SHAQRAMENTO, Calif. – First things first: This is a lot about show.
For all the attention the purchase is receiving, Shaquille O’Neal may merely have bought a sliver of the Kings, and anyone counting on O’Neal to be the turning point in DeMarcus Cousins’ maturing clearly never paid attention to Shaq as a player. Maturity was not exactly his game.
But new owner Vivek Ranadive has wanted big splashes since taking over, and O’Neal in the masthead is definitely that. There will be a new layer of attention, even if it is followed, someday, by the minority owner verbally trampling a player, coach or executive. Ranadive has his latest big splash, and this will be viewed as a great moment in Sacramento’s planned NBA’s revival.
The real value of the deal, first reported Monday by USA Today, is to O’Neal. This becomes one of the first steps in his move from Hall of Fame-bound center to the front office.
He has been aiming for ownership for years, and not in the usual way of thinking out loud that long ago became the O’Neal norm. This was a specific plan with no less of a partner than the very grounded Grant Hill. The two were game-planning the future when they were Suns teammates for part of 2007-08 and all 2008-09, two Orlando residents talking to other potential investors and thinking about a run at the Magic after retirement. Shaq would have been the general manager with a grander title.
Hill didn’t leave the game until after his Suns tenure, and owning the Magic never came close to happening. But O’Neal remained on the lookout. The Kings are an ironic, even humorous, landing spot. Especially for someone who during his Lakers day called out the team as the “Queens” and became an enemy of Sacramento, still probably a fraction behind Rick Fox and Phil Jackson. It has already been said by many others, but is so very true: Shaq will now own the Kings in another way.
Actually, the Kings are an ideal spot. In a lot of other places, O’Neal — never the silent partner type — would have been used for what he spent to buy in and what he could generate as an attention-getter. In Sacramento, he will be heard far more than in a franchise with a front-office structure already locked in place.
In Sacramento, he will have the chance to be part of real change.
“What interested me in this deal is the new vision, the new Kings, the new everything,” O’Neal told USA Today. “I’ve always wanted to be part of something like this … It’s going to be great.”
Plus, he steps into a win-win role on the court. If the Kings get a new Cousins — one who is focused, one who is not causing locker-room dissension — Shaq will blindly be handed a large portion of credit. And if Cousins remains the eternal problem … well, good try. No one else could reach him either.
“DeMarcus is so excited at just the thought that [Shaq] is going to be talking to him, going to be spending time with him, going to be watching him, on the practice court, that he just can’t contain himself,” Ranadive told USA Today. “When he first heard that [Shaq] was looking at becoming an investor in the Kings, he just texted me and said, ‘Can I please, please reach out to [Shaq]?’ ”
An ESPN.com report says that Cousins and the Kings are nearing an extension that could be finished by the start of training camp next week.
O’Neal will think about becoming a general manager somewhere, now boosted by the additional background of having been in a front office. He will almost certainly still think about turning this role into a larger ownership stake somewhere else down the line.
This is an attention-getter for the Kings and an opportunity for him.
[Editor’s note — A Turner Sports spokesman had this to say about O’Neal’s work with TNT and NBA TV and his new role with the Kings: “We have the utmost confidence in Shaquille, as we do with all of our on-air talent, to serve our viewers with objective analysis and opinions when they are on the air. Shaq’s role with the Sacramento Kings does not change our expectations.”]