A Big Cactus thrives, but leads to desert drought


Suns fans should be celebrating Shaquille O’Neal winning co-MVP honors of their city’s All-Star Game with Kobe Bryant, an ending so scripted you’d think it came straight from an MTV reality show.

Instead the lead story in this city centers around the dismissal of head coach Terry Porter in favor of assistant Alvin Gentry, a move rumored all weekend and confirmed by multiple team sources to The Arizona Republic on Sunday.

Suns fans should also be celebrating their All-Star starting power forward Amare Stoudemire scoring 19 points on his home floor, the highest output of any All-Star not named Kobe or LeBron.

Instead, he could be on the first flight out to Chicago, Portland, Detroit, Houston, or God forbid, Cleveland, as early as Monday.

This is not how the Suns wanted to celebrate their All-Star Game, with nary a mention of Steve Nash or Mike D’Antoni, but with Craig Sager asking everyone from Shaq to presidential runner-up John McCain what they thought of the imminent Porter firing that the team has yet to announce, a question Shaq termed as “unprofessional” for the occasion.

Knowing how news like this always seems to leak, the Suns probably would have been better off just firing Porter on Thursday if this was what they were planning all along.

Obviously they wanted to prevent it from becoming a focus of the weekend, but by vehemently denying the rumors that apparently are about to be proven true, the state of franchise limbo the Suns were in with everybody wondering what the hell was going on was even worse.

It must have been an uncomfortable situation for the entire organization, from Sarver to Kerr to Porter and especially for the All-Stars like Shaq and Amare who had to put up with it all weekend.

It made sense not to trade Amare this weekend, which the Republic reported the league requested of Phoenix, but now Suns fans should be bracing for bad news on a sixty cents on the dollar deal (if that) involving Amare every second until Thursday’s 1 p.m. MST Trade Deadline.

But for a couple hours at least when Sager wasn’t around asking pesky questions, the West’s 146-119 victory over the East was all about Kobe and Shaq.

First, Shaq stole the show during introductions when he danced around with the JabbaWockeeZ and even dubbed himself “The Big JabbaWockee.” So there’s another post-basketball career idea for the Shaqtus.

“I just wanted to do something different,” Shaq told TNT. “I just wanted to be a little different.”

His moves enthralled the crowd, and the sight of a 300 whatever-pounder like Shaq prancing around with a white mask that didn’t nearly cover his massive face was Shaq comedy at its best.

He wasn’t half bad in the game, either, scoring 17 points while hitting his last eight shots after missing his first in 11 ridiculously productive minutes that also included five boards (four offensive), three assists, a block and a plus 21 plus-minus rating. The only thing he didn’t do well was – surprise – shoot free throws, missing three of four.

You knew things would be bad for the East when the size-deficient Right Coasters stuck the 230-pound three-point shooter Rashard Lewis on the Daddy, who must have outweighed the Magic forward by at least 100 pounds.

Shaq’s highlights included a no-look length of the court assist while channeling his inner Steve Nash and a give and go with Chris Paul in which Shaq threw the ball between Dwight Howard’s legs to a posting Paul who finished off the play with a feed back to Shaq for the dunk.

Shaq also tried crossing Howard up off the dribble, played some two-man game with Kobe just like he did during the Lakers’ glory days and emphatically slammed home a Kobe miss before doing chinups on a backboard that somehow stayed intact.

“I had my Laker flashbacks,” Shaq told Sager on the bench while sitting next to his new and old friend Kobe.

Amare, meanwhile, started off on King James and somehow didn’t embarrass himself on the defensive end. James must have gone easy on him, right?

On the other end, Amare went to work on the King, taking him baseline for a nice flush.

The night ended with Shaq playfully wrestling the co-MVP award from Kobe in a finish that couldn’t have been scripted better in their former co-hometown of Hollywood.

Shaq has said his whole feud with Kobe was “marketing,” which I don’t exactly buy, but the way their bizarre relationship has gone, such a reunion on the All-Star team almost seems like it was pre-ordained by a higher power.

What doesn’t make sense in any universe is that the Suns would trade for Shaq hoping he would be at least a shell of his former self, see him undergo a rebirth that leads to an All-Star berth in Phoenix, and then watch him turn in a performance so dominant he earns co-MVP honors in just 11 minutes.

But meanwhile in Rome, the rest of the empire is burning, the emperor has been dethroned, the leading infantryman is about to be traded to Sparta and what had been the greatest civilization of its time at least stylistically (even if it never won a championship) is about to go by the wayside.

It’s definitely strange that Shaq has been everything the Suns could have hoped for, yet they would ship him out faster than it takes to say “Shaqzilla” for a couple of expiring contracts and a bag of balls.

Especially with the way Gentry wants to run, something we have known all along will become even more evident in the coming weeks: Shaq just doesn’t fit the Phoenix Suns.

Although there’s still time for history to see it differently, such truths make the Shaq trade a major miscalculation in judgment even as the Big JabbaWockee goes out and wins All-Star co-MVP awards.

But hey, at least he’s always entertaining.