Shaq to the Cavs: Cleveland, Enjoy the Ride

Thursday, June 25, 2009

For at least the next 12 months, Cleveland is the center of the basketball universe. You read that correctly: Cleveland.

Yes, the Lakers have Kobe, a coach with a record 10 championships who may or may not be back, and they're coming off a championship season.

Yes, the Celtics still have more titles than any team in history, and they'll be looking to contend with the return of Kevin Garnett to the lineup.

Yes, Orlando, the team that ended Cleveland's dream season, will be back with the best big man and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard.

All of this is true, but no team is going to have a 2009-2010 season under more scrutiny and intense media attention than the Erie BayHawks' closest affiliate, the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially after they finally pulled the trigger on the deal for Shaquille O'Neal.

LeBron James is the reigning MVP. Shaquille O'Neal is the NBA's unofficial ambassador, perhaps the only player in the league more iconic than his new teammate, and the man who has already teamed to win titles with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.

O'Neal's arrival in Cleveland cements the Cavs' status as THE team to watch next season much as the 2003-04 Lakers one-year experiment with Karl Malon and Gary Payton did for Los Angeles. The 37-year-old O'Neal is coming off his best season since the 2004-05 campaign in Miami—the year before the Heat won the title. And his 75 games played last season were the most he's played since his MVP season of 1999-2000 with the Lakers. In fact, he's only had seven seasons in his career when he's managed to play in at least 70 games.

But that doesn't make this a bad trade for Cleveland. How could it? They gave up nothing in the deal. Sasha Pavlovic was a minimal contributor, and O'Neal makes up for whatever Wallace provided in terms of defense and rebounding while also giving the Cavs what they missed most last season—a low post scoring option.

Even at this stage in his career, O'Neal still commands on double-team on the post, which will open things up for the Cavs' shooters and give the team an offensive option other than stare at LeBron and watch him go to work.

So yes, this is a good trade for the Cavaliers, but let's call it what it is: a desperation move. Cleveland thought it was destined for the NBA title last year, so much so that they passed on making this exact trade at the all-star break last season when they had the chance. That gaffe may very well have cost them the championship. Now they get O'Neal a year older and LeBron a year closer to free agency—not to mention Dwight Howard a year better with NBA Finals experience under his belt and a re-focused Celtics team with Kevin Garnett.

The city of Cleveland is holding their breath. At the end of this season, LeBronm James becomes a free agent. If he signs anywhere else, you might as well move the Cavaliers franchise to Seattle because no one is going to want 2010-11 Cavs tickets sans-LeBron.

If Cleveland wins the title next season, it would be nearly impossible for LeBron to leave as it would be a huge hit to his credibility and likability. But if they fall short, what pieces do they have in place to lure his return? Mo Williams proved this postseason that he is not capable od being the second banana on a championship team. O'Neal's $20 million contract expires at the end of the year, which gives them cap space, and maybe they could offer to pair LeBron with former Olympic teammate Chris Bosh, but would that be enough?

Surely other teams have counter offers in mind as signing LeBron would instantly turn any franchise into a title contender and must-see attraction. In fact, you could argue that LeBron leaving Cleveland as a free agent next summer would be the biggest free agent departure guessed it, Shaq, when he bolted Orlando to join the Lakers in 1996.

Maybe this story ends with a title. O'Neal wins his fifth title, breaking the tie with Tim Duncan for most titles by a big man in this era. And LeBron finally delivers Cleveland its first champion since the 60s. Or maybe it ends in disappointment with another loss to Orlando or Boston or, imagine the drama potential here...against Kobe, Phil and the Lakers. No matter what happens, the 2009-10 Cavs are going to be the hottest ticket in town. LeBron and Shaq in contract years. The city sitting on eggshells with the prospect that both may flee at the end of the year for greener or golden pastures.

Maybe Cleveland is where amazing happens next year, but it's guaranteed to be where entertainment happens. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!


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About this blog/blogger

Blog Talk BayHawk is an unofficial Erie BayHawks blog covering the NBA D-League. It features opinions and information about the NBADL and the Erie BayHawks. Blog Talk BayHawk is written from a basketball fan’s perspective to fill In the gaps left by professional journalists’ coverage of BayHawks basketball and the Erie professional basketball scene.

Matt Hubert is a 25-year-old writer and basketball fanatic born and raised in Erie, Pa. He graduated from Mercyhurst College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. Matt's not wavering from his stance as a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, but he will cover the BayHawks' NBA affiliates in Cleveland and Toronto when it makes sense to do so throughout the year.

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