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David Aldridge

Steve Kerr (right) brought Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix, but it didn't work out like either had planned.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Adding Shaq won't be cure-all for LeBron, Cavs

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Jun 25 2009 3:48PM

If it works, I'm a genius. If it doesn't, I'm a moron, I guess.
--Steve Kerr, Phoenix Suns' President of Basketball Operations, Feb. 7, 2008, after acquiring Shaquille O'Neal from Miami

Well ...

It's hard for me to slap Steve upside the head. For years as a player, he was eminently quotable, funny and intelligent, providing great insights into the championship teams in Chicago and San Antonio in which he was a part. And he was a terrific colleague of mine at TNT. But there is no other conclusion to make after Kerr sent Shaq to Cleveland late Wednesday for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic -- the Shaq experiment in the Arizona desert was a colossal failure, and Kerr has to take the responsibility and the major heat for that.

Every bit of the gambit failed, and the high-flying, free-wheeling Suns, the league's most exciting team this decade, were sacrificed. Shawn Marion was sent to Miami in the deal, depriving Phoenix of its best (only?) open-court defender. Mike D'Antoni was told to take his circus and go home (he wound up in New York). Amar'e Stoudemire came within hours of being dealt at the trade deadline last season (to be fair, owner Robert Sarver's finances were more of an impetus behind those trade talks). Terry Porter -- Kerr's hand-picked replacement for D'Antoni -- didn't make it to the All-Star break, having been sabotaged from within, mere months after getting a mandate to do whatever it took to make Phoenix a better halfcourt team.

So, now, a year and a half later -- and Steve Nash a year and a half older -- the Suns can get back to playing the way they play, their payroll pared more to what their ownership can bear.

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I give Kerr props for not flinching at the plate and swinging the bat. But that was one big old whoosh. Strike one. Whether he gets to continue the at-bat is up to Sarver.

The Cavs? Getting Shaq is not a cure-all for the issues that were exposed when Cleveland lost to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals. The 27-year-old O'Neal had trouble guarding the pick-and-roll; a decade later his lateral quickness has gotten no better, and it was those 3-5 screen-rolls that Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard ran, over and over, that led to easy Orlando baskets at the rim and behind the three-point line.

If Shaq is willing to accept a subsidiary role to LeBron James -- how can he not? -- and get out of the way when the James Express gets up a head of steam down the lane, the Cavaliers could have some offensive success. If Shaq can accept the fact that minutes, perhaps entire quarters, may go by when he doesn't get so much as a sniff of the ball, the Cavs could have some offensive options down the stretches of games other than clearouts for LBJ (though, thinking about it, that's been a pretty effective play).

What the Big Erie will do is take some of the off-court pressure off of James. Shaq is his own sun, of course, and draws a lot of orbiting planets -- fans, media, attention -- with him. He'll never be a problem in the locker room with his teammates.

But the most important actor here, as always, is James.

Shaq is but the latest star/import (Larry Hughes, Wallace, Mo Williams) brought in by Cleveland GM Danny Ferry that is supposed to bring comfort to James, proving yet again that the Cavs are doing everything in their power to surround him with enough quality players to be of championship caliber, and to keep him from eyeing greener pastures. It's like that Twilight Zone episode where the kid has the telekinetic power to destroy everyone, and all the adults bend over backward to make sure he's happy so he won't turn them into a chicken.

But it's up to James to make this work, not the other way around.

When a team wins 66 games in a regular season, it's good enough to win a ring. Ferry has built a strong squad, just as Mitch Kupchak built a team good enough around Kobe Bryant. And in the Finals, Bryant finally let go, completely (OK, mostly) trusting his teammates to make the right pass, take the right shot, do the right thing. In the series-shifting Game 4 against the Magic, Bryant was a decoy on the critical play that led to Derek Fisher's game-tying three-pointer. It's a role he never would have accepted two years ago.

So, next year, it's up to James to facilitate Shaq, not the other way around. It's up to James to make sure Williams doesn't get into a season-killing slump at the wrong time, to gin up the confidence of Delonte West. It will be up to James to recruit a Rasheed Wallace to Cleveland (though, I suspect --OK, I know -- that Wallace, if he suits up again next season, is more likely to play for Orlando or San Antonio).

Being MVP has less to do with how you're playing than with how your teammates are playing.

I've always said that Michael Jordan's most incredible attribute as a player was not what he did with the ball, but that he made so many otherwise ordinary players think they were supermen when they were on the court with him. Because, finally, he really believed in them, they made shots they never would have contemplated taking on their own. It's the burden of being the best player. You have to make 11 other guys think they're the best player, too.

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