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Friday, June 26, 2009

Shaquille O'Neal Trade Overshadows Draft

Several trades overshadowed Thursday's NBA Draft, with the biggest move--literally and figuratively--sending Shaquille O'Neal from Phoenix to Cleveland in exchange for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, a conditional second round 2010 draft pick and cash.

It is fascinating that for years we have been told how much Steve Nash makes his teammates better, yet despite being surrounded by multiple All-Stars he has yet to take the team to the NBA Finals even once, while in the past two years Kobe Bryant led the L.A. Lakers to two Western Conference titles and one NBA championship while being paired with just one All-Star. The Suns have clearly acknowledged that Nash will never lead them to a championship, so now they are slashing costs as a prelude to completely rebuilding the team.

There is no question that the Cavs have upgraded themselves from a talent standpoint. O'Neal is not nearly the player he once was but he made the All-NBA Third Team last season--the same honor accorded to the Lakers' Pau Gasol and 2007 Finals MVP Tony Parker--and O'Neal shared All-Star Game MVP honors with Kobe Bryant. The Cavs won an NBA-best 66 games last season and now have added O'Neal without giving up a core member of their rotation; Wallace ranked seventh on the team in regular season mpg (23.5) but only played in 56 regular season games, while Pavlovic ranked 10th on the team in regular season mpg (16.0) while playing in 66 regular season games--and both players had their minutes slashed in the playoffs (12.6 mpg for Wallace, 8.3 mpg for Pavlovic). The Cavs are clearly committed to trying to win a championship this season and believe that O'Neal will help them to match up with Orlando's All-NBA First Team center Dwight Howard, who dropped a playoff career-high 40 points on the Cavs as the Magic beat the Cavs in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals. However, there are some risks and downsides associated with bringing O'Neal into the fold, as I noted in my season overview article about the Cavs:

While O’Neal is certainly a big body who can pose a potential challenge to Howard at both ends of the court, he is also a 37 year old who has a disturbing recent history of injury problems, though he was relatively healthy last season. O’Neal has never been fully committed to exerting himself at the defensive end of the court, particularly on pick and roll plays--a staple of Orlando’s offense. The Suns acquired O’Neal two seasons ago to match up with their big man nemesis, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, but while O’Neal helped the Suns to win a couple regular season games versus the Spurs when push came to shove in the 2008 playoffs the Spurs once again prevailed.

O’Neal said that he would accept a lesser offensive role in order to facilitate Amare Stoudemire’s development but it did not take long for him to undermine new coach Terry Porter (who has since been fired) and not so subtly demand more touches. This year the Suns did not even make the playoffs. O’Neal’s tenures in Orlando, L.A. and Miami all ended acrimoniously and he seems to have worn out his welcome in Phoenix very quickly. Even if the Cavs can acquire O’Neal without giving up core players--the Suns are likely more interested in dumping salary than trying to obtain equal value for O’Neal--I am not convinced that this would be a good move; the Suns brought in O’Neal out of desperation because their championship window was rapidly closing and their Steve Nash-led nucleus had never even made it to the Finals but LeBron James has already been to the Finals once and his championship window is certainly much more wide open than Nash’s, meaning that it is less necessary for the Cavs to make high risk moves.


It is worth emphasizing that every time that O'Neal has left a team--Orlando Magic, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns--the parting has been acrimonious to some degree and that two of those teams did not win championships to offset the turmoil wrought by O'Neal. Furthermore, the Cavs did not acquire the player who won three straight NBA Finals MVPs from 2000-02; O'Neal has won just one playoff game since the 2005-06 season. Although O'Neal has often spoken of being "the general" who simply follows the orders of the "president" (head coach), the truth is that the only coaches he really listened to or respected were Hall of Famers Phil Jackson and Pat Riley--and O'Neal has even taken public verbal shots at both of them. O'Neal did not pay much attention to his other coaches, including Brian Hill, Del Harris, Stan Van Gundy and Terry Porter. Cleveland's Mike Brown is an excellent coach, particularly at the defensive end of the court, and like Harris and Van Gundy he took a team to the Finals without O'Neal but will O'Neal truly respect Brown and do what Brown asks? If O'Neal does not fall in line, what effect will that have in the locker room?

