When a team usually acquires a star player -- say, a future Hall of Famer -- in an overwhelmingly one-sided trade, there's no doubt that they won that deal. Or so it would seem.
There was no way the Cavs were losing this one. They gave up basically a sack of basketballs for Shaquille O'Neal, who even at age 37 was an All-Star center and a nightmare to defend in the low post. Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic were nothing more than cap relief for the Suns, as neither guy even put on a Suns jersey after the trade.
It was the equivalent of giving Shaq away for free.
So why, two weeks into the season, does it look like the Suns, and not the Cavs, won this deal?
Phoenix is where Cleveland was last year -- racing out to a quick start and turning heads on the way. They are a league-best 7-1 after rallying to beat Philadelphia on Monday night, with the one loss coming at Orlando. The Suns made up for that one loss by beating the Celtics in Boston to hand the C's their first loss of the season.
In other words, they're right back to where they were before the Shaq deal: kicking ass and taking names. They have scored at least 100 points in each of their first eight games, and Steve Nash is looking like the two-time MVP from 2005 and 2006.
The 35-year old point guard, who had his differences with O'Neal the past year and a half, is averaging 17.9 points and 11.9 assists so far in 2009-10, up from 15.7 and 9.7 last year with Shaq. In fact, on Monday night against the 76ers, Nash had his first 20/20 game in over three and a half years when he posted 21 points and 20 assists in a performance reminiscent of the two-time MVP's past.
Many attributed the fall in Nash's numbers last year (if you can call them a "fall," as those are still pretty gaudy) to his age. But the Suns and Nash are reminding us of exactly who they were before GM Steve Kerr made that highly publicized trade for O'Neal when he shipped the disgruntled Shawn Marion to South Beach in exchange for the 7'1", 325-pound legend.
Now, Phoenix is back to where they belong, at the top of the league in points per game. They are averaging 110 points per game after the win at Philly, lead the league in three-point percentage, and are second in field goal percentage.
In essence, the Shaq trade was addition by subtraction. And Kerr, who saved owner Robert Sarver millions in the deal to send Shaq to Cleveland, more than made up for his mistake.
Meanwhile, with the Cavs, Shaq is averaging 11.1 points and 7.4 rebounds as the Cavs have rolled out to a disappointing 4-3 start. If those numbers hold up, they will be the lowest numbers in O'Neal's career in either category.
The Cavs have often times looked like a better team with Shaq off the court than on it. It has been a tremendous struggle getting the Big Witness Protection acclimated with the rest of nucleus from a team that won a league-high 66 games last year.
Cleveland was supposed to get better and Phoenix was supposed to get worse in the aftermath of this trade in late June. In fact, each franchise is heading in a direction opposite than what was expected, with the Suns rocketing to the top of the league and the Cavs falling back to mediocrity.
When Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry made this trade, the Cavs reportedly also had the option to trade for the Hornets' Tyson Chandler. However, one of the main reasons they chose O'Neal was because of the fact that he was in the last year of his contract while Chandler still had a player option for over $12 million for 2010-11. So in case the Shaq experiment didn't work out, the Cavs could still trade him.
And that would seem awkward after an offseason that revolved around O'Neal's arrival to the shores of Lake Erie to help "win a ring for the king." His arrival in Cleveland was the big story in the NBA over the summer.
How strange would it be if the Cavs, who seem understandably pressured to win a championship this year itself, pulled the plug on the surefire Hall of Famer and sent him elsewhere?
If they think they can see the same results that the Suns are seeing now after parting ways with the Big Shaqtus, then don't be surprised if Ferry's burning the midnight oil every night come February.
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