It’s Shaqtastic!

We all knew the Cleveland Cavaliers needed an engine overhaul in the wake of their loss to the Orlando Magic in a six-game Eastern Conference final series.
So, they went out and added a Diesel.
By trading spare parts and the change hidden beneath owner Dan Gilbert’s couch cushions for Shaquille O’Neal, the Cavaliers significantly improved their chances of competing evenly with the Magic and everyone else in the NBA.
I like the trade, but don’t love it. I’d date it, but I wouldn’t marry it. At least, not yet.
Sure, O’Neal could turn out a forlorn figure, sulking on the sidelines, either hurt of ineffective, just another aging superstar playing out the final year of his Hall of Fame career in a goofy-colored uniform.
We’ve seen that with Joe Namath as a Ram, O.J. Simpson as a 49er, Michael Jordan as a Wizard, Willie Mays as a Met and on and on and on.
But while the the acquisition of Shaq and his $21-milion contract is a gamble, it’s a safer bet than buying a lotto ticket.
The odds are long at all that O’Neal will arrive in Cleveland motivated. A fifth championship ring one-ups Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant, and it would make the Daddy the unquestioned Kingmaker of the NBA, giving Kobe, Dwyane Wade and now LeBron James their first world titles.
Also, now that he’s in the East, O’Neal gets the chance to go head-to-head with Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who Shaq thinks is an imposter in a Superman cape. Remember, the original Superman…it was Shaq.
And, O’Neal’s dislike of Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy is well-documented, from him calling SVG, “a master of panic,” dating to their days together on the Miami Heat. Rest assured, The Big Fundamental won’t forget Van Grumpy calling him a flopper this year when Shaq tried to draw a charge from Howard.
Then there’s the one motivating factor that stokes the fire of every veteran professional athlete. This, my friend, is O’Neal’s contract year. He wants another two-year deal, either in Cleveland or from someone else. What better way to get that than to deliver numbers like he did last season — 17.8 ppg., 8.4 reb. and a career-best .609 field goal percentage in 75 games — or play even better?
The Cavs added O’Neal without touching their core, ridding themselves only of Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, not of Delonte West or young prospects like J.J. Hickson or Darnell Jackson.
Jackson and Hickson could each play up to 20 minutes per-game next year to spell O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and keep them fresh for the playoffs.
It’s a certainty Cleveland isn’t done tweaking its roster, still needing a big wing who can stretch defenses with the jumper. That dude is going to get an amazing number of open looks next season with teams trying to double O’Neal in the post and LeBron on the perimeter at the same time.
The standard for whether this was a great move by the Cavaliers isn’t solely how the team fares in the upcoming season. If Cleveland doesn’t get to the NBA finals, many will see this deal as a failure.
But if adding O’Neal’s expiring contract to the books for 2010, plus the $11.5 million that will come off the books with Big Z’s deal running out at the same time, the Cavs will be perfectly positioned to go out and buy another Robin to LeBron’s Batman.
OK, so maybe now I’m ready to start looking for an engagement ring.

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