The biggest offseason trade to date (contract-wise, anyway) is set to bring Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers, prompting Brian to declare the swap a win-win proposition for Cleveland. But I’m not so sure about that…
Putting aside for a moment the question of O’Neal’s prospective play, let’s ponder the logistics of this deal from Cleveland’s perspective. Trading Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic netted them the hefty, soon-to-expire deal attached to Shaq worth $21 million, and it has to be nice for any team to swap little-used depth guys for an asset like that. But with Wallace and Pavlovic likely retiring and being allowed to walk away, respectively, in the same timeframe as Shaq’s contract resolves, the numbers seem to be a wash.
But we’re also talking about a superstar, one of the most popular players in league history, and if he does anything less than totally tank his team’s chances of contending for a title, carrying Shaq now means probably having to overpay next offseason if they want to keep him. This will cut a big chunk out of the funds available to offer anybody else in 2010, and makes the prospect of extending LeBron even more of a luxury tax burden.
So, basically, Cleveland has to be betting that Shaq will give them be as good or better odds of winning a championship as anybody they could potentially sign for a longer term out of next summer’s much-hyped free agent class. If we’re to believe that Shaq has any value in this trade, it’s because he’ll play a potentially key role in next year’s NBA Finals. While I don’t think for a moment that Danny Ferry is finished with his offseason roster revamp, let’s analyze exactly what Shaquille O’Neal will (and won’t) bring on the court for the team that posted the best record in basketball last season.
A cursory glance at the Eastern Conference Finals might tell you that Dwight Howard had a monster series, and that Cleveland being unable to slow him down was the reason that LeBron never met Kobe on Nike’s biggest stage, but this overlooks the fact that Howard was really almost a secondary factor in his own team’s offense.
Make no mistake, it was Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis who lifted up the Magic in these playoffs, and it’ll likely be some combination of those two plus Jameer Nelson/Mickael Pietrus undoing Cleveland in next year’s matchups as well. Adding Shaq might win you a few more rebounding battles, but does absolutely nothing to address the inability of Cleveland’s wing players to defend big shooters to the three-point line.
The fact is, we’ve seen Shaq win rings as the best player on his team (with Los Angeles) and even as the 2nd best player on his team (with Miami), but does anybody believe he’s got the ability to be that guy anymore? I’d wager his arrival in Cleveland will likewise have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not Mo Williams can step up to serve as a legitimate #2 scoring option in the postseason crunch.
Shaquille O’Neal Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Remove the famously magical rejuvenating powers of the Phoenix training staff from the equation, and O’Neal/Williams figure to be the 2008-2009 All-Stars least likely to repeat that title next season. In fact, I ask if a 38-year-old Shaq won’t just do more harm than good against a team like the Magic. Crowding the paint with another aging big man will mean taking away the only thing that actually worked consistently against Orlando’s reigning DPOY: LeBron’s drives to the rim that force fouls and free throws.
With the league still apparently incapable of learning from Phoenix’ mistake, the Cavaliers can only choose to be willfully ignorant of their reality and blindly follow their Chosen One as he carries them into contention again. I suppose we can still hope for the best; Shaq and LeBron winning would make for a great story, after all. But when they fall short and James is forced to take another long, hard look at NYC, Cavs fans will only be able to take solace in the fact that at least their GM didn’t mess up his franchise in this trade as badly as Steve Kerr did his.
Brendan K. O’Grady writes about fantasy basketball and the NBA at-large full-time at his own site, 2nd Round Reach. He has a single-digit vertical leap.