Terrific Twosome: Shaquille O’Neal joins LeBron James in Cleveland to chase NBA title

By Tom Withers, AP
Friday, June 26, 2009

LeBron, Shaq to chase a title together with Cavs

CLEVELAND — LeBron James is a unique talent, a once-in-a-generation player who has lifted a franchise to unprecedented heights. He’s also a red-carpet celebrity whose circle of friends includes billionaire business moguls and rap stars.

There are few like him.

On Thursday, the Cleveland Cavaliers added someone just as big.

Even bigger.

With a timetable to win an NBA championship ticking loudly before James has a chance to test free agency in the summer of 2010, the Cavs completed a blockbuster trade months in the making by acquiring center Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, a second-round pick in 2010 and $500,000.

LeBron and Shaq. Together. In Cleveland. Imagine the possibilities.

James already has.

“Shaq is an incredible ballplayer and a four-time NBA champion,” James said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. “I have a lot of respect for him and his game. It will be a real honor to play with Shaq as my teammates and I look forward to another great season with the Cavs.”

One more, at least.

James is under contract through next season, but will consider an extension from the Cavaliers later this summer. Though he has given no indication he’ll leave his home state, James has not given any guarantees he will stay around to accomplish his goal of winning multiple titles.

The Cavs first approached the Suns in February about a deal for O’Neal, a certain Hall of Famer who has already won four titles — three straight with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-02 and one with Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2006.

After the deal failed to materialize at the season’s midway point, Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry stayed in touch with Phoenix GM Steve Kerr, a former teammate and close friend. Talks heated up in recent weeks, but before he pulled the trigger on perhaps the biggest trade in Cleveland history, Ferry solicited input from James and other players.

Would Shaq fit in? Was he healthy? Could he share the spotlight with James? Can he guard Orlando’s Dwight Howard?

Once Ferry was satisfied, he turned to owner Dan Gilbert, whose open check book has allowed the Cavaliers to surround James with talent.

Again, he got the green light.

Go time. Shaq time.

“Our goals are aligned with what our players want, including LeBron, and that’s to win a championship and win it next year,” Ferry said. “We don’t want to be patient, we want to be a team that has sustainable success.”

The Cavs are hoping the James-O’Neal pairing can deliver this seemingly sports-cursed city its first major pro championship in 45 years. The deal also creates a tandem that instantly rivals any in sports and calls to mind some of the great duos in NBA history: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Shaq himself and Kobe Bryant.

Cleveland is O’Neal’s fifth NBA stop, and first cold-weather city. But the chance to play with James has O’Neal warmed up already.

“I was elated about the trade because I get to play with one of the greatest players to ever play the game in LeBron James,” O’Neal said on ESPN.

O’Neal noted he doesn’t need to carry the Cavs because the team already has a talented core. “I’m just going to go out there and add the little bit that I can do and hopefully we can get it done. We have to get it done,” he said.

For now, the Cavaliers, who came up short despite winning 66 regular-season games and starting 8-0 in the playoffs, are only thinking of unseating the Lakers as champions next June.

As for O’Neal and James co-headlining for the Cavs, Ferry has no worries about jealousies.

“They both badly want to win,” Ferry said.

O’Neal is coming off an All-Star season with the Suns, averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in 75 games, but there were times he clogged Phoenix’s high-powered offense. Still, the 7-foot-1, 325-pounder can be a defensive stopper.

“He is a force,” Ferry said. “Always has been, still is. He’s a wall around the basket — a tall, long wall.”

The Cavaliers have other decisions to make this offseason, but none compares to landing O’Neal. Now Ferry has the puzzle piece that allows the Cavs to take serious aim at ending the city’s long title drought.

“It is a really unique opportunity to bring in a player of Shaq’s caliber,” Ferry said. “There are not many players in the world like him.”

And Cleveland has two of them.

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