By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Phoenix Suns have come to an agreement on a blockbuster trade that sends Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland to team with LeBron James, according to sources.
The deal has been agreed to in principle and is expected to be finalized Thursday, according to sources.
Cleveland will send Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to Phoenix for the future Hall of Famer. Sources said the Suns will also receive the 46th pick in Thursday’s NBA draft and $500,000.
The trade gives the Cavs a player they’ve coveted since February. With center Zydrunas Ilgauskas starting to break down, adding Shaq to the roster gives them a dominant force in the middle. The Cavs were obviously unhappy with their ability to defend Dwight Howard in the playoffs and bringing Shaq into the fold should help. O’Neal averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season and made his 15th All-Star game.
The Cavaliers were also in talks with New Orleans about obtaining Tyson Chandler. If they had not made the trade for O’Neal, they would have traded for Chandler, according to a source.
The Cavs felt O’Neal was the better option because he has just one year left on his contract, and will not eat up cap space that will enable them to pursue free agents such as Chris Bosh in next summer’s star-studded free agent class. Chandler, who had injury problems last postseason, has a player option for $12.7 million in 2010-2011 that he is likely to pick up.
The Cavaliers are not done making moves. They still want to re-sign power forward Anderson Varejao and they also would like to add a long, athletic wing player via free agency.
For the Suns, the O’Neal trade is a straight salary dump. Pavlovic’s $5 million dollar contract next season is only partially guaranteed for the amount of $1.5 million. Factor in the disparities in the contracts between Wallace, Pavlovic and Shaq and the team will save $4.5 million next season. However, when you factor in the savings they’ll reap on the luxury tax, it will be closer to $10 million in savings. That savings can be amplified if Wallace decides to retire and the Suns buy him out of his contract for less than the $14 million he’s owed next season.
The trade is a pretty strong admission by the Suns that the trade of Shawn Marion for Shaq in February of 2008 was a mistake. Marion was a free agent this summer and, had they let him walk, their savings would’ve been $21 million — not the $5.5 million they’re saving in this deal.
When the Suns made the trade they had the best record in the Western Conference. This year they finished in the lottery. With Shaq gone, the question is … are the Suns finally rebuilding?
Sources say that the team would still like to compete. They still have veterans Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa. They also have the 14th pick in the draft this year and second year player Robin Lopez.