Q&A: Shawn Marion on new-look Raptors, Kawhi, changing the game

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Marion had a brief stint with the Raptors. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Shawn Marion may be one of the most under-appreciated athletes to ever play in the NBA.

Selected in the 1999 NBA Draft, the ninth overall pick went on to become the first player in NBA history to accumulate at least 15,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 1,000 blocks and 500 threes, yet seldom gets the praise some of the other elite power forwards during his time such as Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Chris Webber received.

Canadian fans may fondly remember him as Steve Nash’s running mate during the Phoenix Suns‘ ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ era, or others may hold the 27 games he played as a member of the Toronto Raptors closest to their hearts. Understandably, Marion’s title-winning 2010-11 season with the Dallas Mavericks when they shocked LeBron James and ‘The Heatles’ in the NBA Finals is his greatest accomplishment.

The 16-year-veteran was in Halifax for the NBA/Air Miles JamFest 2018, a two-day event featuring entertainment, music, giveaways and basketball competitions. Despite the busy schedule, Marion was kind enough to take some time to share some thoughts on his career, the new-look Raptors and Kawhi Leonard.

Sportsnet: Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni are often credited for being pioneers for the way the game is played today, but do you feel like you’re a forgotten man in the conversation because of your ability to defend multiple positions, shoot the three and run the floor at the power forward position?

Shawn Marion: No, not necessarily. I was a six-foot-seven power forward having to guard the best players in the league: Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, you could just go down the list of all the power forwards — Rasheed Wallace — the list kept getting bigger and I had to try and guard six-foot-10, seven-footers on a night-in, night-out basis. I did it very well and we won, we were very successful doing it.

Yeah, we were able to go on scoring runs that were unbelievable and unprecedented at the time, but we also played defence. It got overshadowed and it sucked at the time because I feel like anything and all the things I was able to give to the game at the time, for me to go out and guard — at the time — guys double my size and do it effectively and get 20 and 10 on a daily basis, that’s very hard to do.

Can’t nobody do that now, there’s nobody capable of doing it on a night-in, night-out basis and that’s willing to do it and guard a bigger man and take that pounding every night. Guys switch on guys for a few minutes here and there but the power forward position now is all face-up. There’s no physicality in the game anymore, it’s all jumpers now. That makes the game a lot easier, it’s a faster pace, it’s nowhere near what it used to be.

SN: How did everything come together for that dream Suns team?

Marion: It was a unique situation, you know, I was coming off my first all-star appearance. They wanted to change up some stuff, we signed a lot of free agents that summer, we signed Q-Rich (Quentin Richardson), Steve Nash, bunch of other guys. D’Antoni wanted to go small-ball, he put the challenge on me to go out there and guard bigger guys and we can spread the floor, more shooters on the floor and make the game more exciting. We can do it and be effective at it and it depends on how much effort you want to put into it and that’s what it boiled down to.

Steve shooting the ball at a high clip, Joe Johnson shooting the ball at a high clip, Richardson broke the record for the most threes in a season. Amar’e [Stoudemire] dunking, me dunking, trailing for a three-pointer. People didn’t know what to do.

SN: Do you think about what it would be like to be in the league right now in your prime?

Marion: Oh my god, it would be a cake walk. Right now, ain’t nobody really playing defence, it’s really third on the list. Everybody wanna shoot and score. That’s all everybody cares about now. That’s why there’s so much disparity between the top teams and the lower teams, the disparity is clear as night and day. You got three or four teams in the Eastern Conference that are really good now but the others all bunched up together.

SN: Let’s turn back the clock a bit. March of 2009 to be specific. You’re wearing a green St. Patrick’s Day Raptors uniform, Andrea Bargnani passes you the ball in transition and you soar over Indiana Pacers’ forward Danny Granger for a monster slam. Remember that?

Marion: That’s actually a good friend of mine, I love Danny. We actually got closer after playing against each other. Sometimes you don’t fall in the same circle as some of the guys because everybody’s living in multiple cities and stuff but we crossed paths because we had mutual friends and became really good friends. It just happened like that, it was a great play but it’s part of the game, something like that happens but I was just sad that it was one of the guys I know. It was a great highlight.

