All the buzz on Draft Day 2009 is about Shaquille O'Neal being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland, do not start planning the first Cavaliers victory parade in franchise history for 2010 just yet. Shaquille O'Neal is far from the answer.
One of the first things I heard when O'Neal was dealt, is that Cleveland now has a low post scoring option. I can not argue with that. Shaq can still be a valuable contributor when he is on the floor. There is no doubt, if he can stay healthy over an entire year, a 20 and 10 campaign is certainly not out of the question. He put up a very solid 17.8 points per game along with 8.4 rebounds per game last season. He is entering a contract year, and perhaps that motivation can provide a little improvement in both areas.
Motivation can only go so far though. Contract year motivation can not do anything if Shaq is in a snazzy suit on the sideline. Before last season, in which he played in 75 games, O, Neal was on a definite downward spiral. In 2006-07 he played in 40 games, followed by a 33 game year, and then in 07-08 he played a measly 28 games. In fact, O'Neal's 75 game year this past season, was the most games he had appeared in since the 1999-2000 campaign. Not to be pessimistic, but as a guy that believes in the law of averages, Shaq is due to miss some serious time next year. He is a 37 year old, 325 (generous) pound man that has carried and thrown that weight around more last year than he has in any of his previous 10 years. It will be defying the odds if Shaq plays in more than 50 games next year. Bottom line.
Other than health related issues, there are several other factors that make O'Neal anything but a ticket to next year's NBA Finals for the Cavs. Shortly after the trade was made, a so-called expert made the comment that Cleveland desperately needed a big man that would be able to bang with Dwight Howard down low. I agree with that, but Shaq is not the answer. How quickly people forget that just this past season, O'Neal attempted to flop in order to stop Howard. He had to resort to faking a charge to defend Orlando's beast. Some low post defense that is. Even a 37 year old Shaq is still an upgrade over the soft duo of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao, but hardly the answer for Dwight Howard.
Another aspect of O'Neal's play that I feel will hinder this Cleveland team, will be the clogging of the paint. So many times we have all watched LeBron James blow past his defender and attack the rim. One factor that has been overlooked is that Cleveland almost always has five guys on the perimeter offensively. Ilgauskas, Cleveland's center this past year, often floated twenty feet from the bucket since he can knock down mid range jumpers. With Shaq anchored on the block, teams will be able to rotate much easier to cut off LeBron after he beats his man off the dribble.
One thing there is no doubt about, is that O'Neal certainly has no problem taking a reduced role and thriving, as he won a championship playing Robin to Dwayne Wade's Batman. We all know he can still score and rebound when healthy too. It just seems like his diminishing post defense skills and his complete inability to contain the pick and roll really reduce his value to the Cavs. Maybe LeBron, Mo, and company find a way to make things click with O'Neal and get Cleveland that elusive championship, I just would not begin planning the parade just yet.