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March 19, 2008

So Shawn Marion... how's that team leader thing going?

I was preparing to write something about the Miami Heat and their abysmal season anyway, but when I saw "54" scroll across the ticker last night and realized I wasn't looking at a Big Ten score, I knew I had to mention something about this compilation of basketball players that were once known as the Miami Heat. 54. The Miami Heat scored 54 points yesterday in a game against Toronto, a solid team but not exactly a juggernaut, even in the East. How far the mighty have fallen - and more specifically, their newest member.

Now I realize that Shawn Marion may just be biding his time until he opts out of his contract this offseason and hits free agency, but you have to believe that at least some part of him is disappointed he is where he is.
The in-fighting was well documented. Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion each wanted to be a bigger star, yet there was only so much sky for the two of them in Phoenix. Marion, apparently looking at all the success Joe Johnson has had in Atlanta, even took pause when asked if he'd rather be a role player on a championship-caliber team or the leader - both on the floor and in the bank account - of a mediocre team. Despite the winning, something had to be done.

Several thousand miles away, the Heat had their own issues. Dwyane Wade hadn't been healthy since their championship and the aging Shaquille O'Neal was on the books for two more years at $20M a pop. The salary structure of the team was built to compete, not rebuild. So the Heat and Suns decided upon one of the more questioned trades in recent memory. It had the surprise of the Pau Gasol trade, but with much more baggage. How would the Suns mesh with Shaq? Does this help the Suns or hurt the Suns? Are the Suns going to pay the big guy? What will Steve Kerr's legacy be after this all played out?

Now I have no record of this, but when the trade went through, I thought it was a good move. I thought the Suns took a chance they needed to take. Steve Kerr showed his willingness to take risks, and if it didn't work, deep down you knew that he would take the risks necessary to bring the team back. But what nobody focused on was that Marion, after years of complaining, finally got his wish. He had his opportunity to shine brightly in the Miami sky. Of course, nobody would notice. And rightly so, because people just don't pay attention to losing teams. Nevertheless, it was what he wanted. It was what he needed. And it's costing him every day.

Granted it's still a small sample size, but looking at the main principles of the trade, it seems to be working for 75% of the people involved. For the Suns, what began as a rocky adjustment period has slowly been evolving into what Kerr had envisioned. Now riding a 6-game winning streak, including a grind-out win against the Spurs and a run-and-gun victory against the Warriors, the Suns are 12-8 since the deal, 9-6 with O'Neal in the lineup. They sit a mere half game behind the top spot in the conference - nearly the same position from before the trade - and Shaq's presence has propelled Stoudemire to an impressive scoring run. The Suns appear to be figuring it out, with thanks to Shaq who has filled his role perfectly. Averaging a double-double for the first time since the '04-'05 season, Shaq is controlling his game, while shooting an impressive 62% from the field. If I were in the West, I would fear this team right now. They can run with you, or they can grind it out. While there is still a lot of season to go, this recent 6-game streak has to have Kerr smiling... and breathing a sigh of relief.

On the other side of the country, Miami is also reaping the benefits of the deal. They managed to get O'Neal's money off the books to allow them to rebuild. They officially put Wade on the shelf for the rest of the season, maximizing their ping pong balls for this summer. It may not be pretty, but this is what the Heat were looking for in the deal as well. The hope is that they can keep Marion for their re-tooling this offseason, but even without him, they will have plenty of cap space and a solid draft pick to fill in the roster around Wade.

So that brings us to Marion. He would be the 25% that was missing from before. Now without Steve Nash feeding him the ball and controlling the offense, allowing Marion to roam as he pleased and do all the little things he does so well, the Matrix is perhaps beginning to realize that maybe he should have just taken the blue pill...

Let's take a look at the numbers, shall we?


Marion's stats are down nearly across the board. His scoring has dropped by 1.5 points. His shooting percentages are down significantly in all three categories. Blocks have nearly halved while turnovers have more than doubled. Nearly the only stat that has positively increased is rebounding, but a closer look shows only offensive rebounds have improved, which would make sense considering the increased amount of opportunities for those.

Now would any player's stats drop on a team that would struggle to reach the NCAA Sweet 16 this weekend? Absolutely. But the real question is how much money is Marion losing with his newfound struggles? I know this is the NBA where somebody is always willing to overpay (see: Thomas, Isiah), but shouldn't this be a flag to GMs around the league? Without Steve Nash spreading the floor and creating open shots, Marion has struggled. And, rumor has it he's complaining once again, this time about lack of effort from his teammates.

So for every game that goes by, Marion finds himself with declining statistics and more stories of alienating teammates. The losing itself will most likely drive Marion to opt out of his final year of his contract, but then what? Will he get the money he thinks he deserves? Probably, but I don't think it's as likely as if he had stayed with the Suns. Winning breeds success. Success breeds money. And all Marion had to do was keep his mouth shut for a few more months, make another deep run into the playoffs, and then taken his numbers to any team that could afford him.

Not that it is all his fault, since he was not the only player in that locker room, but Marion's open talks about leaving - and his trade demand before the season - has brought him here. As he and the players around him barely squeaked by the half century scoring mark last night, you have to wonder if Marion is still blinded by dreams of dollar signs and the delusion of leadership, or if he has finally, thousands of miles from where he once called home, realized how good he had it.

If he still needs convincing, he can just ask Shaq.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shawn Marion didn't play in that 54 point game and Miami only had 7 gauys available for the game - though they would still suck if they had 20 guys available