Begin with a series of inconvenient facts for Cavs fans and management. At 325 pounds, Shaq is listed as the NBA's heaviest player. (The second-heaviest, 310-pound
This rather stupendous track record, gilded with four championship rings and three Finals MVP trophies, indicates that Shaq's many critics, going back more than a decade, were wrong in claiming that his plethora of side projects -- be it hip-hop, movies, commercials, police work or reality shows -- were ill-advised distractions that would prevent him from fulfilling his potential on the court. Yet even as we grant O'Neal that last laugh, and acknowledge him as a strong-willed freak of nature whose proud heart is as large as his clodhoppers, his weight, age and minutes are not the numbers you want to see pop up on the slot machine when you're feeding it $21 million in salary this season.
Beyond those daunting raw numbers, consider how the Cavs not named LeBron have to improve in order to help bring a title to King James -- the crucial, perhaps necessary, inducement for the NBA's best player to sign a new deal with Cleveland. Recall that even as the Cavs rolled to an NBA-best 66-16 record last year and then swept their first two playoff series, more than a third of those defeats (and five of their seven double-digit losses) to that point came against just three opponents: They went 0-2 against the Lakers, 1-2 against the Magic and 2-2 against the Celtics.
What those opponents have in common are large but mobile frontcourt players who can help spread the floor and compel a lot of quick interior rotations to defend against the high pick-and-roll, as well as the kick-outs and interior feeds off dribble penetration. With the game but aging trio of
The circumstances of that unceremonious exit make the 2009-10 regular season mere prelude for the Cavs; their near-certain postseason matchups against any or all of the Magic/Celtics/Lakers trio will be the real standard by which the team is judged. And here's the rub: Aside from his abysmal free-throw shooting, the biggest flaws in Shaq's game are defending the high pick-and-roll and executing quick rotations in the paint. Put simply, he doesn't remove the Cavs' most glaring vulnerability against teams they must beat to make their season a success and foster the loyalty of their homegrown superstar.
In fact, a case can be made that Shaq isn't as complementary as
The bottom line is that James makes his bones in the paint. That works well in tandem with Ilgauskas, who, although he stands 7-3, is mostly a pick-and-pop player on offense. Indeed, according to 82games.com, Ilgauskas shot a higher percentage of jumpers (65.0) than LeBron. Shaq, on the other hand, takes jumpers on just 28 percent of his shots, meaning his double-wide body -- and the imminent double team he usually draws -- is too often going to be camped out in the same painted area where LeBron likes to finish.
So why did Cavs general manager
There are good reasons. Shaq remains such an extraordinary force, especially on offense, that coach
But if you had to choose one cause above all others as to why the Cavs added Shaq, it is because Ferry doesn't have a viable Plan B if James bolts to another franchise. Cleveland will pay more than $90 million in salaries and luxury tax this season. Next year, if James leaves as Ilgauskas and O'Neal come off the books, the salary totals plummet below $35 million and the team's cornerstones are
Shaq is a Cav to prevent that nightmare, and in that respect he may be more valuable as symbol of earnest courtship than he is substance of strengthened court performance. Shaq symbolizes that the Cavs will pull out every stop and leave no expensive, risky, but attention-getting option unturned in demonstrating their desire to retain James. If LeBron is feeling at all unappreciated or pulled toward the brighter lights of the bigger cities, why not acquire the biggest slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famer still lacing up his sneakers, the guy who lifted
Interestingly, the Cavs' other new additions --
But what comes in Shaq's wake may not be good times in Cleveland.