After 40 long years of wandering the desert in search of an all powerful center the Suns have FINALLY found one.

Shaq was brought to Phoenix for one reason: a championship trophy.

(NBAE Photos)

And while Shaquille O’Neal is in the twilight of one of the ten greatest careers in NBA history, he’s still the most dominating physical presence in the game. And the question for me is not whether the Suns should have dealt Shawn Marion (with Marcus Banks thrown in) for him, but how they could possibly have afforded to turn down the deal.

Granted, the price was high. Marion was the team’s most versatile defender. The guy they most often turned to in crunch time to guard whoever was causing them the most grief, whether it be another small forward, a big forward, or even a center or point guard. And offensively he was a perfect fit for Coach Mike’s high speed offense.

And yes, there are those who see the signing of the lumbering O’Neal as a concession by Coach Mike that his system, while wildly popular and highly entertaining, really can’t go all the way.

Addressing the second point first, I’m not persuaded the Big Diesel is all THAT lumbering, nor do I think his presence is going to slow Coach Mike’s system all THAT much. As long as Steve Nash is at the controls you’re never going to see the Suns turn plodding before your very eyes.

Back to the first point, I fully recognize how much Marion has meant to the Suns, and there aren’t more than a half dozen players in the league I would have traded him for at this stage. But Shaq is one of them.

It’s been several years since he was a truly good defender, but The Diesel’s very presence in the low post (not to mention the locker room) should make the Suns stronger in one of their weakest areas.

And speaking of presence, Shaq’s already created the biggest buzz in these parts since Charles Barkley hit town. The press conference confirming this deal drew what had to be a record regular-season crowd. And his image on the Jumbotron drew a sustained standing ovation from the sellout crowd in the US Airways Center. (Shaq, ever the showman, milked the applause by pointing meaningfully at his ring finger.)

And although he probably didn’t, Coach Mike could have greeted The Diesel with the same speech the late Cotton Fitzsimons greeted The Chuckster:

“Chuck’, said Cotton, “let me explain something to you. You weren’t brought here to fill up the building or win a lot of games. We’re already doing that. You were brought here for one reason and one reason only, to win us a title.”

That’s Shaq’s mission, just as was Chuck’s, the only difference being that at his advanced age Shaq won’t be required to do quite as much heavy lifting. In fact, truth be told, he was probably brought here to help the Suns deal with just two or three teams, and maybe even just ONE team.

There are two other similarities between The Diesel and The Chuckster. Like O’Neal, the Suns paid a high price for Barkley (you remember Jeff Hornacek). And like Barkley, O’Neal is one of the all-time great quote machines.

There are understandable concerns about how much Shaq has left in the tank, but let me say this about those concerns:

If you look closely at his long career you will be struck by two things. One, he hasn’t always been motivated to stay in top shape and bring his A game to the arena. And two, whenever he has been so motivated he’s been one of the most unstoppable forces on the planet.

He’s never going to hit those heights again, of course, but he won’t have to in order to help the Suns. And for what it’s worth, I think he will be motivated to give his new team the best of what he’s got left.

In case you haven’t caught my drift, I think this was a great and gutsy move by rookie general manager Steve Kerr. A move, I further think, that underscored his belief the Suns couldn’t advance beyond their present level without some more muscle.

The bottom line: Coach Mike cut to the heart of the chase when he said, “This gives us an even better chance to win the NBA title than we had before.”

To which I can only add, Amen!

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