MIAMI - I wore shorts today for the first time in months, and have absolutely no problem rubbing that little factoid in at the start. From what my Sacto sources tell me, there's wind and rain back home where us Florida folks have sun and fun.
This place really is ridiculous, from the beaches that may as well be in Hawaii to the landscape of hotels, restaurants and nightlife that is on a level California doesn't have. All of which made me think of one poor sap: Shaq.
Phoenix is nice and all, but it's not Miami. Arizona just can't offer perks like Celebrity Island, the gorgeous plot of land where Shaq had placed his palace and passersby in cars and cigarette boats gawked at all his extravagance. It can't offer experiences like "Monster Shark" fishing, the ocean fishing get-up in the Biscayne Bay where Shaq's day of hauling in big game from the waters is part of their promotional materials. Just like the man himself, this place is larger than life.
Time will tell if the Suns - with Shaq's help - can provide a chance to sit on the top of the NBA mountain as the Heat did in 2006 (Phoenix is 1-2 since the trade with losses to the Lakers and Detroit and a win over Boston). Yet while the big fella is with his new squad trying to make it work, he hasn't completely left his old city behind.
As I made my way to the Heat's practice facility today at American Airlines Arena, I went through some of the office halls where there must have been at least a couple hundred pictures on the walls that had Shaq in them. The championship season is captured on every square inch of the inner offices, with my favorite the enormous shot of Shaq sitting at his locker after Miami won the crown. He's holding both of Pat Riley's hands as their connection is captured.
The outside of the building, though, is just a little different. A huge banner covers nearly all of one of the arena's sides and encourages fans to renew their season tickets. The picture is a puzzle-shaped collage of fan mug shots giving thumbs up - as in "I'm renewing even though these guys are 9-44!" If you look quickly, you might miss the fact that Dwyane Wade is one of the mug shots, although he's not smiling. And really, why would he be?
For a little perspective, here's a pic of the old banner that used to hang in that very same spot.
It has to die down here at some point, but I'm starting to feel like Pedro Gomez.
You know, the ESPN guy whose actual beat was to cover Barry Bonds. That's how it's been lately with Ron Artest.
The material just kept coming at Sunday's Orlando game. Here's a few out of town looks at the man who left the media chuckling...
* John Denton of Florida Today throws a box of kudos at Reggie Theus with Artest material at the end. Despite what it says here, though, remember that the latest stance from the Artest camp is that he is "not likely" to opt out this summer.
* Tim Povtak of the Orlando Sentinel has a good read on Artest that isn't online yet (it was sent to me from the wires). But if you check here tomorrow, it should be there and I'll update this post as well.
WILL THEY BRING THE HEAT?
Theus was pleased with practice today. He called it "spirited" and there was definitely plenty of spirit left by the time I rolled in for a few brief discussions.
My interviews weren't nearly as long as the conversation between Theus and forward Shelden Williams, though. The coach and the new forward who was considered the lone piece for the future in the Atlanta trade were engaged what seemed to be a very specific conversation.
If I'm guessing, there was much talk of continued integration into the system and roles and expectations etc. It will be a process, but it's been a slow one so far. Williams has played a combined 27 minutes in four games, hitting 9 of 22 shots and grabbing seven rebounds. I'll try to flush that situation out in the next few days. - Sam Amick