Instead of trying to position the Cavs as a team that can contend for multiple titles, Danny Ferry has rolled the dice in an attempt to win the 2010 championship; whether or not the Cavs achieve that goal, they obviously will have to make significant retooling moves very soon as O'Neal gets older and then retires. Supposedly the O'Neal trade will influence LeBron James to stay in Cleveland when he becomes a free agent but that thinking could backfire in two different ways: (1) if the Cavs win a championship in 2010, James could figure that he has maximized what he can achieve in Cleveland and decide to seek greener pastures with a team that has a younger nucleus; (2) if the Cavs do not win a championship in 2010, James could similarly decide that he has a better chance to win a championship elsewhere. I think that the best way to keep James in the fold is to surround him with a team that can contend for years to come, instead of making the 2010 season a "championship or bust" year for the franchise; the Cavs should have tried to make their nucleus younger and more athletic instead of older. The Cavs must try to supplement the O'Neal trade by adding some youth/athleticism to the roster, not just to improve their prospects for the 2010 season but also with an eye to the future.

Although the O'Neal trade will understandably grab most of the headlines, Orlando--the reigning Eastern Conference champions--added an eight-time All-Star who is a lot closer to his prime than O'Neal is: Vince Carter averaged 20.8 ppg in 80 games last season for the Nets and, despite the negative reputation the media has tagged him with, he has played in at least 76 games each of the past five seasons and has averaged at least 20.6 ppg every year since 1999-00, his second NBA season. Carter--who Orlando acquired from the Nets with Ryan Anderson in exchange for Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie--provides the Magic with another player who can make three pointers but he also can create a shot for himself and others even better than Hedo Turkoglu, who has been Orlando's point forward in recent seasons. Even if the Magic ultimately do not re-sign Turkoglu they are in good shape, because Carter is clearly an upgrade over Turkoglu as both a scorer and playmaker, but if the Magic keep Turkoglu then they could be the first team to start five All-Star caliber players--Howard, Carter, Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson--since the Detroit Pistons had Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, a quintet that won the 2004 championship and made it to the 2005 NBA Finals.

It is just as well that all of this trade activity overshadowed the draft, because--as I explained last year around this time--I have never been a big "draftnik." I have always been much more interested in evaluating players once they actually make it to the league and play against NBA caliber competition. A few days ago, Jay Bilas made a very interesting point: NFL teams have the opportunity to look at their draft prospects for four years and they still frequently make mistakes, while NBA teams often only get to see a prospect during one year of college before they have do decide when/if to draft him. Figuring out how collegiate/foreign players will perform in the NBA is an inexact science at best, in no small part because these players play with and against players of wildly disparate skill sets; that makes it tough to know just how meaningful a player's statistics are.

One of the best things about last year's draft was that ESPN relegated Stephen A. Smith to the "kiddie table" instead of having him sitting next to the actual experts pretending that he knows what he is talking about in terms of analyzing the NBA game; this year, Smith did not participate in the telecast at all (ESPN did not renew his contract), with Mark Jones taking Smith's place at the "kiddie table" interviewing the draftees. Stuart Scott hosted the coverage and, despite his inexplicable insistence on dispensing obscure facts that have no meaning or relevance and his ill-fated attempts at humor, he did a solid job. Mark Jackson provided a former NBA player's perspective, Jeff Van Gundy offered insights as a former NBA coach, Jay Bilas lent his expertise as a former collegiate player who now works college games as a broadcaster, Dick Vitale made a few cameo appearances and Fran Fraschilla served as the resident expert on the international game.

