Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shaquille Freaking O'Neal?

Though the agonizing loss to the Orlando Magic is still coursing through my veins like a slow poison, the latest news on the Cavaliers front forces me to end my silence.

The trade for Shaquille O'Neal for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic is unquestionably the biggest in Cavs history, bigger than Terrell Brandon for Shawn Kemp, and--dare I say it--even bigger than the blockbuster megadeal that brought Jiri Welsch to Cleveland for a measley first round draft pick. Danny Ferry has shown he has balls in his time as Cavs GM, and owner Dan Gilbert continues to be willing to shell out for a title, which only weeks ago he promised would be delivered to Cleveland fans.

There was a time I hated Shaquille O'Neal. In high school, when basketball players were known as "cagers," he used to dominate my grandfather in the low post. When he was drafted out of LSU by the Orlando Magic, I hated him because I knew (though I never said as much out loud) he was already better than a young Cavs center who had just entered his prime, one Brad Daugherty.

Then Shaq spent a lot of years on the Lakers racking up titles, and I hated him then, too. When he joined the Miami Heat and handed Dwayne Wade a ring before LeBron James won one, oh, how I hated him.

Now, at the ripe old age of 37, he's all ours, and I can honestly say I love the big fella. Exciting? You better f-ing believe it. But of course we need to pause for a second and step away. Let the dust settle and look at this thing for what it is.

Shaquille O'Neal can still play. Oh, yes, he can. He just put up 18 and 8 on a bad Pheonix team that had lost its identity and was going nowhere. Now he joins a team that was exposed in the playoffs for its undersized interior. Even if the Cavs had prevailed against the Magic, the towering Lakers were waiting, and realistically I don't think the Cavs could have won. Had the Cavs pulled this trade off in midseason like they wanted, the victory celebration may very well have been in Cleveland.

So, the Cavs add one of the great centers in NBA history, a guy who still dominates around the rim, rebounds, blocks shots and even makes nice passes out of the post. He will shoot 60 percent from the floor; that is a given. We all know of his shortcomings at the line, but really, Shaq looks like Mark Price next to Ben Wallace. This move means that Zydrunas Ilguaskas is now our backup center, which is scary, as the Cavs now have two legitimate starting NBA centers. But you know what the best thing is about this 7-1, 325 pound freak of nature? He has shown time and again that, by meshing with fellow superstars, that winning a title is paramount.

Concerns? Of course there are. Shaq played 75 games last year. That's encouraging, but hear this: Shaq NEVER plays 75 games, so it stands to reason that he will miss a significant chunk of the coming season. The key is being healthy in the playoffs (which he always does, by the way), and let's face it: 37 in basketball years is beyond ancient. Very few are the serviceable players who can produce on a nightly basis at that age. So, even with a proven backup, and even if they do manage to re-sign Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers still need to add some size.

But listen to me killing the buzz. The fact is, this is a great, great trade from almost any angle. If Shaq stays healthy, the Cavs will very much be the favorite to win the East. Orlando just replaced talented young Courtney Lee with perennial loser, Vince Carter. Boston is counting on not one, not two, but three aging veterans to get them to the finals. Obviously the stars are still aligning on next season, but the Cavs, a 66 win team, just got a lot better. Just imagine the easy feeds that O'Neal is going to get near the hoop from LeBron, who is better than anyone in the league at finding his teammate's strengths. And if the deal doesn't work out? Well, Shaq's bulky 20 million dollar deal comes off the books after next season, leaving the Cavs in a very good position to go after Chris Bosh. In sum, this is a no-risk maneuver for the Cavs, one that could very well deliver a first NBA title and pay off for years to come. Give Danny Ferry an A+ for this one. Toss in 5.0 McBones while we're at it.

Now, a quick word about the dearly departed. McBone, always a Pavlovic supporter, weeps to see Sasha go. The untapped potential will forever frustrate me, and I really hope can manage to stay in the league. Cleveland fans owe Sasha their gratitude for helping the Cavs reach the finals in '08, when he was our starting 2. As for Ben Wallace, he battled valiantly through age and injuries, and for that we thank him, but Big Ben is done and out.

And about the draft...With the 30th pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers select: Christian Eyenga. Can somebody please tell me: who the hell is Christian Eyenga???


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great move by the Cavs, Nate. Will give them a better presence in the front court. Plus, it's a one year deal, which makes it all the more sweeter.

My two biggest questions with this trade are: can he still play defense (especially, defending the pick-and-roll, which killed the Cavs in the playoffs against Orlando)?

And, why now? Why didn't they pick him up at the trading deadline in February? This reads like a desperate ploy by the Cavs to prove to LeBron that they are serious about putting pieces around him, but is Shaq still the player who can play back-to-backs (we know his ego can, but what about his body)?