The Suns have filled their final guaranteed roster spot and their need for a big man with the most decorated center remaining on the market.
Six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal, plagued by injuries in recent years, has agreed to terms to join the Suns.
O'Neal, 33, is a 16-year NBA pro who was an All-Star center for Indiana for six successive seasons from 2001-07. He played the past two seasons for Boston but appeared in only 49 games in those two years. He started 24 games last season for the Celtics, averaging 5.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game, but underwent season-ending surgery on his left wrist in March.
Straying from their youth movement to get insurance on Channing Frye's shoulder injury, the Suns agreed to terms on what is likely a minimum contract for the 2012-13 season.
At least O'neal is a former all-star.
And Jared Dudley worked out with him this summer and said he was in great shape.
The Lakers will likely win 65-70 games next year, and will have a great chance of winning the championship the next two years.
But there is no guarantee that Steve Nash will thrive in an offense that features Dwight Howard at center, even though Dwight is flanked by silky smooth Pau Gasol at power forward. Take this from a Suns fan who watched nearly every minute that Nash played in the last 8 years. Nash can make any big man look stellar on offense, as long as he's got the ball in his hands at all times.
Yet the Lakers have already announced that they will play the Princeton offense (everyone passes and moves without the ball) and now boast a huge center that lives in the paint and has no shooting touch outside 10 feet. In fact, Howard averages less than 1 shot per game outside 10 feet, vs. 13+ inside 10 feet.
Sure there's multitalented Pau Gasol in the front court as well, but there are parallels with the 2008-2009 Suns team under Terry Porter - also known as the worst, and ugliest, three months Nash spent in a Suns uniform.
Terry Porter (Mike Brown) decided to go away from 95% dribbling/passing/pick-and-roll from Nash and instead focused the offense on Shaquille O'Neal (Dwight Howard). Nash spent three months that season awkwardly feeding the ball into the post to O'Neal. And this was even with Amare Stoudemire (Pau Gasol) on the floor with them, ready to roll to the basket or take a 15-footer. And Porter didn't even have to contend with the best shooting guard since Michael Jordan screaming for the ball on the wing the whole time.
Of course, the Lakers will play nice. They will each "sacrifice their game" a little bit next year, just like the Miami Heat players sacrificed theirs the past two seasons.
But that doesn't change the fact that Dwight Howard will spend 100% of his time standing in the paint on offense, which is the last place Nash and Gasol ideally want him to be.
You can't move Dwight Howard out of the paint unless you're deciding to take him completely out of the offense.
He is not going to step out of the 3-point line. He is not going to make a 15-footer. And he's not going to dive to the basket in Steve Nash's pick-and-roll because (a) he can't adjust to a defender at full speed and (b) when he's inevitably fouled on is way to barreling through to the basket, he can't make the free throws. Howard gets fouled when he gets the ball 3 feet from the basket. He will certainly get fouled every time he gets it on the move 10 feet from the basket.
I know Howard ran pick-and-roll a lot in Orlando. I get that. But Jameer Nelson's brand of pick-and-roll is not Steve Nash's. Steve needs a guy who can catch, juke and dive to the basket. Howard can do the third of those skills.
So, either the Lakers turn Nash into a post-feeder, they completely change what the term pick-and-roll means to Steve Nash, or Howard becomes an afterthought on offense.
How was Nash as a post-feeder in 2008-09?
November, December and January were months in which Terry Porter made the offense "feed to Shaq in the post". These months were miserable for Nash, and for the Suns' offense. They went from the most exciting team in the league to one of the most boring (according to outgoing Boris Diaw).
Then Porter got fired, only 3 months into a 3-year guaranteed contract. It. Was. Bad.
February, March and April were months in which Gentry took over and made the Suns "7 seconds or Shaq", where Nash was back in his comfort zone (ie. doing whatever he wanted with the ball) and Shaq was the second resort.
Mike Brown, the Lakers coach, is more like Terry Porter than Alvin Gentry. Sure, it's possible that Mike Brown will just turn to Steve Nash in training camp and say "do your thing", but I highly doubt it. Not with his stated intent to install the Princeton offense where everyone passes to everyone. And not with Kobe Bryant on the team. And not with Dwight Howard on the team. And not with Nash approaching 40 years old.
So, maybe the Lakers "finally allow Nash to just be a catch and shoot guy, because he's such a great shooter". Well, I can count on one hand how many times Nash actually did a "catch and shoot" (in one motion) and fewer than half those times he made the shot. Nash shoots off the dribble, specifically off the pick-and-roll after his man is screened.
Again, we're back to the pick-and-roll. This is Nash's bread and butter. And not Dwight's.
Amare Stoudemire is successful in the pick-and-roll game because he can adjust on the fly to avoid the defender enough to take and make the shot.
Marcin Gortat is successful in the pick-and-roll game for much the same reason, just on a lower level than Stoudemire's high-flying act.
Pau Gasol will likely be a dream matchup with Nash as well.
Except that Dwight Howard is in their way, just as Shaq was in the way in 2008-09. We Suns fans know all about spacing. And that you can't really have a big man in the paint the whole time if you want the pick-and-roll to succeed.
Pau Gasol struggled last year, in part because Mike Brown focused the offense on Andrew Bynum in the paint (hmmmm...). Gasol didn't get the touches near the basket that he'd gotten in previous years. His stats were steady but he really wasn't the same impact player.
They could try to make Dwight a pick-and-roll partner with Nash. But Dwight cannot avoid getting fouled - hard - every time he gets the ball. He does not have great feet to adjust on the fly, and he has terrible shooting touch to still make the shot when he's fouled on the move. So he will live at the free throw line, and he can't make free throws.
Of course, the Lakers will still win 65-70 games out of 82 next year.
And they may still win the championship even if their offense still comes down to Kobe's isos and Dwight's post-ups and his version of "pick annnndddd rooolllllll", while Nash becomes a better version of Steve Blake.
But Steve Nash may have a tough season, statistically. And so might Pau Gasol. And the Lakers might take a few months to get their offense flowing smoothly.