CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron and Shaq: Two of the NBA’s biggest stars are now teammates.
The Cleveland Cavaliers completed a blockbuster trade Thursday, bringing superstar center Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns to join current MVP LeBron James.
The Cavaliers hope they are creating a basketball duo with the power of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — or even Shaq and Kobe Bryant.
Each of those pairs won multiple NBA titles. The Cavs would settle for their first.
The Cavs are sending center Ben Wallace and swingman Sasha Pavlovic to the Suns, along with a second-round pick in the 2010 draft and cash.
“It is a really unique and rare opportunity to bring in a player of Shaq’s caliber. We are excited to see how his presence, experience and play positively impacts our team,” Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry said.
O’Neal has won four championships during his 17-year career — three as member of the Los Angeles Lakers with Bryant and one in Miami with Dwyane Wade — and will now try to get yet another with James, the league’s reigning MVP, who is only missing a title ring from his personal resume.
The trade is a gamble for the Cavs. They are hoping that the 37-year-old O’Neal, who is past his prime and has one year and $21 million left on his contract, can be the missing piece that helps James deliver his first championship to a city that has waited since 1964 for one of its major sports teams to win it all.
“This move and our goals are aligned with what our players want, including LeBron, to win a championship and win it this year,” Ferry said. “We don’t want to be patient.”
For sheer star power, the O’Neal-James tandem rivals any on the sports landscape today. And if it works, and lasts, the pairing may one day belong in the same company as some of the all-time combinations like Maris-Mantle, Koufax-Drysdale or Montana-Rice. But it could also be a one-year gambit.
Ferry and Suns GM Steve Kerr have been discussing the deal for months and finally reached a preliminary agreement early Thursday morning. The teams had to get league approval before the swap could be announced. They made the trade official in the afternoon.
James could have used Shaq during this year’s playoffs. The Cavaliers’ frontcourt of Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao couldn’t contain Orlando center Dwight Howard, and Cleveland lost in the Eastern Conference finals — a devastating blow for a team that won 66 games in the regular season and coasted through the first two rounds without losing a game.
O’Neal is coming off an All-Star season with the Suns — averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in 75 games — but doesn’t move as well as he once did and slowed Phoenix’s high-powered offense. Still, the 7-foot-1, 325-pounder is large enough to take on a player like Howard by himself.
“He is a force,” Ferry said. “Always has been, still is. He’s a wall that’s around the basket — a tall, long wall. On offense, he’s going to get double teamed. He’s a great passer and a great receiver. It’s going to be real interesting to see how he blends in to our group.”
Celebrities with massive personalities and egos, James and O’Neal have been friends for several years and often wondered what it would be like to play together. Ferry isn’t worried about there being any kind of personality clash.
“They both badly want to win,” Ferry said. “Our team and organization want to win. With that leading the way, everything else is going to work out.”
The Cavaliers’ urgency to win a title is greater than ever with James entering his final season before he can opt out of his contract. The 24-year-old came up short this season and stormed off the floor following Game 6 in Orlando without shaking hands with any of the Magic players, including Howard, his U.S. Olympic teammate.
Cleveland can offer James an extension this summer, but there’s no guarantee the Akron native, who has always maintained he wants to stay in his home state, will sign it.
Bringing in O’Neal may soothe James’ concerns that the Cavs wouldn’t be able to get him enough help to make a run at numerous titles. Ferry still wants to re-sign Varejao this summer and may look to add another perimeter player through a trade or free agency.
The trade gives the Suns financial flexibility in the future. All told, they will save $10 million.
The 34-year-old Wallace, who after the season said he may retire, is in the final year of a $14 million deal while the Suns plan to buy out Pavlovic, who has $1.5 million of his $4.95 million contract guaranteed.
Phoenix owner Robert Sarver, whose banking and real estate interests have suffered greatly in the economic downturn, said earlier this month he didn’t mind paying a luxury tax for a good team. But Phoenix failed to make the playoffs, and the Suns are in the midst of what amounts to a rebuilding effort and now will be under the luxury tax threshold.
The Suns won one playoff game in O’Neal’s season and a half, and this spring they failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2004. Soon after the season ended, speculation began to grow that the club was looking to deal O’Neal while his trade value was still high.
The Suns might not be finished with big trades. All-Star Amare Stoudemire, who can opt out of his contract after next season, also is being mentioned prominently in potential deals.