Never accuse Danny Ferry of playing it safe. Sixteen months after blowing up a roster that took the Cavs to the NBA Finals, their general manager is at it again one month after a record-breaking season ended. Only this time he’s thinking big -- ‘Big Aristotle’ big, ‘Shaq Fu’ big – to find a superstar sidekick for LeBron James.
Never accuse Danny Ferry of playing it safe.
Sixteen months after blowing up a roster that took the Cavs to the NBA Finals, their general manager is at it again one month after a record-breaking season ended.
Only this time he’s thinking big -- ‘Big Aristotle’ big, ‘Shaq Fu’ big – to find a superstar sidekick for LeBron James.
The Cavs added one of the NBA’s all-time greats Thursday, acquiring 7-foot-1, 325-pound center Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns. The Cavs traded away Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, a second-round pick next year and cash to get the 15-time All-Star and four-time champion.
“Trading for Shaq is a pretty unique opportunity,” Ferry said during an afternoon press conference five hours before the draft began. “There’s not many players in the world like him. I’m looking forward to see how he can positively impact what we’re doing on the court ... in the locker room and what we do in general.”
O’Neal gives the Cavs an inside presence they have not had in James’ six seasons. In fact, even at 37, the Cavs have probably never had a player such as O’Neal -- the only active player from the league’s 50 Greatest Players in NBA History chosen a decade ago.
They’ve added other NBA legends late in their careers such as Nate Thurmond, Walt Frazier and Lenny Wilkens. But none were the dominant player O’Neal has been, and he appears to have some diesel left in the tank.
“He is a force,” Ferry said. “Always has been, still is. On the defensive end ... he’s a wall that’s around the basket and ... a tall, long wall. Offensively, he’s a force in that he’s going to get double teams. He’s a good passer. He’s a great receiver, meaning if you get in trouble you can throw the ball up to him and he’s going to create the space to get the ball and either pass or finish.”
This is a huge opening move by Ferry in his attempts to retool the Cavs after they won a franchise-record and league-best 66 games this past season.
But when Orlando put away the Cavs in six games during the conference finals with Dwight Howard overpowering them inside -- and the Magic’s wings getting open jump shots because of it -- it became clear Cleveland needed to make some moves.
“This trade is all about our continuing focus to winning a championship,” he said.
O’Neal becomes an instant low-post threat, while providing a presence on defense and a huge personality in the locker room and off the court.
After being limited to 53 games the previous three seasons by injuries, he averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in 30.1 minutes a night last season. He played 75 games, his most in a decade. His scoring average was his highest since 2005-06. He shot a career-high and league-best 60.9 percent from the floor. His season was highlighted by sharing All-Star Game MVP honors with Kobe Bryant, his former Laker sidekick when they won three titles together.
“He was impressive last year and he continues to be that strong presence on both ends of the floor ... that can really change the game,” Ferry said.
O’Neal, though, could not lead the Suns to a title in his season-plus there. They lost in the first round last year and failed to make the playoffs this year, as the Suns altered their run-and-gun approach for a time before returning to it late this past season.
“Phoenix played a different way when they had him and it was a drastic change,” Ferry said. “... We’re more of a halfcourt team. We play more of a tempo that fits Shaq’s game.”
The Cavs’ pursuit of Shaq started near the trade deadline in February. Nothing materialized. The talks, though, resumed once the Cavs came up short of winning a title a month ago, and heated up in recent days.
“I was here late last night and late the night before,” said Ferry, who negotiated with friend and former teammate Steve Kerr, Phoenix’s GM. Ferry said the Cavs “probably had five or six things on the table the last week” with several teams. “And really over the last three days, there were three things ... that had a strong chance of happening.”
But by Wednesday night, the Cavs settled in on O’Neal as their top priority.
“It was time to do the deal,” Ferry said. “We’d talked about it a lot the last couple weeks.”
But as big as this deal is, Ferry knows it’s just a start to a busy summer. The Cavs can use another solid player up front, a shooter and more size on the perimeter. They also want to try to retain Anderson Varejao, who is expected to become a free agent next week.
With all that in mind, Ferry said, “there’s still more that we need to do.”