shaq. No many of the reasons for the criticism I believe are valid, logical and legitimate concerns for the Suns. Without taking any side on whether I think Steve Kerr did the right thing or not, the following are a few criticisms that make sense to me as criticisms that we, as fans or analysts, have enough information to logically render:
- Shaq is old and injury-prone. Yes, I agree that this is a concern, and I think that even Steve Kerr would say that the trade is a gamble for this exact reason. They gave up a much younger Shawn Marion in exchange for someone who has probably been lugging around 320+ pounds for over 20 years now. Yes, definitely a rolling of the dice on his health. Valid concern.
- Shaq’s contract hurts the Suns salary cap flexibility. Again, something that we, as fans, can know enough about the workings of the NBA cap structure to be able to assess whether or not we would have done this deal or not. Again, it is a gamble. There is no question that if the Suns do not win this year, then they may regret the trade from a cap flexibility standpoint because they owe him $20 million in each of the next two years. (Remember, though, that Marion was actively seeking a reworking of his contract, so there is a chance that the Suns were going to pony up almost that much for Marion also–just something to keep in mind.)
- The Suns were so close in the past couple years (especially last year) that they should have given it one more try with this squad. Again, another opinion that the fan/national analyst can legitimately foster. The Suns were, potentially, only a fair David Stern ruling away from winning the title last year with this exact team. They have the best record in the Western Conference right now and it makes sense that they could make another deep run with Marion. Again, a valid concern.
However, the above concerns are not even close to the concern that is most often expressed nor are they the most popular criticisms of Kerr in this whole ordeal. The most common (and the one that really drives me crazy every time I hear it) is: SHAQ DOESN’T FIT IN WITH THE SUNS’ “SYSTEM.”
What?!? When someone says that, they are basically saying: “I know more about the makeup of the Suns, in regards to their basketball system, than the general manager, who, by the way, has 5 championship rings as a player.” And, this is not even to mention Mike D’Antoni, the architect of this modern “Run ‘n Gun,” who has also publicly defended this move vigorously. (Yes, I understand that we are not totally sure that D’Antoni was on board the whole time and of course he would defend it publicly. For that reason, I stick to Kerr.)
Do I think that the Suns are going to win the NBA title this year? I don’t know. Do I think that they are better with Shaq instead of Marion? I don’t know that either. But, what I do know is that Steve Kerr believes it and, though he might be “wrong” in the end, he certainly has much more knowledge about the “system” of the Phoenix Suns than I do, and because of that, I am not about to go talking about how Shaq is not going to fit in in the “system” of the Phoenix Suns.