What if Shaq had been traded to Cleveland

One of the surprises coming out of this February's trade deadline were reports that the Suns and Cavs were very close to a deal that would have sent Shaquille O'Neal to Cleveland.

The deal proposed by the Cavs would have sent Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to Phoenix while the Suns were asking for Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract instead of Wallace.

Had the deal gone the Suns way, Phoenix would have saved $2.7m in luxury tax this season and would be looking at this summer's free agency with a savings of $19.5m.

While many casual Suns fans would have scoffed at trading the lovable Shaq for Wally and Sasha, the team would be positioned this summer to spend about $10m on free agents and still be below the tax line for next year. That could have landed the Suns a couple of nice players like Marcin Gortat, Joel Anthony, Chris Wilcox or perhaps David Lee. There are a lot of good options this summer for teams that have $10m to spend on free agents.

The inclusion of Ben Wallace and his additional $14m next year instead of Wally Z would have dramatically changed the financial picture for the Suns. This deal would have saved Phoenix $2m this season and would have cleared $5.5m for this summer which isn't even enough to get the Suns under the tax line. 

In other words, the difference between the two deals was $14.7m in salary relief. It's no wonder Kerr and Sarver weren't willing to move Shaq for a $5.5m savings but should the Cavs have pulled the trigger on Kerr's offer of Shaq for Wally and Sasha?

 

 

At the time, most people (myself included) felt that it would be a mistake to insert Shaq onto a Cavs team that was rolling and happy. Nobody knows better then Phoenix fans that Shaq doesn't just cause a ripple when he arrives. He's a giant bolder dropped in a fish pond.

Looking at the Cavs playoff performance against the Magic, however, you can't help but think that having Shaq's low post scoring and interior defense would have pushed Cleveland over the top.

Cleveland rolled through the regular season based on their exception chemistry and defensive effort but as usually happens, their weaknesses have been exposed in a seven game series.

The Cavs have no other option beyond James that can create easy looks in the paint.

Their best scoring big man is reliant on jump shots to get his points and unless LeBron is creating wide open looks for Varejao or someone is getting an easy put back, they are entirely reliant on outside shooting. The Magic have game planned for this and used their exceptional perimeter defenders - Lee and Pietrus - to shut down any other Cavs that threatened to get hot.

If you put Shaq on this team you get about the same result as Big Z on the pick and roll but you get better inside defense on Howard, better rebounding and a low post option that can score at a high percentage. The Cavs would be able to mix and match Shaq, Big Z, Andy and Ben giving them far more depth and allowing LeBron to get more rest.

The numbers drove both teams decisions when it came time to evaluate the trade options. The Suns made the right call by rejecting the Cavs offer but in retrospect it would seem that Danny Ferry probably cost his team a ring by rejecting the Suns deal.

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