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Slowdown concerns

There's less to like about new-look Suns, Warriors

Posted: Wednesday February 20, 2008 4:28PM; Updated: Wednesday February 20, 2008 4:36PM
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Chris Webber (left) and Shaquille O'Neal are odd fits in the up-tempo systems in Golden State and Phoenix, respectively.
Chris Webber (left) and Shaquille O'Neal are odd fits in the up-tempo systems in Golden State and Phoenix, respectively.
AP (2)

The interminable NBA regular season marches on, a test of the players' endurance and the fans' attention span (or is it vice versa?). We are still, if you can believe it, eight long weeks away from the beginning of the postseason, which itself seems to last longer than most marriages.

Assuming that the playoffs finally do arrive before we're all too old to care anymore, they promise to be intriguing, with San Antonio, the aging defending champion, less dominant than in previous years, a slew of Western Conference contenders, and the East potentially offering more true challengers than usual in the Pistons, Celtics and LeBrons -- or rather, Cavaliers. Your rooting interest is up to you, of course, but if you find the NBA entertaining and want it to stay that way, we would suggest that there are two teams you should definitely root against -- the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.

At least, you should hope that if the Suns or Warriors do walk away with the championship trophy, their two recent acquisitions Shaquille O'Neal (Phoenix) and Chris Webber (Golden State) have very little to do with it. Nothing against Shaq and Webber, who were obviously difference-makers in their prime, but they are, at this point, lumbering dinosaurs. If they prove to be instrumental in their teams going deep into the postseason -- a longshot in Webber's case -- every other team in this copycat league is going to want a lumbering dinosaur of its very own, and trust us, that is not an NBA that you want to see.

We are not that far removed from the sludgeball days of the Bad Boy Pistons and the brutal playoff series between the Knicks and the Heat in the 1990s, which were essentially mixed martial arts masquerading as basketball. The league has cleaned itself up since then, adopted a faster and more fun style of play, and left the push-and-shove, bump-and-grind stuff largely behind. So it is particularly disheartening to see the Suns and Warriors, arguably the two swiftest, smoothest, most entertaining teams in the league, find it necessary to add a ball-and-chain to their rosters.

After running the Mavericks out of the playoffs last year in the biggest postseason upset in NBA history, Golden State, low on muscle and high on hustle, was having its best regular season in more than a decade when coach Don Nelson decided to add the 34-year-old Webber and his creaky knees to the mix three weeks ago. The 6-foot-9 Webber, whose listed weight of 245 pounds appears to be about 20 too low, has looked about as at home with the Warriors as a tractor-trailer at Indianapolis Speedway, so clearly unable to keep up with his new team that Nelson kept him in street clothes when the Warriors played Phoenix last week.

The previously run-and-gun Suns, meanwhile, might very well have knocked off the Spurs and gone on to win the NBA title last year if center Amaré Stoudemire hadn't been suspended for a game in the Phoenix-San Antonio series for taking just a few steps onto the court during an altercation. The Suns, nonetheless, decided that they couldn't win a title this year without more muscle in the middle. Enter O'Neal, whom they acquired in a trade for a package that included the younger, faster, more versatile Shawn Marion.

Shaq makes his debut Wednesday against the Lakers, and the betting here is that Phoenix will come to regret making its team older and slower in exchange for a little more beef. O'Neal may be hefty, but at 35, and with his various aches and pains, he's also slower than dial-up Internet. The Suns are in for a rude awakening if they think he can defend some of the athletic big men they're likely to see in the playoffs, like San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Utah's Carlos Boozer or even the Lakers' Andrew Bynum.

The Suns and Warriors have decided to dilute the very quality that made them both tough to beat and easy to enjoy. They were helping to create a new, improved NBA, but now they've fallen prey to the old, outdated wisdom that you have to slow down and slug it out to win in the playoffs. What a shame. When you're ahead of the curve, it's better to keep the pedal to the metal.