Bilas is a knowledgeable analyst but one aspect of his commentaries distracted me; I lost track of how many times Bilas described a player as "super-athletic" but I find it difficult to believe that there are so many "super-athletic" players in the draft. By definition, there can only be a few people who are "super" at anything at any given point in time. LeBron James is "super-athletic." Dwyane Wade is "super-athletic." Josh Smith is "super-athletic." Kobe Bryant has a flawless skill set and is one of the best conditioned players in the league but I'm not even sure that he is "super-athletic" at this stage of his career. There just aren't that many "super-athletic" players, period. We'll see how many of the 2009 draftees truly turn out to be "super-athletic" once they start facing NBA competition on a night in, night out basis 82 times a season.

Vitale had the line of the night when he said that "Mr. Po" (potential) gets coaches fired. Vitale made a couple clip and save predictions: Stephen Curry will win the Rookie of the Year award and the Cavs will face the Spurs in the 2010 NBA Finals.

Fraschilla had a relatively light workload early in the evening, as only two international players were selected in the first 21 picks, Ricky Rubio (fifth, by Minnesota) and Brandon Jennings (10th, by Milwaukee)--and Jennings obviously is an American player who simply played in Europe for one season due to the NBA rule that prohibits players from jumping straight to the league from high school. Scott incorrectly said that Jennings "circumvented" the rule; in fact, Jennings simply followed its provisions, as opposed to finding a loophole or challenging the rule in court: the rule is specifically designed to enable NBA teams to observe a player for one year after high school, whether that player spends the year in college, the Developmental League or Europe, so Jennings did not "circumvent" anything.

Fraschilla called Rubio's court vision "Gretzky-like" and said that Rubio is "one of the best passers I've ever seen." Fraschilla added that Rubio must get stronger and improve his shot. It is a bit unfortunate for Rubio that he bears such a strong physical resemblance to Pete Maravich, because it will be extremely difficult for Rubio to ever become even close to being as great a player as Maravich was; if Rubio did not look so much like Maravich perhaps people would be able to more objectively look at his skills. I have no idea how good of an NBA player he will become but I do not think that his basketball impact will approximate what Gretzky did in the NHL, nor do I think that Rubio is even close to being as good as Maravich was at a comparable age. Maravich set collegiate scoring records that will never be broken and his passing skills were at least a decade ahead of his time; Maravich was derided as a "hot dog" for doing the things that Magic Johnson later popularized as "Showtime." Rubio is certainly a gifted passer but he is not a decade ahead of his time; he is simply imitating moves that Maravich, Magic, Isiah Thomas and others perfected decades ago. I expect Rubio to struggle for at least one year and maybe two before he gets acclimated enough to the NBA game for it even to be possible to ascertain if he can truly become a great player.

For a while, Minnesota seemed intent on cornering the market on point guards--and small ones at that. Then they made some trades but after the dust settled they still had both Rubio and Jonny Flynn, who they took with the sixth overall pick. Minnesota's new GM David Kahn insists that Rubio and Flynn can play together but that seems improbable at best; Rubio is listed at 6-5, 180, while Flynn is listed at 6-1, 196, but Rubio may be lighter than that and Flynn is almost certainly shorter, so that is just not going to cut it for a starting backcourt in the NBA. I believe in giving GMs the benefit of the doubt but I have no idea what Minnesota's real plan is; offhand, this looks a lot like the Detroit Lions stockpiling wide receivers while the rest of their roster went to pot but maybe Kahn has some more moves up his sleeve. Of course, one of those moves has to be hiring a coach--Kahn let Kevin McHale go, even though McHale was very popular with the players and was a good tutor for big men Al Jefferson and Kevin Love--and it will be interesting to see how many coaches line up to take the job with Rubio and Flynn as the prospective starting guards. Bilas said that he considered Minnesota to be one of the winners of the draft, an opinion that right now may only be shared by Kahn.

