The Big Cactus Becomes the Big Abandoned Steel Mill. Good for Cleveland, but It Leaves Us with Zilch

So what's Shaq gonna be called now that he's no longer the Big Cactus? Maybe the Big Abandoned Steel Mill or the Big Mistake By the Lake.

Actually, O'Neal's trade looks good -- for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers!

But what WTF did the Phoenix Suns get out of this? We'll tell you what: The deal saves owner Robert Sarver at least $10 million.

What did Phoenix fans get out of this? Nothing.

The Suns say they aren't ruling out Ben Wallace playing for the team. Besides the savings by unloading O'Neal's $14 million salary for next year, the worn-out Wallace, a one-time defensive threat who always had zero offense, scrub Sasha Pavlovic, $500,000, and the 46th pick in tonight's NBA draft are what Phoenix got for the 37-year-old, 15-time All Star.

Unless GM Steve Kerr's got something up his sleeve that nobody can currently fathom, what this trade signifies is that the management of the Phoenix Suns will be content to floor an average to bad team for the foreseeable future.

And we sincerely doubt that Kerr, who seems more and more intent on returning to his golf game and the broadcast mic ASAP, has much up the sleeve of his open-collared dress shirt.

It's sad. Sure, Shaquille O'Neal wasn't right for a run-and-gun team like the Suns fancy themselves. He's a low-post player who stymied the up-tempo wheel that Mike D'Antoni reinvented here.

But shouldn't the Suns get a good player for even an aged great player? Shouldn't fans here expect the Suns to get somebody who can help the team next season?

We pray that freeing up that $10 mil (more if the Suns unload Wallace and Pavlovic, as expected) means Kerr's able to negotiate a deal for somebody like Tyson Chandler, the New Orleans Hornets center who was once the subject of O'Neal trade talks.

Guess what, though, the Hornets didn't like that trade. So the Suns reverted to Cleveland, where Shaq's long been coveted as the missing link. The guy who's still got enough gas in his tank to bring LeBron & Co. a championship.

And, granted, he may do just that. He fits the Cleveland scheme more than he ever did Phoenix's.

But where does that leave us? It leaves us hoping against hope that the Suns get something extra special in tonight's draft. Following the Shaq deal, the team will be picking 14th, 46th, 48th, and 57th.

And it leaves us with backup center Robin Lopez, who was drafted 15th last year. With the 14th pick, can the team hope to get somebody who will help them at even O'Neal's current old-man level now? No. All they can get is another project like Lopez.

Steve Nash has another year on his contract and is watching how this year's team shapes up before deciding whether he wants to stick around in Phoenix. Shaq's departure for zilch must be helping him make up his mind.

With the economy gone south as O'Neal heads north, banker Sarver's clearly interested in pinching pennies above anything else. But he should start wondering how many fannies are going to be in the seats at US Airways Center when/if it becomes even more crystal clear than now that the Suns are settling for mediocrity in the upcoming season.

And, even more mediocrity in the next one -- with the key to the fast-paced offense, Nash, gone.

We hope we live to eat our words, but the Suns seem headed in the direction of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Straight into the toilet. The only difference being . . . the D-Backs have talent, potential. Sure, the Suns have some talent left, but -- as currently constituted -- they're o-v-e-r.

Thank God we've got Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, and the surging Arizona Cardinals in town. Otherwise, we'd be vying for the worst professional sports town in America.

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Rick Barrs
Contact: Rick Barrs