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Shaquille O'Neal Traded to Cleveland Cavs to Team with LeBron: NBA Implications

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IJune 25, 2009

Shaq O'Neal was traded last night from the Pheonix Suns to the Cleveland Cavaliers and will join LeBron James, the NBA's best player. Now, the duo and a strong supporting cast, will attempt a run to make the NBA Finals and possibly even win a Championship to really "King" James.

In return, the Cavs sent Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace to Phoenix to play for the Suns and also picked up the 46th pick in today's NBA Draft. In effect, the trade for the Suns is mostly a salary-dump move, that can ultimately set them up for the 2010 LeBron "Le Bidding War."

Pavlovic may make only $1.5 million next year and if Wallace decides to retire, the Suns may ultimately save $15-20 million overall.

The trade is still waiting league approval, but is expected to go through and has to soon, before the draft today.

But the real impact of the blockbuster deal is Shaq's on the Cavaliers, and chiefly LeBron. Shaq now gives the Cavs a legitimate big man that can do what "The Big Aristotle" does best, rumble down low and own the paint.

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O'Neal averaged 17.8 points, and 8.4 rebounds per game, up about four points from the 2007-08, and is a big improvement over the diminishing Zydrunas Ilgauskas' 12.9, and 7.5 from last year.

Shaq gives the Cavs a bona fide center, someone to do battle with the dominant Dwight Howard.

In reality, Shaq and Howard have been battling for a few years now, hypothetically, as in who is the most dominant, best big man in today's NBA. Now they will be able to physically battle again, as they did when Shaq was in Miami, and it could be on the big stage.

The Cavs should now have a great chance at beating the Magic next year, that is, if Orlando competes as well as they did this season.

But this trade is big for another reason—Kobe and the Lakers just won another championship. Kobe proved he could do it without Shaq, and now Shaq can prove again he can win without Kobe, while simultaneously crowning LeBron James as the King of the NBA.

Some may argue he already is, but not hands-down, no way. Why do you think there are so many articles posted on B/R arguing "Who's better, Kobe or LeBron?"

Kobe is still "The Best" in the game, even though he didn't win the MVP this year. Why? Because he won the championship, he's the most clutch, probably the most pure shooter, and deadliest scorer.

Once Kobe gets going all you can say is, "Mama, there goes that man," as ESPN's Mark Jackson said a multitude of times during the '08-'09 season and playoffs. When Kobe's in the zone, no one can stop him, contain him, or really even slow him down.

All reasons to why, as of this year, Kobe is still the best.

But, the changing of the guard will be happening in the very near future.

Kobe just finished his 13th season, and even though he came out of high school, is getting older, slower, and going less vertical, even if just barely.

He has three to five more good years at most in the NBA, and this was his last in the prime of his career, at 31. If you don't think so, look at his career scoring numbers and see this was the third consecutive year declining in points and minutes per game.

While Kobe is declining, LeBron is elevating; winning his first MVP this year, in his sixth professional season, averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game. The man almost averaged a tipple-double, and if anyone in the modern game was to do it, LeBron is it.

In the large NBA scheme of things, this trade could be the catalyst for the changing of the guard in the league, from one greatest to the next.

Like Jordan before him, Kobe is now being run down by someone younger, with superior athletic ability.

If the Cavs win the NBA Championship in a little less than a year from now, we will all have really been "witness" to LeBron James the game's greatest, the true 21st Century NBA player.

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