The Diesel + “The King” = Cleveland Championship Run? Not So Fast
Big Daddy. The Diesel. The Big Fella.
What do they all have in common? They are all nicknames for one of the most dominating centers of his generation, Shaquille O'Neal.
Even though he's in the twilight of his career, O'Neal has been praised (or in some cases, feared) for being nothing short of a bully on the court. He's taller than most, stronger than the rest, bigger than the rest, and is the just plain nastiest of his competitors.
So will adding him to the Cleveland Cavaliers be their key to their long-awaited championship? Well, to prove or disprove this, we must start at the very beginning (or close to it).
You know, every sport has a never-ending chain of debates. One simply leads to another, and another to another.
Here’s one of the biggest debates since a rookie named Michael Jordan stepped into a Bulls uniform and made his imprint on the NBA: Is MJ the best ever? The general consensus, seeing that he won six championship titles and set numerous records, is yes.
Then two phenoms named Kobe Bryant and LeBron James took over the league and fueled one more: Who’s better: Kobe or LeBron? Then the comparisons begin between Kobe and Jordan, MJ and LeBron (who “reached into his MJ bag of tricks” to hit the game-winning shot in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals), and then finally Kobe and LeBron.
On the one hand, Kobe’s got four rings; on the other, he has a very good supporting cast. LeBron single-handedly took the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, yet he has no bling.
Furthermore, one of the arguments that people make for LeBron James being a better player than Kobe is that he had nowhere CLOSE to the supporting cast that Kobe did.
Well, that changed drastically with the addition of Mo Williams last off-season and even more so with last Thursday’s draft-day acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal. Now, all LBJ fans are hoping—rather, expecting—that the Diesel will finally bring a championship to the winningly emaciated city of Cleveland.
But DON’T go customizing a “2010 NBA Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers” shirt yet. There are four main dilemmas that could keep LeBron & Co. from making their way to the Promised Land and leaving with any plunder.
Reason No. 1: This Is NOT the Same Shaq from Years Past.
Don’t get me wrong; last year’s resurgence (17.8 points, 8.4 rebounds per game) was welcome in Phoenix despite their lack of a playoff run. Additionally, he gave Amare Stoudemire a lot of help with teams that had dominant big men (Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Pau Gasol).
However, his weight is going to be a problem as he continues to age. He is not overweight in the sense of obesity, but he is overweight in the sense of too much muscle. When he was younger, even with Miami’s championship run in 2006, he could use that weight and energy to bully anyone close to the basket.
Now, he’s lost a bit of that explosiveness that made him so hard to contain. So although he gives Cleveland a very good post presence, don’t expect to see him do what he did with L.A. or Miami for very long.
Reason No. 2: How Will He Fit into the Rotation?
Granted, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao aren’t the most dominating front-court in the NBA, but they for the most part got the job done. Now the question remains: Who will ride the pine?
Would you rather lose the big presence of Ilgauskas or the energy of Varejao? And even though Big Z has been gracious and not said too much about the possibility of being benched, he is the longest tenured member of that team. He was there before Mike Brown his coach, he was there before LeBron and will most likely still be there should LeBron bolt in 2010.
This is no easy choice for coach Mike Brown to make, but be on the lookout for any locker-room squabbles.
Reason No. 3: Shaq Doesn’t Necessarily Address What Killed Them in the Eastern Conference Finals
That doesn’t mean that they should have looked for something to poison Rashard Lewis somehow, but rather a defensive answer to his position on the floor.
Rashard Lewis is one of those “hybrid” small/power forwards like Dirk Nowitzki, the aforementioned LeBron, and David Lee: Big men who can shoot the ball, and do it on a regular basis.
This doesn’t mean that they take as many three-pointers as Ray Allen, but that they can extend the floor just by having the ball in their hands. Cleveland had no one on their bench who could defend Lewis equally well both in the post and beyond the arc, and the rotations that they had were weak at best, and still left room for him to dish it on the block to Dwight Howard or at the key to Hedo Turkoglu.
If they can't fix that should they face Orlando or any of those teams again in the playoffs, the Cavs will be in for quite a fight.
Reason No. 4: This Will Be His Second Attempt at Working with a Stronger Frontcourt Player Instead of a Stronger Backcourt Player
Remember, Shaq has won his four rings with strong backcourt players in Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Although LeBron is not a power forward, being a small forward puts him in the front all the same, especially with his ability to get to the rim and finish.
There was a bit of an adjustment to putting Amare Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal together, so be wary of the adjustment period both during training camp and the regular season.
Grabbing Shaq was certainly an impact move, but will it be a positive or negative one? Well, come the end of the 2010 season, it depends on who you ask.