The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Arms Race

Cavs get Shaq

And I was just sitting down to write a longer NBA offseason post. This trade may mean everything, or it may mean nothing; Cleveland is giving up almost nothing in basketball terms, using their evident capacity and willingness to pay through the nose in luxury taxes in a down economy to take a gamble. And yet, it’s not even really all that much of a gamble; the cost is so low that even if Shaq regresses from last season’s bounce back (22.33 PER, 75 games, 30 MPG) to 07-08 form (17.07 PER, 61 games, 27 MPG) or even a bit lower than that, he’s still a much better option than Wallace (12.18 PER, 56 games, 23.5 MPG) and he’s still as Hollinger points out a decent defender. If he can be motivated by anything- and last season shows he can and it matters if he is- he’ll be motivated by the chance to win a title with a third team alongside the league’s best player, and quite possibly by the chance to wrest away the top spot in the league from his erstwhile running buddy out west.

What’s more as Hollinger points out, he’s as suited towards playing Eastern kingpins the Magic as he is towards anyone these days with the size to bother Howard- which could have a huge knock on effect all over Cleveland’s defense in that matchup. If O’Neal can handle Howard a bit better in one on ones it reduces the amount of collapsing and consequently leaving shooters open that Cleveland has to do; and since Orlando’s offense is fairly static, O’Neal will be able to devote more of his fouls towards harassing Howard and less towards swiping at cutters or clattering slashers with late rotations which he’s done enough of in recent years. For once Shaq will be the one doing the hacking, and it will only add to the acid poetry of the situation if he gets to try it out facing the first of his many teams in the league- against the player most often compared to him. Offensively I’m not sure what sort of O’Neal will show up next year but I’ll bet the entire contents of my apartment down to the last pin that he’ll offer more than Wallace, which ought to underline just how one-sided this trade is in on-court impact. It’s an utterly meaningless number, but if you add Pavlovic and Wallace’s PER (a largely offensive stat) together last year, it’s actually a point and change less than Shaq’s individually. Or put more simply, zero plus zero doesn’t add up to much more than tradeable salaries.

Now, it’s possible that this may come to nothing. Shaq’s older than dirt and always an injury risk, we don’t know what kind of team Orlando will be next year (and Howard is a player who gives ominous hints of being ready to make a(nother) quantum leap forward in effectiveness at any moment) or if Boston has another run in them or what Richard Jefferson in San Antonio will end up meaning or if their first title together will finally make this Lakers team the historically dominant outfit they always seemed like they should be but rarely were. Personally I learned this last season to be more careful with my conclusions, since even though I never actually wrote it here I’ll be more than happy to own up to the fact that until it happened I didn’t think Orlando were at all a serious threat to make the finals. Keeping that in mind, even though my hunch right now is that this trade puts Cleveland ahead in the Eastern arms race I can see about a millions ways things could still go pear-shaped, from personality clashes to collective and sudden aging to injuries to just not adding up to enough improvement. As they say, they don’t play the games on paper. But no matter the outcome, Cleveland did the right thing here- it’s the basketball GMing equivalent of getting all your money in after the flop when you’re short stacked and looking at a set. It’s the right move, the best risk, the most potential return for the least up-front cost. I don’t believe that LeBron James will leave Cleveland if the Cavs win a title, and if $10 million in luxury tax money increases the chances of that title and him resigning by, say, 15-20%, then it’s almost certainly a wise investment given what he- and a title- would mean to one of the NBA’s traditionally beleaguered franchises. If I were a Cavs fan today, I’d be ecstatic.

Cleveland, Boston, San Antonio, Orlando, LA, maybe Denver, Houston, the Jazz… this was a fantastic and very competitive year in the NBA, and next year might be even better. It doesn’t really get talked about much, but after some rough times in the late 90’s and the earlier part of this decade the L has really hit something of a new golden age of late. A quick nomination for a potential team theme song for Cleveland next year:

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June 25, 2009 - Posted by | Other NBA

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