Shaq to Cavs: Genius move or desperation?
|06.25.09 at 1:32 pm ET|
The news that the Cavaliers are set to send Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to Phoenix for Shaquille O’Neal is not shocking. The deal had been rumored near the trade deadline and it was clear almost from the moment he arrived in Phoenix that the Shaq-Steve Nash marriage just wasn’t going to work. The question now is: Will the Shaq and LeBron union be better, or just another shotgun wedding?
At first glance this seems like a no-brainer for the Cavs. Wallace and Pavlovic were infrequent contributors and Wallace seems to be nearing the end of his career. In O’Neal they get a true center who had something of a bounce-back season in 2008-09. (Phoenix’s motives are entirely clear. This was a straight salary dump and considering they didn’t make the playoffs with O’Neal, it was an obvious move).
But upon further reflection, this seems like a classic overreach on the part of the Cavs. By any objective measure Cleveland was the best team in the league last season. The Cavs blew through the first two rounds of the playoffs without breaking a sweat, and everyone was geared up for the Kobe-Lebron marketing wet dream. But then Cleveland ran into Orlando, which presented three problems.
First, that the Cavs had no one to match up with Rashard Lewis, which is hardly unique. Few teams have that ability, as the Celtics found out without Kevin Garnett. Second, that their interior defense was suspect against an athletic center like Dwight Howard. Again, not a unique circumstance. Finally, a seven-game series is unforgiving, and as Billy Beane once famously remarked, “My (stuff) doesn’t work in the playoffs.”
While it’s true that baseball is an imperfect comparison because of how much control pitching has over the outcome, Beane’s point is that it’s human nature to over-react to a short series and one shouldn’t lose their perspective. The Cavs lost to Orlando not only because of the matchups, but also because Mo Williams and Delonte West suffered through horrible shooting slumps, Howard uncharacteristically became a competent free-throw shooter, and Lewis made brilliant shot after brilliant shot. The Cavs also blew a huge lead in Game 1 and suffered an excruciating overtime loss in Game 4. Turn any of those factors around and we might not be having this conversation.
That’s a whole lot of what-ifs to consider making such a drastic move. Again, the Cavs didn’t really give up anything to get Shaq, but as the Suns found out, having the Big Fella on the roster means altering your strategy to accommodate his presence. Ironically, the better move for Cleveland might have been working out a deal for Shawn Marion–the man Phoenix traded to get O’Neal–using Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract, but we’ll never know for sure.
It’s true that LeBron James has never had the luxury of playing with a superstar center, but neither did Michael Jordan, and it’s not at all clear that O’Neal is still a superstar center or if he will be much of a help in defending the pick and roll. This is a go for broke move by Danny Ferry designed to win a championship with LeBron now, but we shall see if O’Neal’s presence is a benefit or a hindrance.
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