Why Cleveland Acquiring Shaq Is a Bad Idea

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJune 15, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 15:  Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Phoenix Suns looks on against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA game on March 15, 2009 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

On Sunday evening, NBA fans watched the Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Orlando Magic in a five game Finals series that was more competitive than the game score would indicate.

For those of us that were watching the game on ABC, in a stroke of poetic injustice, the bottom line scoreboard reported that an ESPN reporter had received word that the Cleveland Cavaliers are in preliminary trade talks with the Phoenix Suns to acquire Hall of Fame center, and former LA Laker, Shaquille O'Neal.

It is perhaps the perfect context for dialogue about a potential Cleveland deal for Shaq, though on the night the Lakers win the title.

The language the national networks will use to term this championship special will surround Kobe Bryant winning a championship for, and by, himself. The knock on the great shooting guard was that, after winning three rings with O'Neal by his side, he couldn't do it on his own.

Now he has.

If the Cavaliers make a deal for O'Neal and they get enough pieces to surround him and LeBron James to win a championship next year, what would that mean to O'Neal's legacy?

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More importantly, how would it impact James' legacy?

I know that using the word "legacy" in reference to a 25-year-old superstar may be a bit much, but is it really too early?

In 2002, Bryant was 24 when he won his third with O'Neal and didn't get another ring until Sunday night.

The stigma that trailed Bryant for the past seven years was that O'Neal was the winner on those Laker teams, especially when he went to Miami and won a championship with Dwayne Wade.

There is very little left for O'Neal to achieve as a player. He has established himself as one of the best big men to ever play the game and has four championships for his historic efforts.

He is still, despite the injuries he's dealt with in the last few years, a bigger force than anyone other than James on the Cavaliers' roster. Adding O'Neal would absolutely make the Cavs a better team and could indeed put them closer to getting to the big dance.

I know that Cleveland could, and will, do anything to keep LeBron in a Cavs jersey his entire career. And, with 2009-10 being his final season under contract, there is an enormous amount of pressure on that franchise to put players around James to make a championship run.

But one thing that has been overwhelmingly evident throughout LeBron's career is that, much like Bryant, he is mindful of the history of the game and how he establishes his place within that textbook.

Would LeBron be happy to win a championship if it was in the shadow of Shaq?

And how would he accept the same stigma Bryant has carried for the past seven seasons if he went through a similar stretch after winning one next to The Diesel?

If LeBron is going to stay in Cleveland and is going to establish himself as an elite champion, it is going to need to be the same way Bryant did it on Sunday.

Without Shaq.

James is putting up numbers that the game hasn't seen since Oscar Robertson, and considering he's doing so with a power forward's body is truly remarkable. After finishing this season with the best record in the NBA not many pundits are questioning his leadership abilities either.

But what analysts do question is what it will take to get Cleveland to the finals.

Orlando has good size with Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis (Hedo Turkoglu could opt out after this season, but he's 6'10" as well). The Chicago Bulls have an exciting and very young roster, much like the Miami Heat.

And the Celtics will have a full, healthy roster back next year.

The future of the Eastern Conference is bright, but what indications are there that it will be in Cleveland?

The Cavs should focus their efforts and financial resources on building a roster around LeBron that resembles the Lakers of this year. Players like Trever Ariza, Lamar Odom, and Luke Walton brought a lot of versatility to the floor, while Bryant and Derek Fischer hit every clutch shot that was needed in the five games.

The risk-reward ratio doesn't make sense in the final year of LeBron's contract.

Cleveland should build the right mix around James, not just add Shaq.

He deserves more than to have the O'Neal Asterisk next to his name if they win a championship, and it doesn't automatically grant them the trophy even if they add O'Neal.