Everyone has heard about the Shaquille O'Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the shell of Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic trade. The Cavs also threw in a 2010 2nd round pick (bound to be very late), and $500,000. There is no doubt the Cavs didn't give up much to get one of the all-time greatest centers to ever play the game, but did they wait to long to get him?
If we all recall, the Cavs were dangerously close to acquiring O'Neal at the trade deadline, but the deal fell through. Did Cavs GM Danny Ferry, the Sporting News' Executive of the Year (Why? Because he signed Mo Williams? Please. I guess anyone with LeBron James on their team can look like a good executive), drop the ball? Did he potentially cost the Cavs a chance at ever winning an NBA title? I say yes. Stats and explanation after the jump...
On February 19, 2009, hours before the trade deadline, reports surfaced that the potential trade of Shaquille O'Neal to the Cavs for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic was not going to happen. The reason being? The Suns wanted Wally Szczerbiak's contract instead of Ben Wallace. The deal would have given the Suns loads of cap space, while giving the Cavs a huge presence in the paint, the thing they needed most, which proved true in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Cavs fans, and unexplainable to many, the Cavs balked at substituting Szczerbiak for Wallace. I do remember Szczerbiak playing the best basketball of his season around February, and the numbers back that up. Even so, Sczcerbiak only averaged 9.4 points per game in February. For the season, Sczcerbiak averaged only 7 points per game, along with 3.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. Also, Szczerbiak started only 4 games all year. What was this infatuation with Szczerbiak that the Cavs would not insert him into this deal? One would assume that Szczerbiak's value would lie in only a situation like this one.
(Meanwhile, the Magic filled a void by trading Brian Cook and their 2009 first round pick (DeMarre Carroll) for Rafer Alston. That proved to be huge for the Magic, as Alston paid huge dividends by playing extremely well for Orlando in the playoffs. On top of that, the Magic may not have been able to trade for Vince Carter on draft day if Alston never joined the team at the deadline. Not a bad deal for Orlando at all.)
Wondering how Wally performed in the playoffs? Averaging 12.3 minutes in the playoffs, he chipped in with 3.6 ppg, 0.6apg, and 2.3 ppg- all practically half of what he averaged in the regular season.
Two of the four losses the Cavs had against the Magic were by a total of 3 points. Wally Sczcerbiak's combined stats in those two games were 34 minutes, two points, zero steals, zero blocks, five rebounds, and three assists. Add in the game that the Cavs lost by 10 points, a game that Wally Szczerbiak didn't play in, and then add Game Six that the Cavs lost, a game that Wally scored one three-pointer in the first quarter and recorded one rebound, and you get a Wally Szcerbiak stat line of:
48 minutes, five points, zero steals, zero blocks, six rebounds, and three assists in the four losses to the Orlando Magic.
Those numbers are pure garbage. Cleveland Cavs fans can all collectively point a finger at Danny Ferry for not making a trade that could have put Cleveland in the NBA Finals, if not win the whole thing.
Against the Cavs, Dwight Howard averaged 25.8 points and 13 rebounds. He was a dominating presence down low against Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who just could not contain him. There is no doubt that Shaquille O'Neal would have had more success on offense and defense against Howard.
Next season, the East gets even better. The Celtics get a healthy Kevin Garnett back, with an even bigger fire under his you know where. The Magic come out as the reigning East champs, with the most dominating center in the league, along with scorers Rashard Lewis and newly acquired Vince Carter. The Atlanta Hawks are a young, athletic team that can make any game competitive. You can never count out Dwayne Wade, and Michael Beasley will only get better with a year under his belt. Everybody saw how tough Chicago was in the playoffs, and who knows how the 76ers will play with Elton Brand back on the floor. Agent Zero is back as well for the Wiz, by the way.
The point is, last season may have been THE season for the Cavs. They were right where they wanted to be at the trade deadline, and had the player that they needed available to them. Shaq is not the player he once was. He might not be able to go 82 games, or even 62 games. Having him come in for the home stretch of the season, when the Cavs were very comfortable with their seed, would have been the best case scenario. Shaquille O'Neal is not wine. He doesn't get better with age. There comes a time when a player begins to slow down a team, and alter their style of play- we saw this happen in Phoenix.
While I am eager to see how Shaq plays, I am confident that Kendrick Perkins can contain Shaq well. Also, maybe the Celtics want to consider resigning Glen Davis for the simple reason that he seemed to match up well against Shaq in the past. Perhaps Ainge's FA strategy was altered a bit when the Cavs acquired Shaquille O'Neal. We all know they needed a center, but the type of center they were going after may have changed.
Regardless of what transpires from now until October, it is safe to say that the East's 09-10 NBA season will be one for the ages.
*Interested in hearing anybody else's take in this situation*