Mark Jackson listed two winners--the L.A. Clippers, who took Blake Griffin with the first overall pick, and the Orlando Magic, who did not draft anyone but who upgraded their roster by acquiring Vince Carter. Everyone calls Griffin a "can't miss" prospect but that is hyperbole; there have been players more talented than he is who did not become big stars, whether due to injuries or other factors. Griffin certainly looks like he will be a very good NBA player but no one is a "can't miss" player--particularly someone who will be starting his career in the NBA black hole known as the L.A. Clippers.

Van Gundy said that the Spurs are the big winners, because a few days ago they traded Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas to bring in Richard Jefferson. That indicates just how nondescript this draft seems to be: the winners may be teams that brought in veteran help, as opposed to teams that picked young players.

It is interesting to note that while both Jackson and Van Gundy wholeheartedly praised the Carter deal for Orlando, neither Van Gundy nor Jackson think that the O'Neal trade alone made the Cavs any better; Van Gundy rightly pointed out that the Cavs were already a championship team before making that deal and that with O'Neal clogging up the middle not only on defense but also on offense the Cavs must acquire a power forward who can spread the court by making jump shots. LeBron James likes to run pick and pop plays with Zydrunas Ilgauskas or pick and roll plays with Anderson Varejao, but Ilgauskas' minutes will obviously be slashed and Varejao will have less room to roll if O'Neal is planted in the low post demanding the ball.

For the record, here are some highlights from my previous four years of draft night coverage:

First Impressions of the 2008 NBA Draft

What I said in 2008: "Van Gundy said that the Sonics now face a 'critical decision' regarding which positions Durant and Westbrook will play. Durant played shooting guard last year. Will Westbrook take over that spot, moving Durant to small forward, or will Westbrook play point guard? I'm not sure what Westbrook's best position is but I never agreed with putting Durant in the backcourt; he needs to bulk up a bit, toughen up on the boards and play small forward, because he does not belong on the outside chasing 6-5 shooting guards around screens."

What I think now: Westbrook came on strong in the second half of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder--the Sonics' new name--as he started all 29 games after the All-Star break. Overall, he played in all 82 games--starting 65 of them--and averaged 15.3 ppg, 5.3 apg and 4.9 rpg while playing point guard. More importantly, the Thunder fired Coach P.J. Carlesimo and his replacement Scott Brooks immediately moved Durant to small forward, producing instant dividends as Durant's scoring average (25.3 ppg) and field goal percentage (.476) both increased markedly from his rookie year numbers (20.3 and .430 respectively). The Thunder went 20-62 in 2008 and 1-12 in 2009 under Carlesimo with Durant at shooting guard and then went 22-47 the rest of the 2009 season under Brooks with Durant playing his natural small forward position.

First Impressions of the 2007 NBA Draft, Soon to be Renamed the "Paul Allen Buys Every Draft Pick Show"

What I said in 2007: "Nothing lends itself more to overanalysis and wild hyperbole than the draft (any draft, not just the NBA's). None of the draft picks has played one second of basketball at the NBA level, let alone 82 regular season games over a period of many months, so the dramatic, overblown statements and projections that are offered up by 'experts' are just that: dramatic and overblown."

What I think now: Those two sentences should be the preamble to every single article that is written right after any draft.

Thoughts on the NBA Draft (2006)

What I said in 2006: "There were so many trades going on throughout the draft that I kept waiting for Monty Hall to come out of the audience and take the microphone away from Dan Patrick. Greg Anthony was so befuddled at one point that he said, 'No comment,' as if he were being deposed under oath. Stephen A. Smith completely ripped the Portland Trail Blazers but I don't understand why he did not ask a direct question of Blazers President Steve Patterson when Patterson appeared on the telecast via satellite. Portland has clearly made some questionable moves in the past, but they got rid of undersized point guard Sebastian Telfair and obtained LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, either of whom conceivably could turn out to be the best player in this year's draft. Portland also acquired Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau while shipping away Theo Ratliff and Victor Khryapa. It seems unfair and misguided for Smith to criticize these deals three seconds after they have transpired when there is a decent chance that these moves actually helped Portland. Ratliff is a quality shotblocker but Portland hardly gave up the house to get Aldridge and Roy. Smith's verbal broadsides against Portland came across as the proverbial 'shoot, ready, aim' style of analysis. Just because ESPN made a movie about Telfair does not mean that he will be a great NBA player."

