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2.08.2008

Shaq is staring at the Suns

NBA superstar and key player at Miami Heat last season, Shaquille O'Neal pledged Thursday to bring a title to the Phoenix Suns much like he did in previous stints with both Los Angeles and Miami.

Indeed, at a news conference, one day after being traded from the Heat to the Suns, 35-year-old O'Neal said he is convinced that he can get Phoenix over that final playoff hurdle.

"It's true that the first thing to winning a championship is the belief you can do it," O'Neal explained. "Now I think these guys really believe they can do it. The sun will rise in Phoenix."

The popular "Shaq", a 14-time all-star, played eight years in Los Angeles leading the Lakers to three consecutive titles. He was traded to Miami in 2004 and two years later led the Heat to a title.

"I want to fit in with these guys and do my part. I am not going to be asking for 30 to 40 touches a game," O'Neal warned. "With my on court and off court leadership, I can help them get over that hump."

"As far as I know, this is a great team of shooters. I guarantee I will make Bell better and Stoudemire better. It is going to be hard to make (Steve) Nash better because he is one of the greatest point guards to play basketball. In fact, I been a big fan of Nash ever since he beat me up two times for the MVP."

The Suns finished with a 61-21 record last year and are off to an equally impressive 34-18 start following Wednesday's double overtime loss to New Orleans.

They joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1968 and have appeared in the finals several times but are still seeking their first title.

Phoenix Suns looked poised to go all the way last year but lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.

The Suns won match number four to level the series at 2-2 but then lost game five after stars Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were handed controversial suspensions for coming off the bench to watch a shoving match between Nash and Spurs Horry.

However, there has been some who questioned the Suns decision to give up all-star Shawn Marion and guard Marcus Banks for the veteran O'Neal.

Despite the critics, general manager Steve Kerr said that what O'Neal may lack in speed he makes up for with his experience and leadership in the locker room.

"One reason to make this move is it gives us a better chance for success," Kerr said. "When I walked into our dressing room before last night's match and saw our players reaction, I realized that this is a gamble well worth taking."

What's more, in his first public appearance as a Sun on Wednesday, O'Neal received a standing ovation from the Phoenix faithful at America West Arena during the the overtime loss to the Hornets.

"This is already a great team," O'Neal said. "They always get surprised by other teams and don't seem to be able to get to the next level. But I think with me we match up well with whoever we face."

Shaq was his usual jovial self in front of the media when asked about his injury status. "Nothing really hurts," the popular player said. "If you want to take me in a room and examine me for yourself, you can see for my age, I have a fabulous body."

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