Kevork Djansezian, Associated Press
CLEVELAND — One is the King, a reigning MVP who at age 24 needs only a championship to complete his resume. The other is a larger-than-life personality who may be past the prime of his career but remains an undeniable force and hungers for a fifth NBA title.
LeBron and Shaq. Teammates.
The Cleveland Cavaliers executed a blockbuster trade Thursday to unite the superstars, acquiring Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns in hopes he can help LeBron James deliver this seemingly sports-cursed city its first major pro championship in 45 years.
The deal creates a tandem that instantly rivals any in sports today and calls to mind some of the great duos in NBA history: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Shaq himself and Kobe Bryant.
More important, if Cleveland's gamble works and the 37-year-old O'Neal delivers a title, it could keep James around. James is an Akron native, knows Cleveland's pained sports history and has always maintained he wants to stay in his home state, but there is no guarantee he will sign an extension with the Cavs. Cleveland can offer him one as early as this summer.
But that's for another day.
Hours before an NBA draft that figured to be overshadowed by the Shaq-to-the-Cavs move, the reality of James playing with O'Neal, a 15-time All-Star, was just sinking in.
"Shaq is an incredible ballplayer and a four-time NBA champion," 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 real honor to play with Shaq as my teammates and I look forward to another great season with the Cavs."
The Cavs sent center Ben Wallace and swingman Sasha Pavlovic to the 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 three straight titles from 2000 to 2002 with Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. His fourth title came with Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2006.
The teams first talked about a deal in February but couldn't work out an agreement before the deadline, a missed opportunity that cost the Cavaliers in this year's playoffs when they had no answer inside for Orlando center Dwight Howard in the Eastern Conference finals.
After the Cavaliers were eliminated with a Game 6 loss, a frustrated James stormed off the floor in Orlando without shaking the hands of any Magic players, including Howard, his U.S. Olympic teammate.
Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry and Phoenix GM Steve Kerr, former teammates and close friends, never closed the book on the O'Neal deal and finally reached an agreement early Thursday morning.
Ferry completed the deal because he wants to win a title. Now.
"Our goals are aligned with what our players want, including LeBron, 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 team that has sustainable success. We want to be a team like we were this 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 to be the team that wins it. This was a move made towards putting ourselves in better position next season."
For sheer celebrity value, the O'Neal-James tandem is as captivating as any on the sports landscape. And if it works, and lasts, the pairing may one day belong in the same company as some of the all-time combinations: Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
For now, the Cavaliers, who came up short this year despite winning 66 regular-season games and their first eight playoff games, are only thinking of unseating the Lakers as champions next June.
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