Cleveland Cavaliers Acquire Shaquille O’Neal From Phoenix Suns

June 25, 2009

Shaqcavs

by Jack Maidment

The ‘Fire Steve Kerr’ lobby just got a lot more ammunition as the Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired Shaquille O’Neal for the NBA equivalent of a Mars bar and a packet of crisps.

The move which sees Ben Wallace, who is likely retiring, and Sasha Pavlovic, heading to Arizona accompanied by a low second round pick and a reported $500,000.

For the Cavaliers this trade represents a bolstering of their frontcourt, a presence inside and a 2nd/3rd option for LeBron James to dump the ball to when the time is right.

Last season showed that given the right amount of rest The Most Dominant Ever can still embarrass just about any other center in the League, putting up numbers reminiscent of Shaq 6 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Suns are officially in meltdown, dismantling the team that took them close but no cigar. The departure of Shaq could well leave the door open for Steve Nash to pack up his bags as he searches out a contender for his chance at a ring.

The Cavs will hope that the $20 million Shaq is owed this coming season will be enough to push the franchise over the hump.


Shaq Means Championship? NBA GMs Look To Change Their Fortunes With Trades

April 15, 2009
Center Seeks New Home, Willing To Travel For Rings.

Center Seeks New Home, Willing To Travel For Rings.

The final day of the season represents two separate things. For those 16 teams in playoff positions it is a last opportunity to try and improve their seeding. For the other teams in the League it is a chance to savour the last competitive encounter of the lengthy season and to look forward to a period of relaxation and the off season improvement that follows.

 

While the players of teams like the Grizzlies and the Warriors go fishing and eventually hit the gym, the front office of each franchise will be busily planning and revising their strategy for constructing a team capable of storming the playoffs next season.

 

Some of the playing personnel will be working out harder than others in the off season, or at least you would suspect they were, given the fluctuating nature of rosters in teams not necessarily happy with their performance.

 

Some players will be cut and asked to look for employment elsewhere, whereas others will be nervously anticipating any trades that could materialise. The nature of the economy dictates that many teams will in all likelihood not be involved in any blockbuster transactions. So, if we were still in the days of the boom, rather than the bust, which players would be looking for new accommodation?

 

Shaq. Despite his aging hulk of a body, the Big Diesel has proven this season that he is still a major force in the paint, replicating some of the form which led the Lakers and the Heat to Championships. If he is healthy he is still one of the best centers in the L without question.

 

It is highly doubtful that a player who likes to deal in rings is at all happy with his early holiday. Missing the post season is simply not Shaq. The acknowledgement that the great experiment in the desert, where Shaq’s Ying did not mesh as hoped to the Sun’s track meet Yang, is over will surely lead to the Big Aristotle leaving Arizona.

 

The rumoured mid season trade to the Cavaliers should have happened simply because Shaq and LeBron on the same team would be just too much fun. Imagine the pre-game introductions. Imagine Shaq reducing the Celtic’s front line to tears. Imagine the fifth ring and the parade.

 

There is no doubt that Cleveland could use a banging inside presence to compliment Big Z’s more cultured/finesse approach on offense, and Cleveland’s contender status would provide a fitting stage for Shaq to bow out as one of the greatest to have ever played the game.

 

While Shaq finishes his career in Cleveland, a young player could make a big step toward post season success by ditching his lowly franchise for a legit contender. Enter Kevin Durant. Despite the fact that the people of Oklahoma would probably riot if the trade were to go through, KD to Houston would catapult the Rockets forward giving them an explosive swingman capable of hitting big shots: something that they are already supposed to have but for injury after injury to T-Mac.

 

Not only would the Rockets have a great 1-2 punch in Yao and Durant instantly, they would also safe guard the future of the franchise with Durant looking likely to cement his position as one of the League’s absolute elite players, possibly taking Kobe Bryant’s mantle when the lock Hall of Fame player decides to retire in the relatively near future. Durant versus LeBron could replace LeBron versus Kobe as the clash of the titans.

