Without a doubt, since Michael Jordan’s retirement, the two most physically dominant players in the NBA have been Shaquille O’Neal, then LeBron James (rounding out the top five, if you were curious, would probably be Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, and Tracy McGrady). This is to take nothing away from the momentous accomplishments of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant in the same timeframe; if anything, their substantial combined amount of rings serves as testament that basketball is about more than just freakish athleticism.
And while the 37-year-old O’Neal’s clearly not the Superman he once was, the Big Aristotle’s game still has a bit of Pythagorus in it; his numbers are about the best they’ve been in the last three years. But one number the Diesel might not like is four: the amount of rings both he and Kobe have now. In the big man’s quest to ride out on the highest note possible, he’s looking to join fellow superhumanoid LeBron and the Cavs for the 2009-10 season.
There are ways to make it happen, most involving the Ghost of Old Ben Wallace, but one critical measure that hasn’t been seen to yet is convincing the Phoenix Suns:
The Phoenix Suns are not going to give O’Neal away merely to save money.
The Suns, who could save roughly $10 million by sending O’Neal to Cleveland for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, also want to gain basketball value in any trade involving O’Neal, according to league sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking.
With Wallace considering retirement and Pavlovic averaging fewer than six points over his six-year career, Cleveland would likely have to strengthen its offer to get O’Neal.
The reasoning behind Wallace and Pavlovic is a rather uncomfortable truth about the Cavaliers’ roster this season: they wasted a ton of money. LeBron James wasn’t even the highest-paid member of the team this season. Of the roughly $91.6 million the team spent, here’s how $38.3 million was spent:
- Ben Wallace ($14.5 million): 23.5 MPG, 2.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG
- Wally Szczerbiak ($13 million): 20.6 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.1 APG
- Eric Snow ($7.3 million): Retired like five years ago
- Sasha Pavlovic ($4.5 million): 16.0 MPG, 4.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.1 APG
All in all, that’s a ton of money for four players who contributed little to literally nothing. Pavlovic was especially bad: of all Cavs who appeared in at least 20 games, he had the second-worst points per weighted shot on the team. The worst, by the way, happens to be the first guy on that list.
Szczerbiak and Snow are just now coming off the Cavs’ books, so their payroll is a little less bloated now; still, they need to get rid of enough salary to bring in Shaq, just by NBA rules. While the deal makes sense from Cleveland’s perspective, it’s downright terrible for the Suns, even if both of those contracts finish after next season (right when LeBron’s does! Weird, we know).
Whether Shaq would mesh well with LeBron on the court remains to be seen; there aren’t exactly many test cases for either player on which to base an opinion. Off the court, they’re both charismatic, high-profile, but also family men. Neither’s going to punch someone out at the club at 2 a.m. or otherwise truly embarrass the team. It’d be a wise move.
And that, coupled with the steaming crap fountain the Cavs are offering in return, is why it’d be insane for Phoenix to even reciprocate interest in this deal.