Breaking down LeBron James and Cleveland’s early stumbles with Shaq
There is no reason to panic, but there is reason for concern.
After getting upset by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers opted against tweaking the chemistry of a squad that won a league-best 66 games in 2009.
Instead, they went for The ‘Big Change’. Literally.
During the summer, Cleveland GM Danny Ferry called former teammate Steve Kerr, who happens to be the head suit in Phoenix. These old friends finalized a deal that had been rumoured for months -Shaquille O’Neal would leave the Suns for the Cavaliers.
O’Neal, in theory, still had the skill to help LeBron James win an NBA Title. Gambling on O’Neal was Cleveland’s way of passing James’ commitment test -like nomadic tribesmen, Ferry and owner Dan Gilbert had to essentially walk The King’s hot coals in the middle of the desert.
This move was part substance, a lot of style, and, in turn, created huge expectations for all involved.
Fast forward to late October. While an 0-2 record isn’t enough to draw conclusions about the Shaq experiment, there are discomforting signs in Cavalier-nation.
The bigs lack athleticism. With O’Neal starting at center, Anderson Varejao has been playing power forward. Against Boston and Toronto, the lumbering O’Neal and Varejao have been exposed by quicker four-five combos like Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Andrea Bargnani, and Chris Bosh.
Unlike pick-and-pop center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, O’Neal must gain deep position to be effective on offense. And with his size, he clogs the middle, which unfortunately makes James and Cleveland more of a perimeter, jump-shooting team.
Not surprisingly, he’s 0-for-5 from the free-throw line. It’s early, but O’Neal needs to become active and get to the charity stripe. Once there, he must make his free-throws to play during crunch time, or Coach Mike Brown will have to pull his second best player to prevent Hack-A-Shaq defenses.
Cleveland shouldn’t sound the alarm. However, they must immediately improve because nothing other than an NBA Title will satisfy James, their free agent to be in July of 2010.