What I think now: Portland fans are happy that Stephen A. Smith is not running their team; NBA fans are happy Smith is no longer a paricipant in ESPN's NBA Draft coverage.

Thoughts on the NBA Draft (2005)

What I said in 2005: "Utah...acquired the third pick from Portland and selected Illinois' Deron Williams, a poor man's Jason Kidd who seems to be the perfect fit for Jerry Sloan's system. He won't make anyone forget John Stockton (who could?) but Utah expects him to man the point guard spot for the next 10 years or so."

What I think now: I was right to praise the Williams pick and to pan the Clippers' choice of Yaroslav Korolev with the 12th pick. On the other hand, I did not even mention Chris Paul and he has turned out to be the best player from that draft so far. Atlanta's choice of Marvin Williams over Paul and Deron Williams will only haunt the Hawks for the next decade or so.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:06 AM

15 comments

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15 Comments:

At Friday, June 26, 2009 7:10:00 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

Rubio's game has nothing to do with Maravich or Steve Nash. He's much more like Jason Kidd. A solid defender, great vision, a creative passer but not a great shooter or slasher. On the other hand he can get free throws and has improved his 3pt %fg (which would be useful if Al Jefferson gets doubled).

Is true that he must get stronger, but that is the norm with almost all european white players. For example I've seen Turkoglu in person when he was 19, and he was just as skinny as Rubio is now.

He may do something like 8 points, 8 assists and 3 steals this season.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 7:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

Rubio is constantly compared with Maravich due to the obvious--and quite striking--physical resemblance, both facially and in terms of their physiques.

As for Nash, Rubio himself compared his game to Nash's when Mark Jones interviewed Rubio at the draft, though Rubio modestly/realistically conceded that he is not as good as Nash at this point.

I suspect that Rubio will struggle defensively in the NBA, at least initially. It is difficult to say what his rookie numbers will be without knowing how much he will play but I think that you have overestimated his apg production and I am fairly certain that he will not average 3 spg as a rookie; since steals have been an official stat (1973 in the ABA, 1974 in the NBA) there have only been 11 3 spg seasons by seven different players (Don Buse [2], Alvin Robertson [4], Slick Watts, Magic Johnson, Micheal Ray Richardson, John Stockton, Michael Jordan).

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 8:49:00 AM, Anonymous J. Bauer said...

David,
I think its ironic that CLeveland made the deal for Shaq thinking that he'd put them over Orlando and give them a better chance at the Championship. Orlando turned around less than 12 hours later and traded for Vince Carter which pretty much trumped the Shaq trade.
-===============================
Why didn't Danny Ferry trade for Vince Carter who was available? What cleveland needs is a dynamic wing player to pair with lebron. Carter would have taken a lot of ball handling duties from Lebron.

I think Lebron is the one who pressured the front office to get Shaq. When will teams learn that quick fix trades have really low rate of success and usually get coaches fired?

And the more time passes the more people are starting to realize who the true villain was in forcing Shaq out of LA.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 8:54:00 AM, Anonymous J. Bauer said...

david,
Plus there is rumors(team sources) out of Phoenix saying that Steve Nash wanted Shaq out of PHX. Word is Nash wasn't happy with Shaq demanding to be a bigger part of offense while his diminishing skills doesn't warrant him getting the amount of touches he demands.

Amare stoudemire wasn't happy either. The way the team shoved him aside for an old shaq really rubbed him wrong.

I wonder if Steve kerr will ever live down shredding a #1 team and basically forcing him into the lottery 2 years later.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 10:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Carter. A lot of people seem to think that he's washed up, but he has played at a high level the past couple of years.

