As the NBA Playoffs continue – without our Cavaliers – Cleveland is faced with some major questions regarding the future of their most promising franchise. Owner Dan Gilbert has already cut ties with a magnificent coach in Mike Brown and will, without a doubt, look into shuffling his lineup to help attract LeBron James back to his hometown team.
Though LeBron poses the biggest challenge for the organization this offseason, it is Shaquille O’Neal that may be the biggest question – in stature, of course, not importance.
The Cavaliers got off to a rather rocky start this season and critics began pointing the finger at Shaq for Cleveland’s lack of success. They claimed that LeBron and Shaq would never win a championship together due to the simple fact that the Big Aristotle clogs driving lanes for the King. However, the two stars combined to silence critics with another impressive regular season that, unfortunately, ended without O’Neal on the floor – due to a thumb injury.
O’Neal returned to play in Game 1 of the first round and had a rather impressive showing against the Chicago Bulls. He was active on defense and unbelievably quick on the offensive end. But as the series progressed, Shaq struggled to find a rhythm in Mike Brown’s offensive scheme and missed shot after shot from right around the basket. Shots that we aren’t accustomed to seeing Shaq miss. However, his struggles were overlooked because LeBron was having an absolutely incredible series and his lack of offensive contribution was evened out by the number of fouls he was drawing, allowing LeBron and Co. numerous opportunities at the charity stripe.
He continued his shooting struggles into the second playoff series against the Boston Celtics but remained a factor due to his innate ability to get the opposition in foul trouble. He shot a relatively high percentage from the free throw line – in comparison with his career averages – and was a force to reckon with around the basket, putting Rajon Rondo on his hind parts on more than one occasion. I would even go as far as saying that Shaquille O’Neal was one of the most consistent threats for the Cavaliers in that series. Whether it was scoring the basketball, defending the rack or drawing fouls, O’Neal was extremely effective against the Boston Celtics.
His future with the Cavalier organization is now in jeopardy, though, because he failed to “win a ring for the King” as he had promised in his introductory press conference. If LeBron leaves, there is very little reason to keep the Big Fella. But what if the King continues his reign in Cleveland?
My vote – even though my vote means very little – would be to reemploy the services of the Big Witness Protection and allow the superstar tandem to try again at the NBA Championship. There are few available centers who match up with Dwight Howard the way Shaq does. He’s big. He’s strong. And Lord knows he’s a bad, bad man. Shaq may not be the complete answer to the Cavaliers’ hopes for an NBA Championship but he is certainly part of the solution. The Big Fella poses matchup problems for nearly any team in the league due in large part to his sheer size. And he’s a proven winner who has accepted the part of being a role player.
What more can you ask for?