 

The trade of Shaq and Durant as illustrated above may be slightly fantastical to say the least, so how about a shade of realism? The Wizards, the worst team in the East and second worst in the League, have a statistically compelling shot at the number 1 draft pick for this year’s draft. Taking Blake Griffin first overall would give the Wiz some much needed power down low and height on the boards. Combine what is considered to be the only lock-star in the draft with Washington’s roster and on paper you have a contender. On paper.

 

Injuries have blighted the Wizards the past few years but one season is all they need to get back toward the top end of the League. Gilbert Arenas, on the back of rest and renewed focus, is easily one of THE elite guards in the NBA. There is perhaps only one guard by the name of Kobe who you would rather have the ball down the stretch.

 

Caron Butler gives scoring and defensive toughness. Antawn Jamison is probably the most under-rated scorer in the entire League. Guaranteed points. Brendan Haywood gives them valuable size and presence in the paint. Add Griffin and a few veteran role players and the Wizards record one of the biggest turnarounds on their way to a deep post season run.

 

One or two trades is all it can take in the NBA for a franchise to transform its fortunes, see Celtics, Boston. And, Cavaliers, Cleveland.  Equally, one or two trades can be enough to cause an otherwise successful franchise to implode, see Suns, Phoenix. And Pistons, Detroit.     

 

Mediocrity is far from good enough in professional sports, so change is in the air regardless of the economy because ultimately the pursuit of trophies does strange things to people. 


Roll The Detroit Dice: NBA GMs Gamble for Playoff Glory

March 30, 2009
Take a Chaunce?

Take a Chaunce?

Imagine that every team in the NBA at the start of each season is given the option of rolling the dice and trying to improve their situations. Some teams would undoubtedly choose to gamble given their lowly status. Teams like the Clippers and the Kings would certainly roll the dice given that they have continually rolled a 1 and thus cannot sink any lower.

 

The teams which occupy the middle of the standings in the League, for example, Portland, Miami, Atlanta and Dallas, would have a slightly more difficult decision to make. These teams have clearly made progress and occupy places in the standings that the likes of Memphis and Sacramento can only dream of. Yet, as with many things in life, the allure of gambling and upping your status and position is a temptation that many teams would not be able to resist.

 

The evidence is clear. Dallas thought that Jason Kidd would be the final piece to lead the Mavericks into greener pastures. In their case, they rolled the dice and have probably ended up a little bit worse than they were before: giving up a young and already All Star certified point guard in Devin harris could prove costly as J Kidd gets toward the end of his career.

 

Miami also decided to twist last season when they convinced Phoenix that taking Shaq and his gargantuan contract plus his aging and diminishing skills was a good idea. Miami thought that adding one of the League’s most athletic swing men would elevate them back to contender status. It really didn’t. Miami tried again, sending Marion to Toronto for another big injury prone pivot, Jermaine O’Neal. Time will tell if this trade changes Miami from a 3 to a 4 or a 5 on the dice.

 

The best example of the gamble on the dice is illustrated by Boston who compiled enough picks and players to lure two more All Star, future Hall of Famers, to join their club captain. The rest is history. They had a 1. They gambled and rolled a 6.

 

The truly elite teams in the League do not gamble like this because they are already in a position to challenge for a Championship and division crowns. At the moment these teams are the Celtics, the Cavs, the Lakers, the Spurs and the Magic. They may shift some of their role players to improve areas in which they lack slightly, but the major pieces are in place.

 

The one name missing from that list is the Detroit Pistons. For the past 5 years Detroit have been a post season fixture, perhaps more than any other team, finishing with a Championship, a Conference title or at the least an exit in the Eastern Conference finals; rolling a 5 or 6 consistently if you will.

 

So why gamble this position away? Pretty dumb to try and roll a 6 when you already have a 5 right? Not if success is measured in Championships as is the way in Mo-Town. The problem that once you have reached the summit of your sport the only way is down, for the team and for the fans. For every season that you do not replicate the heady heights of a Championship year the only way to relieve the ever increasing pressure is to do something rash: a shot in the dark.

