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News » Shaq brings rewards and risks

Shaq brings rewards and risks

Shaq brings rewards and risks Cavaliers

As Cavaliers fans are about to find out, everything Shaquille O'Neal does is big.

What the team is specifically concerned about is the size of his impact, both positive and negative. Though the Cavs sold the trade to get O'Neal as a low-risk, high-reward deal, there is indeed some risk and certainly the potential of supreme reward.

Here is a look at both as the Cavs are set to begin training camp on Monday.

The potential rewards

* A true low-post presence: O'Neal is one of the best centers in NBA history and also one of the most efficient scorers in the game. He has a career shooting percentage of 58 percent and was better than 60 percent last season with the Suns.

Offense in general operates better when plays can develop from the inside out. Over the past several years, Cavs coach Mike Brown has been encouraging a drive-and-kick offensive system to mimic this action because the team has not had a good low-post option. O'Neal will have a massive size advantage on most opponents, and if he scores at his usual clip, teams will have to either double team or help on him, which should open up shots for teammates. It has for nearly two decades.

* A one-man defensive island: Last season, the Cavs had serious problems when they matched up against the Magic and Lakers. They had trouble controlling Dwight Howard and keeping him from getting low position. He would either catch the ball too deep and get a dunk or a foul, or he would find his 3-point shooters when the Cavs double-teamed him.

Against the Lakers, the Cavs had issues dealing with their multiple big men. If Pau Gasol wasn't beating them, then Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom did. Often, when the Cavs had to help one of the Lakers' three big men, the other was there to take advantage on the weakside via a pass or rebound.

O'Neal is not spry and he has problems handling the pick-and-roll, but he will never give up position because of size. He will not need help guarding his man, be it Howard or Gasol or Bynum. This will enable the Cavs to play straight up defensively and eliminate the trick defenses that failed them in the Eastern Conference Finals.

With Zydrunas Ilgauskas to help him, the Cavs can choose to play big if teams such as the Lakers opt to use two centers at one time.

O'Neal does not move nearly as well as he used to and therefore is not as good of a basket defender when it comes to blocking shots. But 1-on-1 he still is as good as it gets at the position.

* A motivated big man: O'Neal missed the playoffs last season for the first time in his career and had to watch former teammate and uneasy rival Kobe Bryant tie him with four championship rings. He has been issued a challenge by Howard as the heir to his throne even though he's not ready to give it up. And he's fighting to prove that he still can be a champion.

During his career, O'Neal has been at his best when he's been motivated. With his stated goal to win his fifth championship before Bryant and with a new contract on the line, there's no questioning his motivation. Which is exactly what the Cavs want and need.

The potential risks

* The contract issue: O'Neal made no secret when he arrived in Cleveland that he wants a contract extension of at least two seasons. He mentioned it three times during his introductory news conference.

He has been earning eight figures per season since 1996 and this year will make $20 million. But this is the first time he's faced with truly having to prove he's worth getting another deal that pays him those eight figures. It is obviously on his mind, and he's never been afraid to speak his mind when he thinks it will be to his benefit.

If the season isn't going the way he wants, if he's not getting as many touches as he wants or not putting up statistics he thinks will help in his negotiations, it could become a distraction. Even if the Cavs are doing well, it is possible O'Neal could be unhappy, and that is not a situation the team wants.

* Sharing the spotlight: When he came to town, O'Neal made a big splash by saying his goal was to "win a ring for the king" as he lauded new teammate LeBron James. He also said that "this is the time in my career where I can fit in. I'm now in the security business. My job is to protect the king, and that's what I'm here to do."

But words and actions are two different things. O'Neal teamed up with Bryant and Dwyane Wade to win titles, but both relationships ended badly. Then there were rumblings of problems with teammates in Phoenix after his departure. So there's no doubt O'Neal is a winner, but there is question as to whether he can fit into the team dynamic. And as his role changes, there is a question of how well he will deal with it.

* Relationship with the coach: In the media, O'Neal perhaps is most famous for giving himself nicknames. But he's just as prolific in another area. He has never been afraid to criticize his coaches or former coaches, even those at the top in the profession, including Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. His rant about former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy last year, when he branded him the "master of panic," will not soon be forgotten.

Unlike Riley and Jackson, Brown doesn't carry with him the championship reputation. He also operates differently, selling his players on philosophy and getting them to take ownership in a process, especially playing defense. In other words, Brown does not carry or demand the same sort of respect as some of O'Neal's previous coaches. Which means Brown could be an easy target for O'Neal if the big man so chooses.

Again referring to the first news conference, O'Neal took several swipes at Brown's defensive strategies in the Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Magic. O'Neal knew about them first hand - he was sitting courtside for one of the games in Orlando. He might not be afraid to take shots at Brown if things get rocky, which certainly might carry unsavory effects.

All in all, the Cavs have themselves one big weapon in O'Neal, but, especially with the stakes of this season, he also is one big variable.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: September 29, 2009


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