CLEVELAND - One is the King, a reigning MVP who at age 24needs only a championship to complete his resume. The other is alarger-than-life personality who may be past the prime of hiscareer but remains an undeniable force and hungers for a fifth NBAtitle.
LeBron and Shaq. Teammates.
The Cleveland Cavaliers executed a blockbuster trade Thursday tounite the superstars, acquiring Shaquille O'Neal from the PhoenixSuns in hopes he can help LeBron James deliver this seeminglysports-cursed city its first major pro championship in 45 years.
The deal creates a tandem that instantly rivals any in sportstoday and calls to mind some of the great duos in NBA history:Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson and KareemAbdul-Jabbar, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Shaq himself and KobeBryant.
More important, if Cleveland's gamble works and the 37-year-oldO'Neal delivers a title, it could keep James around. James is anAkron native, knows Cleveland's pained sports history and hasalways maintained he wants to stay in his home state, but there isno guarantee he will sign an extension with the Cavs. Cleveland canoffer him one as early as this summer.
But that's for another day.
Hours before an NBA draft that figured to be overshadowed by theShaq-to-the-Cavs move, the reality of James playing with O'Neal, a15-time All-Star, was just sinking in.
"Shaq is an incredible ballplayer and a four-time NBAchampion," James said in a statement sent to The Associated Press."I have a lot of respect for him and his game. It will be a realhonor to play with Shaq as my teammates and I look forward toanother great season with the Cavs."
The Cavs sent center Ben Wallace and swingman Sasha Pavlovic tothe Suns, along with a second-round pick in the 2010 draft and$500,000 in cash, for O'Neal, the 7-foot-1 center who won threestraight titles from 2000 to 2002 with Bryant and the Los AngelesLakers. His fourth title came with Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2006.
The teams first talked about a deal in February but couldn'twork out an agreement before the deadline, a missed opportunitythat cost the Cavaliers in this year's playoffs when they had noanswer inside for Orlando center Dwight Howard in the EasternConference finals.
After the Cavaliers were eliminated with a Game 6 loss, afrustrated James stormed off the floor in Orlando without shakingthe hands of any Magic players, including Howard, his U.S. Olympicteammate.
Ferry completed the deal because he wants to win a title. Now.
"Our goals are aligned with what our players want, includingLeBron, and that's to win a championship and win it next year,"Ferry said. "We don't want to be patient. We want to be a teamthat has sustainable success. We want to be a team like we werethis year when if you don't win a championship you lose some sleep.
"But at the same time we want to be more than that. We want tobe the team that wins it. This was a move made towards puttingourselves in better position next season."
For sheer celebrity value, the O'Neal-James tandem is ascaptivating as any on the sports landscape. And if it works, andlasts, the pairing may one day belong in the same company as someof the all-time combinations: Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, SandyKoufax and Don Drysdale, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
For now, the Cavaliers, who came up short this year despitewinning 66 regular-season games and their first eight playoffgames, are only thinking of unseating the Lakers as champions nextJune.
O'Neal could be the missing piece. But there's no guaranteehe'll stay healthy, and it's way too early to know what impact hisarrival will have on Cleveland coach Mike Brown's offense or theCavs' chemistry -- or whether he and James, who have been friendsfor several years, can coexist.
Ferry said he isn't worried about there being any kind ofpersonality clash between the megastars.
"They both badly want to win," Ferry said. "Our team andorganization want to win. With that leading it, everything else isgoing to work out."
O'Neal is coming off an All-Star season with the Suns, averaging17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in 75 games, but there were times heclogged Phoenix's high-powered offense under coaches Mike D'Antoni,Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry. Still, the 7-foot-1, 325-pounder canbe a defensive stopper.
"He is a force," Ferry said. "Always has been, still is. He'sa wall around the basket -- a tall, long wall. Offensively, he'sgoing to get double teamed. He's a good passer. He's a greatreceiver. ... He's a smart basketball player and he's a guy thatour guys will respect. I think it's going to work very well."
The Shaq experiment failed in Phoenix. The Suns won one playoffgame in O'Neal's season and a half, and this spring the Suns failedto make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Ferry, who said O'Neal's arrival could push longtime startingcenter Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a backup role, is convinced O'Nealwill be able to adjust to Cleveland and vice versa.
"Phoenix played a different way when they had him," he said."It was a drastic change. We're more of a half-court team. We playmore of the tempo that fits Shaq's game."
The Suns got little in return for O'Neal, but the deal givesthem financial flexibility in the future. All told, they will save$10 million.
The 34-year-old Wallace, who after the season said he mayretire, is in the final year of a $14 million deal while the Sunsplan to buy out Pavlovic, who has $1.5 million of his $4.95 millioncontract guaranteed.
For the Cavs, up front costs are less important than a chance tofinally win it all.