I don't think Shaq hurts the Cavs offense as much as people think. He's replacing Ben Wallace! He won't hurt their fast break because he might just actually be faster than Big Z. I never heard of Kobe or Wade complaining about Shaq clogging the lane.

The Cavs got a huge upgrade offensively at the expense of their defense, but that defense was sure to decline anyway with Wallace's desire to retire.

Shaq is always a good citizen in the first year of being saved from a sinking ship, and the fact that his contract expires at the end of this upcoming season makes this a low risk, high reward move.

They would still have a lot of trouble with transition 3s, but Shaq helps in this area with high percentage shots reducing the opponent's fast break opportunities.

Z

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 2:36:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I don't know if I like Orlando's trade for Carter. Why break up a core that is clearly good enough to win a championship? Indications from the media are that it is unlikely Orlando will re-sign Turkoglu, so let's assume that. Sure, Carter is individually a more talented player than Turkoglu, but he is also older, and will he be as good a fit with the team? It just seems strange that a team can go to the Finals and then discard their go-to guy in 4th quarter situations. The Magic also gave up Courtney Lee, who is their best backcourt defender and a nice young player who figures to improve. To me, this is one of those moves which looks good on paper but might not work that well in practice. Every team needs roll players who fit in the system. It will be interesting to see how this works out.

I really like the Richard Jefferson trade for the Spurs. Jefferson gives them exactly what they have been sorely missing SF. If Ginobili makes a full recovery, the Spurs will have four players capable of averaging at least 20 ppg. Jefferson is also a big defensive upgrade over Michael Finley. It will be interesting to see who the Spurs bring in to shore up their frontcourt. They are one decent PF/C away from making the Lakers sweat.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 3:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J. Bauer:

The Cavs did not give up much to get Shaq but probably would have had to give up more to get Carter. I suspect that is why they did not trade for Carter; it is also possible that the Nets were not interested in any of the players who the Cavs might have made available or that the two teams could not make the contracts work in order to do a deal.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 3:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J. Bauer:

I don't doubt that Nash and Amare did not like playing with Shaq. That is part of what I meant when I said that things tend to end acrimoniously with Shaq (he also helped to get Coach Porter fired).

Kerr probably will never live down what has happened in Phx but I also am not convinced that everything is his fault. Nash has had a stacked team for years and never won anything. He had Shaq, Amare (for half a season), Grant Hill, Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes last year and could not even make the playoffs. Also, for years before Kerr arrived the Suns have traded away their draft picks to save money and, as a result, they never developed any young players to step in as their core players got older. Kerr took a risk by trading for Shaq but Kerr was smart enough to understand that the team was never going to win a title without some kind of paint presence. The Suns actually beat the Spurs twice after getting Shaq but they have always been a soft team and after they blew the lead in game one of the 2008 playoffs they never recovered--unlike, say, the Magic, who were down in playoff series versus the 76ers and Celtics but rallied to make it to the Finals this year.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 3:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Shaq is replacing Wallace but Shaq will play more minutes and--presumably--more games, so he will be sharing a lot of court time with LeBron. Also, technically, Shaq will be replacing Z, who will head to the bench. Wallace was probably going to retire anyway.

If you never heard Kobe complaining about Shaq clogging up the lane then you were not paying attention. That certainly was a source of tension between them, though Shaq's lack of conditioning and indifferent defense were bigger concerns (not just to Kobe but also to the coaching staff). Shaq was on his best behavior in the first couple years with the Heat because it was so important to him to get a ring without Kobe. Perhaps Shaq will have a similar focus now but he is also much older and much less athletic than he was in 2005 or 2006; I thought that he should have been the MVP in 2005, when he still was a dominant player.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 3:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I think that Orlando traded for Carter precisely because Turkoglu is likely going to leave. While there is some risk involved from a chemistry standpoint and because of Carter's age, the Magic are certainly better off replacing Turkoglu with a more accomplished and explosive player than with simply losing Turkoglu for nothing. Carter gets such a bad rap in the media that I think people forget how good he really is and are not aware that he has been very durable for the past several seasons.

