Lakers in town for Shaq's first game with Suns

Updated: February 20, 2008, 6:38 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Shaquille O'Neal says he is ready to run with the Phoenix Suns. Really.

"I'm going to be looking to get out like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens," he said Tuesday after going through his final workout before making his debut with the Suns on Wednesday night against his old team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

The prospect of the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O'Neal, at age 35, fitting in with the high-octane Suns has been ridiculed across much of the NBA.

The Lakers' Phil Jackson, O'Neal's former coach, said Shaq's role would be "taking the ball out of bounds and waiting for the other team to get back."

"He's a jokester, and that's funny, very funny," Shaq said without smiling. "Ha-ha. Very funny."

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni says people will be surprised about how well a motivated O'Neal can move, and playmaker Steve Nash was elated with the trade that brought O'Neal from Miami for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.

"We're going to have to adjust slightly to his strengths," Nash said, "but you know where he's strong we've been weak, and that's having a big presence in the paint, taking up space and guarding the rim."

O'Neal says he has no desire to be a star with his new team. Those roles belong to Nash and Amare Stoudemire, he said.

"I'm more like a senior adviser so I don't like to come in here and try to take over," O'Neal said. ... "Just like your basic karate movie where the young guys come to the old guys with beards who have them do weird stuff to get to the other side. That's who I am, the old guy with a long beard."

Long pause.

"You like that analogy?" he said, obviously pleased with himself. "That was pretty good?"

Nash was a willing sidekick.

"I think this is his 73rd Asian martial arts film," he said. "We're excited to learn from the great master."

Shaq's charisma and humor have energized the Suns franchise since last week's trade, with the anticipation building toward Wednesday night's showdown with Jackson, Kobe Bryant, newcomer Pau Gasol and the rest of the Lakers (ESPN, ESPN360.com HD, 9 p.m. ET). O'Neal insisted there is nothing special about the opponent being the Lakers, other than the fact that it's a tough Pacific Division foe.

"We had more great times than bad times together, but they've moved on, I've moved on," O'Neal said. "I have a new team now and I have a new focus."

Still, Jackson's comments have not been brushed aside.

"I don't take anything personal," O'Neal said. "I just have a certain file in my head, so Earthlings must be careful with what they say."

O'Neal is part of a recent migration of talent to the already-tough Western Conference, with Gasol going to the Lakers from Memphis and, in a trade finalized on Tuesday, Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks from New Jersey.

There will be no time for O'Neal to ease into his new role. After the Lakers, the Suns are home to Boston on Friday night and Detroit on Sunday.

"We don't have three cupcakes to start, but that's all right," Nash said. "We're going to learn a lot about ourselves and where we're going, and maybe that will give us a steeper learning curve to play against terrific teams."

O'Neal has played in four games since injuring his left hip while diving for a loose ball Dec. 22 against Utah. He returned Jan. 16, but was sidelined again after a Jan. 24 game against Cleveland.

He said his hip feels good but will play only about 20 minutes against the Lakers, D'Antoni said. O'Neal will be in the starting lineup.

"We know that's our team," D'Antoni said. "Let's get there as quickly as we can. Also, it's a 48-minute game, to spread 20 minutes out of 48 you don't want him to warm up and then sit down and get cold."

O'Neal said he hasn't played with a passer as good as Nash since his days with Bryant and, before that in Orlando, Scott Skiles.

"I can remember playing with Scott Skiles if you were open an inch, that would be there and it would be there perfect every time," O'Neal said. "When you've got a guy that's going to look for you, you run. A lot of people think I can't run, but my thing was I wasn't going to be running if you're not going to throw it. I know Nash will throw it."

O'Neal said he's learned a lot watching the Suns play from the bench, enough to make him believe that this team can win an NBA title, something the franchise hasn't achieved in its 40-year history.

"Their unselfishness, the way they play and their poise factor," he said. "When you never panic, that's a great sign."

He said he needs that fifth title, and maybe a sixth, to cement the legacy he covets.

"Every time that I've won a championship I've looked at my guys around me and looked at their work ethic and said 'You know what, I'm going to win it this year,'" O'Neal said. "I feel that way now."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press