Shaq understands his place as role player in Suns' system

Updated: February 11, 2008, 10:21 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Shaquille O'Neal went through his first practice with the Phoenix Suns on Monday, showing no sign of the hip injury that has sidelined him since Jan. 21.

"It was different. It was very intense," he said after the one-hour workout. "I learned a lot. Now I can see why they can go at the pace they play at. When you just do short bursts like this, then you can save it all for the game."

Just when he will play in a game remained undecided.

"I haven't done anything in a month," O'Neal said, "but I'm in pretty good shape. It will probably take me a few more days to get in tune. The good thing about these guys here is they told me when I'm comfortable, when I'm one-thousand percent, then I can join them."

Phoenix has two games before the All-Star break -- at Golden State on Wednesday night and at home against Dallas on Thursday. The first game after the break is at home against Shaq's old team, the Los Angeles Lakers, his former coach Phil Jackson and his old teammate Kobe Bryant.

Shaq
AP Photo/Matt YorkAfter Shaq practiced with new teammate Steve Nash for the first time Monday, O'Neal compared this stage in his career with that of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the 1980s version of the "Showtime" Lakers.

"I think it's going to take a little bit," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It's going to be an adjustment for our guys and for him. It's hard to think and play basketball at the same time. Right now he's got to think where he's going to go and all that. But it's going to be good chemistry and it's going to change things up, hopefully for the better."

D'Antoni said the Suns will "not rush him back for any reason." The coach said he will meet with O'Neal and trainer Aaron Nelson after Tuesday's practice to map out future plans.

Phoenix is 2-1 since the trade last Wednesday that brought O'Neal from the Miami Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. The Suns have the conference's best record at 36-15 but only 5 games separate the top nine teams in the West.

O'Neal injured his hip diving for a loose ball against Utah on Dec. 22. He returned on Jan. 16, but was sidelined again five days later. An MRI showed inflammation in the left hip, and he was shut down from all basketball activity.

In going ahead with the trade, the Suns were confident their training staff would be able to get O'Neal in playing condition.

"The hip's feeling pretty good, better than it's felt in a while," O'Neal said. "I'm used to just getting injections and going back out there. They told me they have their style, and they want me to stick with it."

O'Neal said he needs to get back in basketball shape and has to be comfortable with playmaker Steve Nash in a system far different than the one used by Pat Riley in Miami.

"I'm not going to rush anything because this is already a fine-tuned machine, and any kink could throw it off," O'Neal said. "I don't want to be the negative kink. I want to step in like I've been with this team the last three years. I have to make sure that everything's right."

He's been impressed by much of what he's seen, particularly the ability of Amare Stoudemire, named Western Conference player of the week on Monday.

"I didn't know he was that good," O'Neal said. "I really didn't."

O'Neal's arrival will allow Stoudemire to move to his more natural power forward position.

"I think it makes my job a little easier," Stoudemire said. "If you look at me standing beside him I look more like a point guard than a center."

The entire Phoenix team seemed energized by O'Neal's presence.

"Most practices you don't want to be out there," Grant Hill said, "but today everybody wanted to be out there and look forward to making it work. That's going to be the challenge. That's going to be the fun part."

O'Neal does not expect to be the star.

"I'm a historian of the game, so I understand that on this team I'm probably a big role player, and I have no problem with that," O'Neal said. "I did my thing in my prime, and it's Amare's prime right now. I think it's my job to get him to the next level. Toward the end of my career, I have no problem coming here and just fitting in and just helping these guys get to the next level."

He compares his job to the role of an aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the "Showtime" Lakers teams of Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

"Kareem was fortunate enough to have those style of players around him toward the end of his career, and I sort of feel like him now," O'Neal said. "I'm no idiot. I'm not going to come in here trying to take over and take 30 shots. I'm going to fit in very nicely -- rebound, outlet to Steve, get some easy buckets, play some defense. That's all we need to do."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press