I agree with you that the Jefferson deal is very good for the Spurs and that they will be right back in the hunt next season.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 7:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really? I'm not being sarcastic, but I would like to read some links of Kobe wanting Shaq out of the lane so he could score, or Kobe wanting another big man during their championship run.

When did Kobe's most spectacular dunks happen? With Shaq or with Kwame? In 2006, Wade's points primarily came from drives (his jumper was not as good as it is now).

What about those times when Wallace played with Varejao? LeBron had no trouble driving inside and dishing to them, although what happened afterwards was an adventure. The Cavs now have a lot of options. Shaq + Z against slow, half court teams would own the offensive glass. Shaq + Varejao would be just a huge upgrade over the Wallace + Varejao combo, and we already know what big Z and AV can do together.

Contrary to popular belief, Shaq is an able and willing passer. He wants touches and thinks that he should be involved in every offensive possession, but aside from the occasional charge here and there, he usually makes the correct basketball play. Last I checked, Shaq was still shooting around 60%, and these were not "Bynum buckets."

The Cavs gave up nothing for someone who can save LeBron a lot of wear and tear. You can worry about spacing later, you have to make that trade. LeBron is skilled, versatile, and smart enough to play with his new toy. As a bonus, he will be less inclined to yoyo the ball out on the 3 point line because he has such a big target inside. Shaq makes his move, LeBron dives to the paint, I don't care if you are a circus strongman, no single defender can "play them both."

I'd worry about their defense and Shaq's off-court comedy routine before worrying about their offense.

Z

 
At Saturday, June 27, 2009 4:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I don't have a specific link or article reference handy that details Kobe being upset about Shaq clogging the lane but all you have to do is watch some video of Shaq and Nash playing together last season and you'll get an idea of what I am talking about. Shaq draws double teams and that makes it easier for spot up shooters to get open but by the same token that also ends up clogging up the paint right in front of the rim. Kobe was more of a slasher/dunker as a young player than he is now--and he was not as lethal from three point range back then.

I don't have a chart of Kobe's career dunks but he obviously had his best individual scoring seasons after Shaq departed.

The Cavs did not put Wallace and Varejao on the court together that often. First Z and Wallace were the starters, with Varejao usually coming in for Wallace, and then after Wallace got hurt they flip-flopped roles.

Just as I correctly predicted that Gasol and Bynum would rarely if ever play together, I will say that I doubt that Shaq and Z will play together frequently. Who would guard the other team's power forward? Varejao has been a 25-28 mpg player, so the Cavs need to add another power forward to the rotation. That is why I, JVG and Mark Jackson are all saying that even though the Cavs obviously upgraded their talent base they still have to make at least one more move to straighten out their frontcourt rotation.

I never suggested that Shaq is a bad passer.

Again, the issue is not talent. Everyone understands that the Cavs got the better end of this trade from a talent standpoint and that the Suns are simply dumping salary. That does not change the fact that the Cavs still need to add someone to play the four.

Say LeBron passes to Shaq in the paint and Varejao's man doubles Shaq, with the other three defenders playing straight up. If LeBron cuts to the hoop he will be met by three big defenders--his own man, plus the two guys who are already in the paint by Shaq. West and Williams will not be open because their men will be guarding them, so the possession will end in a charge by LeBron, a forced midrange shot by LeBron or an open jumper for Varejao. The Cavs' best playoff offensive set in recent years has been one of two things:

(1) LeBron isolated at the top of the key with four shooters flanking him (sometimes including Z as a shooter), resulting in a strong drive by LeBron and/or a wide open jumper by a shooter after the defense collapses on LeBron.

(2) LeBron running a screen/roll with Varejao, who is great at setting a solid screen and then diving to the hoop. This usually results in a layup by Varejao, a wide open jumper for a shooter or a strong drive by LeBron if he gets a crease after the screen.