SN: Is Toronto genuinely viewed differently by American athletes now than when you were here decade ago? What do you make of the initial reports of Kawhi Leonard having no desire to play in Toronto?

Marion: At the time when I came, it was a different culture here. Since I left, in the past four years, the culture has tremendously changed in Toronto. This is something people already know about the Raptors but y’all compete with the Maple Leafs.

The Leafs are frontrunners with everything in Toronto. It is what it is, they’ve always been like that and it’s a hockey city first. There’s nothing wrong with that, they do love the Raptors, they got a fan base that got behind them and there’s celebrities involved, you got Drake involved, people are really supporting. The city is really behind the Raptors right now and y’all been winning, y’all been winning the last four years.

Y’all had great regular seasons and made it to the post-season. Unfortunately, y’all fell to Cleveland every year, Cleveland is your Achilles heel, well, I should say LeBron [laughs].

With that being said, though, those reports about him not wanting to be there, I think that was people trying to start something. I think everybody wanna say something now because Kawhi throughout this whole process has been very quiet when he should have just came out and voiced his opinion about what went on and give the perspective from his side.

But, hey, it’s his choice to do. He doesn’t have to do anything besides play ball and now he got traded, I guess, he got what he wanted, he got to a new team, a new environment, a new city so who knows, I think this is going to be good for the city. I think it was a great trade for both teams. I think San Antonio had to do something. He couldn’t just stay and not play, it was time for them to just part ways. Toronto, y’all had to do something.

Y’all got a great guy who shows up in the post-season, that’s what it’s about. Hopefully he comes back and is 100 per cent healthy and he’s ready to go. I think y’all going to be in for something really good, he’s gonna come to play.

SN: What needs to happen for Leonard to stay in Toronto beyond the 2018-19 season?

Marion: Y’all go the Finals, it opens the door for him. Y’all go to the Finals and he has a great playoff run, I think he’s gonna love the city.

Toronto’s one of the best cities in the NBA, only downside is this ain’t San Antonio, it gets cold as hell in Toronto, and that breeze coming off that lake don’t make it any better [laughs]. But, for the most part, Toronto’s a great city, the fan base is great there, he won’t be playing on Saturdays but that’s OK. He’s going to be playing on Sundays a lot.

He’s an open book right now so you gotta lay it all out, you gotta do what you need to do to keep him, he’s someone you don’t wanna let come through for a minute because you just basically cut up your team, so this is something you build for the future but it’s worth a shot, see what you can do.

It’s gonna take a while for the chemistry to build a little bit, but him being the kind of player he is, I don’t see him taking too long because they share the ball very well. The dog in him, his competitive nature can carry over to the team, it could be great thing.

One thing people don’t understand about Toronto’s game is your starting lineup is great, but your supporting cast is what’s going to carry you to the Finals. You’ve got a great bench, them the ones that bring the intangibles. Sometimes the reserves win a game for you in the post-season or a couple of games where it just elevates you to a new level. You only go as far as your bench takes you.

SN: How do you see the top of the East playing out this upcoming season?

Marion: I think Philly had a great year last year, I don’t see them repeating what they did last year, I see them being a four-seed in the Eastern Conference, I think if all these teams stay healthy, I’ll take Boston as my pick for No. 1.

No. 2, I’ll give them the nod ahead of Toronto a little bit, it’s Washington. They got some great additions this summer, I think they got a chance to do something very special. I’mma give the 3 to Toronto and then you go Philly. I think Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are awesome and then you got some young guys on their team, but I don’t like their system, I think it’s too predicated on hitting the three-ball and transition.

Boston plays defence, they’ll always give themselves a chance because they play defence, they got Kyrie [Irving] and Gordon [Hayward] coming back this year, gonna be interesting to see how they integrate each other in that system and share the minutes now. That’s going to be a problem, they ain’t got enough minutes to go around for the players they have out there. Now you got two guys that had amazing years, how can you tell both of them to come of the bench, I don’t think you do it. I think you just gotta throw Tatum, Brown, Kyrie, Gordon and Horford.

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