|Energized O'Neal out to prove critics wrong with Suns|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 07 February 2008 12:57|
``I look forward to making people eat their words,'' he said at a news conference Thursday. ``I really do.''
Wearing a Suns' purple shirt and tie with his immaculate dark suit, O'Neal met the media for the first time since the stunning deal Wednesday that sent the 14-time All-Star from the Miami Heat to Phoenix in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.
He charmed the jam-packed room at US Airways Center.
Someone asked if he knew he looked good in purple.
``I already knew that,'' O'Neal said. ``But thank you very much.''
He acknowledged a new motivation after going from a team with the worst record in the NBA to one with the best record in the Western Conference. Widespread criticism of the deal has not gone unnoticed.
``I'm very upset,'' he said. ``You just don't really want to get me upset. When I'm upset, I'm known to do certain things - like win championships.''
Phoenix is without a title in the team's 40-year history.
The Suns have had the most entertaining team in basketball since Steve Nash arrived three-plus seasons ago to orchestrate coach Mike D'Antoni's ultra-fast style. But they have never made it to the finals, and the trade confirmed the belief that this version of the Suns, despite its record, wasn't going to be able to do it, either.
``I think with the addition of me it gives the guys the extra that we can make it,'' O'Neal said. ``The first thing it takes in winning a championship is belief. If you can believe that you can do it, you can get it done. If there's ever a doubt that `Hey, we can't do it,' you will never win. Now I think the guys really, really believe that we have a shot.''
The presence of a 7-foot-1, 325-pound man in the middle should go a long way toward erasing Phoenix's image as a ``soft'' team. His four championship rings give him extra credibility, and his personality should, as he put it, ``amp up'' what has been a joyless Suns team this season.
He will energize the locker room, he said, ``just by being me.''
O'Neal, out for two weeks with a hip injury, said his new teammate Grant Hill, who has a long history of injuries, told him how good the Suns' training staff is.
the next 10 years, he said. ``And I look forward to my next $200 million contract.''
D'Antoni stepped in to assure owner Robert Sarver that Shaq was kidding about that last part.
O'Neal said he hopes to be able to play before the All-Star break (Feb. 15-19). His streak of 14 consecutive All-Star appearances ended this season.
``Nothing really hurts,'' he said of his current health. ``If you want to take me in a room and examine me yourself, you could see for my age I have a fabulous body. I was having some hip trouble but the medical staff assured me that if I stick with them every day I'll feel like Grant.''
A more realistic timeline would have him coming back after the break. Phoenix's first game back will be at home against the Los Angeles Lakers, the franchise he helped win four titles. He brushed aside any talk of ``silly rivalries.''
``I'm not concerned with other teams. I'm the assistant vice general manager of this team,'' he said to laughter, then he added. ``They (the Lakers) have been playing well all year. Kobe's one of the best players in the league, and he's always been. They're playing well and Pau Gasol is a great, fundamentally sound big man.''
One of the reasons the trade was widely lampooned is because O'Neal, who turns 36 next month, has two years remaining on his contract at $20 million per season.
He dismissed the notion that he can't fit in with the Suns' running style.
``I've been hearing a lot of, `He can't run, he can't do this,''' O'Neal said. ``You're going to be very surprised. You know in traditional basketball, when a team runs a lot, there's always been somebody to ignite the break. If I'm getting that rebound I'm going to be igniting that break. If I don't get the rebound, I'm going to try to be the first one down, because I know Nash is going to look for me.''
O'Neal watched Phoenix's 133-130 double-overtime loss to New Orleans from a suite Wednesday night and said he was struck by the team's unselfishness as well as its offensive talent.
``I was telling Steve (Kerr), `Thanks for bringing me to the land of shooters,''' O'Neal said. ``It's nice to kick it out to a guy that's shooting the 3-point goal at a high percentage. Every championship team that I've been on I've always had one or two dangerous shooters. On this team, there will be a lot of shooters.''
He is not looking to be a star.
``I'm not a ball freak. I'm not going to be asking for 30-40 touches. I just want to fit in,'' O'Neal said. ``This team has always been there in the Western Conference. They just couldn't quite get over the hump. I think with my experience and my on the court-off the court leadership, I can help them get over the hump.''
Of course, this man of many words already has thought up a slogan.
``Start selling the T-shirts now, all the marketing people,'' he said. `I'm giving you this one for free. `The Sun will rise in Phoenix.' Start selling them now, $9.99 at the Phoenix Suns store.''