We are all witnesses. LeBron is a player for the ages, but his MVP season was cut short this year when his team was outdone by the Orlando Magic. A season before that, they were beaten in 7 games by the championship Celtics and the season before THAT, they were swept in the Finals by San Antonio. The additions of Mo Williams, Ben Wallace, and Delonte West didn't pan out quite the way Cavalier fans wanted (didn't win the championship, but Williams had a good year), so the Cavs went out and got Shaq in what seems to be like a last ditch effort to keep Lebron from opting out of his contract and becoming a Free Agent in 2010.
- Shaquille O'neal: 37 year old Center entering his 18th NBA season.
- The Cavaliers traded away Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, a 2010 2nd round pick, and $500k
- Thus giving the probable starting lineup for the Cavs:
Anderson Varejao (or maybe newly acquired Jamario Moon)
Shaquille O'Neal (with Zydrunas Ilgauskus coming off the bench)
Shaquille O'Neal's contract: Owed $20 million in 2009-2010 season, FA in 2010
Read between the baselines:
Shaq's mission this season is to "Get the King his ring." Well that's all fine and great, but let's talk about the Cavaliers and their LONG TERM PLANS. Even if the Cavs do make it far into the playoffs and maybe even win the championship, the team next year will still be mainly LeBron James and Co., which begs the question, would LeBron still opt out of his contract and try and find a new team, preferably and probably one that can compete for a championship for many years rather than a bunch of last ditch attempts with aging superstars?
Shaquille O'Neal is old and has played many games. It doesn't take away the fact that he can still put up solid numbers. He was revived last season in Phoenix where ultimately fired Terry Porter tried and failed to bring the Suns to the playoffs by slowing the team's offense down and making Shaq a more focal point. It didn't work out well for the Suns, but Shaq sure had a good year. He led the league in FG% at 60.9%, scoring 17.8 points and grabbing 8.4 rebounds, all while averaging 30 minutes for 75 games (compared to the 61 games he played in 07/08 for Miami and Phoenix combined).
But many more seasons of this kind of Shaquille is asking a lot. Again, the Cavs got better with him, and do have a chance to win the championship this year, but will they compete for years to come? Not with this team. Shaq won't be asked to carry the team, but he may not even be able to play 2nd fiddle to King LeBron's reign (Enough with the King talk). The 75 games he played last season were the most since 2004/2005 in Miami when he played 73 games. In 05/06 he played 59 games, then 40 games in 06/07, and 61 games in 07/08. There's a more than decent chance that Shaq won't play a full season, leaving LeBron to play with last year's lineup, which won a lot of games, but couldn't hold up in the playoffs. Again, the Cavs did get better this season, we are talking about long term plans for the Cavs.
(Photo from First Order Historians)
Let's not forget that Shaq is also a Free Agent next summer. Would he want to keep playing in Cleveland if they don't win a championship? Even he has to think he can't hold up for any longer than three to four years. The Cavs roster so far for the 2011 season and beyond: Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Jamario Moon. Not something so appealing to a superstar legend in the making without rings and an aged, decorated superstar looking to wrap up his career.
Regarding Cleveland Coaching:
Mike Brown got the Coach of the Year award this season. There were plenty of coaches who probably were more deserving but sometimes, coaches vote for whoever did the most with the least talent. The Cavs had LeBron and a nice year from Mo Pete and got the most wins in the NBA. Yes, you could argue that it takes a certain kind of coach to "deal" with a superstar in LeBron. But does LeBron need to be settled down? Besides the off court/out of game issues of not shaking Orlando's hands and the hiding of the tapes of him being dunked on, LeBron was calm, cool, and collected throughout the season, being a leader, being fun, being charismatic, and being a good teammate. What does Mike Brown do? He has him run pick and rolls until the fourth quarter and has LeBron drive and kick for almost 38 minutes a game. This is how you play weekend pick up basketball at the park.
Can LeBron lead this team to another deep playoff run with the league's best record? Yes. Will having Shaq help? YES. Will Shaq be around and play at a high level for a more than just this season to keep LeBron interested in playing in Cleveland? That's the question. Shaq cannot produce solid numbers for much longer. So if LeBron re-signs, and Shaq either retires or leaves to another team via Free Agency, LEBRON IS BACK AT SQUARE ONE.
Cleveland's pick up of Shaq is a quick fix to buy some time with no long term solution in sight. Shaq bought Cleveland a year to please the King. Next year, they may have to scramble for another star, and they may have to do it with the King in a different jersey (and some different colored drapes).
(Photo from The Crawfish Boxes)
Those are the facts. And that's one way to read between the [base]lines.