The first thing that crossed my mind when I read that the Suns were going to trade Shawn Marion for Shaquille O'Neal was, "What the heck are they thinking?" My second thought was, "This deal is so bad that it has to be about something else," but the only thing I could think of was that it was a move to retool the Suns in the future.
Why is this a bad move for Phoenix? Well, beyond all the age and injury issues for Shaq, we have to consider where they are weak and where they are strong: They have an exceptional offense. Will Shaq help them here or hurt them? Well, having Amare at power forward rather than center helps them in the paint and in half court sets, but hurts them significantly in the fast break, mid-range and perimeter.
Shaq simply doesn't free up the floor with double teams any more, so the idea that he'll give the Suns offense more room to operate is a mirage. Even if Shaq's great passing and ability to take up space contribute to the offense, do the Suns even need his help on offense? Not really.
So let's look at their weaknesses: Rebounding and overall defense. The Suns have an athletic team, and that overcomes a lot of their systemic defensive weaknesses. In fact, Marion himself helped the Suns overcome a lot of their systemic defensive weaknesses. His loss is a major blow on the defensive side. Shaq is certainly still a force down low, but he has become much more foul-prone and slow. Him for Marion is quite simply a defensive downgrade on a team that cannot afford a defensive downgrade.
Rebounding is the one area where Shaq could help. He immediately improves their front line rebounding. Marion, on the other hand, was a strong rebounder for a small forward (even if he played power forward at times alongside Stoudemire). Shaq may pick up the slack there, so there is the chance that this is a bit of a wash. The one area Shaq will help immeasurably is the horrible weakness the Suns have in giving up offensive rebounds. But, again, is this enough?
All in all, the best case scenario for Phoenix is that their offense remains where it is and their defense doesn't completely collapse thanks to some improved defensive rebounding. Oh, and that Shaq remains healthy.
So why make this trade? The only thing I can think of is that the Suns are looking ahead. With Shaq on the books, the Suns have an absolutely stunning 2010 ahead: With Shaq ($20 million), Nash (over $12 million) and possibly Stoudemire ($15 million or so) all coming off the books that year.
Think about that: In one year, the Suns will have nearly $50 million in salary coming off the books. They could potentially completely rebuild their roster in one year with top tier free agents. That's a LOT of flexibility to use to rebuild.
Even if just Shaq and Nash go away, you would be trading $32 million in aging salary for the ability to get free agents to go along with Amare Stoudemire.
To be honest, even the "2010 scenario" sounds like a stretch to me. So why do this deal at all? I'm still looking for an answer to that question.