Nearly a week after the “Decision,” all the buzz still centers on LeBron James.
Dan Gilbert’s scathing rebuke of his former centerpiece echoes the unspoken feelings of many of his peers, as well as a large segment of angry fans.
As the Miami Heat intensify their effort to build a team around their core of superstars, the contenders are continuing to stockpile talent for a probable showdown with the newly favored Eastern Conference contender in South Beach.
The Boston Celtics wasted no time signing former Miami Heat center Jermaine O’Neal. Dallas and Utah are wrangling over once-coveted big man Al Jefferson. The San Antonio Spurs quietly added the best big man in Europe, Tiago Splitter, to their roster.
Far more intriguing are the whispers of a mutual interest between the future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and the San Antonio Spurs. When the dust finally settles on the summer of 2010, it might be remembered as the period when the Diesel and the Big Fundamental partnered up to take on all the young guns.
What would the addition of Shaq mean for the Spurs? Let’s examine the pros and cons of a possible Duncan and Shaq partnership.
Let’s begin with the assumption that the Spurs are able to re-sign Richard Jefferson.
The starting lineup for San Antonio could then be Shaq, Duncan, Jefferson, Ginobili, and Parker.
Shaq would give the Spurs the size in the middle they have been searching for since the days of David Robinson. Unlike Tiago Splitter, Shaq is a veteran of the NBA and knows all of the nuances that separate this league from international basketball. It is this experience that would give O’Neal the nod over the younger Splitter.
With Shaq manning the post, Duncan would be able to shift to power forward. He would once again assume the role of the weak side defender, a role that he has excelled at over the course of his career.
This front court tandem, with the addition of Tiago Splitter alongside DeJuan Blair, should instantly improve the team’s rebounding and shot blocking, two areas of concern much of last season.
From an offensive standpoint, Duncan and Shaq are both excellent back-to-the-basket post players. If they can find a way to co-exist on the block or in a high low set, they should be able to generate a healthy point production between the two of them.
Both players are excellent passers, either hitting cutters to the basket with pinpoint precision or kicking it out to a spot up shooter off of a double team. If the Spurs wing players are able improve their three point efficiency to the levels seen during their championship years, teams will find it difficult to contain Duncan and O’Neal in single man coverage.
With Shaq playing alongside Duncan the Spurs should see considerable improvement offensively and defensively.
Nevertheless, there are some potential pitfalls to this merger.
Teams that feature up-tempo offenses, like the Phoenix Suns, will be able to exploit the Spurs' transition defense with O’Neal on the court. They could find a measure of success against the Spurs jumbo lineup if they are able to stretch the defense with big men who are able to shoot it from deep, like Dirk Nowitzki, which could create driving lanes for speedy guards.
The biggest risk facing the Spurs with the duo of Duncan and O’Neal on the court during crunch time would be free-throws. O’Neal shot 49.6 percent from the free throw line last year. Although Duncan shot a respectable 72.5 percent, he was extremely inconsistent when it mattered most.
Fans could end up watching some very ugly basketball in the closing minutes of the game as the opposing teams implement their “hack a Duncan-Shaq” strategy.
When the pros are measured against the cons in regards to this potential alliance between two of the greatest big men to play the game, the scales lean considerably in favor of the pros.
Aside from the basketball aspects, bringing Shaq to San Antonio would be a huge financial incentive. It would most certainly make for “must-see TV.” Among the story lines for the 2010-11 season could be “Shaq’s Last Stand at the Alamo,” “Duncan and Shaq’s Pursuit of Kobe’s Fifth Title,” or “King James Foiled by the Old Towers.”
Due to the unexpected salary cap increase, the San Antonio Spurs were able to solidify their front court with the signing of Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter. They still have $2.365 million of their MLE to use. More than likely, it is earmarked for Richard Jefferson or another small foward which makes the acquisition of Shaq a long shot.
Needless to say, Shaquille O’Neal in a San Antonio Spurs uniform would be one of the best stories resulting from the summer of LeBron.