Neither of those sets is going to work with Shaq parked on the left block, nor can Shaq set a screen and roll as quickly as Varejao does. LeBron's inability to consistently hit the midrange jumper is going to be even more evident with Shaq taking away some of LeBron's driving opportunities.

Can Cleveland find a way to make this work? Sure, but there are some challenges to overcome, particularly if the Cavs do not add a four who can shoot and is also capable of guarding mobile fours.

I'm not saying that the Cavs should not have made the deal; I made it quite clear that they got he better end talentwise--but there are still kinks that need to be worked out. Keep in mind that Shaq's 2007 Heat flamed out in the first round, his 2008 Heat were headed for the basement before he was dealt and his 2008 Suns and 2009 Suns declined markedly from their status prior to acquiring Shaq. Shaq can still put up respectable individual numbers but it has been quite some time since he helped a team to do anything meaningful in the playoffs.

 
At Saturday, June 27, 2009 3:09:00 PM, Blogger flyE said...

Good column as always. One thing that bothers me about the "draft grades" columns that pop up around the web is the inability to give the Lakers an "A" for their (non) draft. They came in with a desire to avoid having to pay a young, marginal player $1.7M, and walked out with $4.5M in cash. Maybe it's just me, but cash-in-hand seems like a surer thing than Blake Griffin!

And of course, grading the draft right after is a pointless exercise. Let's give it a few years -- we're still waiting on a lot of the players drafted in 2007 (I'm looking at you, Brandan Wright).

 
At Sunday, June 28, 2009 11:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree that Kobe's game was in any way diminished or hurt because Shaq was clogging up the lane. While it did reduce some driving opportunities, it also opened up a lot of cutting opportunities. The problem with Nash was that he could not play without the ball.

I agree that they need a 4, ideally a Joe Smith/Kurt Thomas type of player. They still have some moves to make, but I think that the Shaq trade was the right one. Getting a player who can shoot 60% from the field on his own is much harder than finding a big who can make jumpers.

The problem you described also happens whenever Ilgauskas takes a rest. Change the tandem to Shaq+Smith like player, and then Big Z + AV.
Here are new options open to LeBron:
1. Shaq on the low block, with or without a double team, can hit a cutting LeBron.
2. Shaq sets baseline or down screens to allow LeBron to break free from his man, and receive a pass 1 dribble away from the hoop while on the move.

These call for LeBron doing more off-ball work, something that saves him a lot of energy, wear and tear, and makes for a more unpredictable Cavalier attack.

The clear-out LeBron yo-yo special takes a lot of energy, cannot be sustained, and should only be used in end-game situations. These situations necessitate Shaq sitting because of his FT problems anyway.

I just do not see how Shaq hurts the Cavs offense, especially since he's replacing Ben Wallace. He will be splitting time with Big Z, whos minutes are already slowly being scaled down anyway. 20 minutes of Shaq, 20 minutes of Z, for a totally different attack for different situations. Mo Williams then becomes a third option where he belongs.

Shaq carries a lot of baggage, but I think his offense is the least of the Cavs' worries

Z

 
At Sunday, June 28, 2009 11:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I understand why the Cavs pulled the trigger on the deal and there is no question that they gained more talent than they gave up but that does not necessarily mean that they will perform better over an 82 game season plus the playoffs than they did in 2009. We will see if Shaq can stay healthy and productive and exactly what kind of impact he has offensively and defensively. Regardless of his individual stats, he has hardly made his last two teams better from 2007-2009.

The Cavs had a very effective rotation of bigs with Z-Varejao-Wallace each playing 25-28 mpg. Wallace never completely recovered after he got hurt and that threw off the rotations/minutes, though this did not really slow the Cavs down until the ECF. If you look at the Cavs' defensive and rebounding stats when Wallace was healthy, the Cavs' frontcourt was playing at a very high level collectively. Bringing Shaq in makes Z a bench player for the first time in his career and necessitates a lot of changes offensively and defensively. It could work out for the Cavs but it is hardly a lock that it will work out.

 

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