 

The trade that swapped Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson represents a desperate franchise seemingly convincing itself that the only way back to the Promised Land was a blockbuster trade, All Star for All Star. In Iverson they were getting instant offense and a globally recognisable player but by trading Billups to Denver the Pistons lost their heart and main leader: both more important than putting points on the board.

 

With their leader gone, replaced by a player not known for his ‘team player’ ability, the only way was down for the Pistons. In no other NBA team was the ‘team’ more important than in Detroit. Sure, there were characters, but ultimately when the time came the team closed ranks and set about playing for each other. Iverson was never going to come into Detroit and do this: his entire career he has been ‘the man’ on HIS team.

 

The price you can put on team leadership can be illustrated by the fact that Billups is leading a team into post season success. Think about this: if Detroit offered to reverse the trade would Denver agree? Hell no. Yet if Denver offered Billups back to Detroit? Joe Dumars would offer his own arm to get Mr Big Shot back in the Mo.

 

For the first time in what seems like a century the Pistons are below .500 with the end of the season approaching. If you would have said that at the end of last season chances are no one would have believed you.

 

But I guess that that is the power of the dice. GMs, you have been warned.


Thundering Suns: Momentum Enough To Down Dallas?

March 24, 2009
170 pounds? We could do that.
170 pounds? We could do that.

Of all the teams not in a playoff position, which one would you most want to go and watch? If you are some sort of sadist, the kind of person who in their childhood pulled the legs off of grasshoppers, then you might answer Sacramento or Washington. But for all the people in the world who aren’t a little deranged, the answer has to be Phoenix.

 

A Phoenix team doing D’Antoni better than D’Antoni does D’Antoni makes for one of the most exciting teams in the league, regardless of standings, and it would seem that a looming trip to lottery land has not only caused a reversion to past strengths, but has also ignited the Suns into a late season push for the last playoff spot. This is where the Suns differ from the other great entertainers out West, the Warriors, who have all the flash but lack the purpose that has been instilled into a Phoenix team where failure is simply not an option.

 

Their win over Denver gives the Suns a 5 game winning streak, second hottest in the league behind the Cavaliers, and also, and most importantly, hope: Dallas is faltering and Phoenix is capitalising. Over the past 11 days the Suns have gained 3 games on the Mavericks, placing them just 3 games behind Los Mavs for the 8th seed. There is blood in the water and the Suns are closing in.

 

It would hardly be surprising if it emerged that mention of choking in Dallas had become an offence punishable by lengthy incarceration. Surely now would be the opportune moment for the Phoenix audio-visual team to mail the Dallas franchise a compilation of the Texas franchise’s ‘greatest hits’: first round exit to the Warriors, Finals capitulation etc. Maybe Steve Kerr could smuggle a new NBA ad onto our screens, ‘Dallas, where choking happens.’

 

The most worrying thing for the Mavericks is that so close to the end of the season the Suns are in possession of the most prized asset in sports: momentum. And, with Shaq acting as the Juggernaut from X-Men, the Suns look like an irresistible force that can’t be slowed down.

 

The team’s mission statement of 7 seconds or Shaq is looking real good right now. In their last 4 games they have averaged 131.5, passing Golden State as the League’s best scorers overall: 108.8. That is straight up madness. One reason for the Suns resurgence is their bench has started firing. On first glance the Phoenix bench looks weak when compared to certain other teams out West, especially as Leandro Barbosa is down for a few weeks. But they have seemingly found another gear and have started having real impact on games.

 

Check out Jared Dudley against Denver: 12 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. Goran Dragic had 8 points and 3 assists. Louis Amundson contributed 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocked shots. That is the type of bench that the Suns will need the next three weeks if they want to make the playoffs.

 

Can they do it? Yes. Definitely. 3 games are not many, especially for a team scoring the same amount of points as their point guard weighs.

 

And there is just something about backing Dallas in situations like this: you could set your watch by Maverick post season capitulation.

 

3 games up, 3 weeks to go. Mavs going home early?

 

Don’t forget your fishing rod, Dirk.