Disappointment seems to be an annual tradition in Cleveland. The Cavs are the city’s best shot at a championship, and the players hope to deliver one this season.
In a town where hope doesn’t spring eternal but seems to die before the first 75-degree day in the spring, the Cavaliers defy the norm.
Their season starts when nature is dying, yet their season is the only one that gives Cleveland fans real hope.
With an owner who gets it (Dan Gilbert detests losing) and a front office empowered to spend money (not just take it) the Cavs didn’t rest on a 66-win season. Once a hungrier Orlando team ended Cleveland’s season in the Eastern Conference finals, General Manager Danny Ferry and Head Coach Mike Brown wasted no time.
On the plane ride home from Florida, they began to hatch a plan that would bring Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland, pair him with LeBron James and send a message. The Cavs are one of the haves in the NBA along with the Lakers, Spurs, Magic and Celtics. Ferry made a 66-win team better.
So improved is Cleveland that Zydrunas Ilgauskas, twice an All-Star, has to come off the bench. With all due respect, he should after Dwight Howard owned him in the playoffs.
“It made us better,” Ilgauskas said of bringing in Shaq. “Not only Shaq, but Anthony Parker and Jamario O’Neal. At this point in my career, I want to win. I’m 34 years old, and I want to win a championship.”
Ilgauskas isn’t bitter about losing a starting spot. He checked his ego at the door and planted his behind on the bench. He’ll be used to give Shaq’s aging body a rest.
“I’ve always admired Shaq,” Ilgauskas said. “He’s the best center I ever played against. If anybody is going to take my place in the starting lineup, I don’t mind it being him at all.”
The bottom line with bringing in Shaq is to keep James in Cleveland. Gilbert isn’t after a one-year fix. He wants a winner because James wants a winner.
The NBA isn’t just going to roll out the season and welcome Cleveland to the NBA Finals. There are questions.
Can LeBron and Shaq co-exist? O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won three titles with the Lakers, but dissolved badly.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” James said. “I’ve always wanted to play with the greats. It’s awesome being on the same floor with him.
“I can make adjustments no matter what goes on. Me and Shaq with Mo (Williams) will be the feature of the offense. If I play off Shaq or if he plays off me, it don’t matter.”
Both stars have said all the right things, but the real games haven’t started yet. What will it be like if Shaq scores 8 and LeBron 45? Or LeBron gets 15 and Shaq 30?
There may be substance that this is just lip service in the preseason. The theme of Shaq’s first press conference, the first impression he made on fans, was he isn’t here to upset James’ apple cart.
“It’s LeBron’s team,” Shaq said. “I’m now in the security business. My job is to protect The King.”
Shaq is 37. Z is 34. That’s old for big men. But the Cavs needed to find a way to tame Howard. Shaq is none too happy that Howard took Shaq’s “Superman” nickname before the big fella went into retirement.
There are concerns.
Delonte West? Shaq and Z’s age? Chemistry? LeBron’s future?
In Cleveland, there are always concerns. Let’s not create them. One thing takes care of it all.
The Cavs understand that.
Todd Porter writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.