Let me dust off the old keyboard here … there we go. Yes, it’s been slow on planet Dumars lately, but you can always count on Shaquille O’Neal to stir things up a little bit. In a recent interview with the New Orleans Time Picayune, O’Neal says that he turned down the chance to play for either the Detroit Pistons or Atlanta Hawks, which were both offering the future hall-of-famer $8 million dollars. I was actually planning to write up reasons why signing Shaquille O’Neal should be at the top of the Pistons’ spending priorities, but I never got to the writing phase before Shaq to the Celtics was announced. But Shaq saying that the offer was for $8 million piqued my interest because it was the exact figure I had concluded the Pistons would have to pay in order to entice O’Neal away from a marginal role on a championship team and instead onto a big-time role on a team trying to regain some of its luster (and possibly be used as trade bait to a real contender later on). Now that we have the $8 million number to work with, we can reverse engineer, so to speak, the possible deal. The simplest and most likely explanation has already been touched on by Dan Feldman at Piston Powered, who speculated the deal was probably worth a total of $8 million, or two years at $4 million apiece.
But I can’t imagine that Dumars believed he had a prayer to land his player with such a piddling offer, and Dumars has never been shy about throwing around the shekels for a player he likes. Besides, if weighing equal offers there is no way you play for the Pistons as opposed to the Hawks, a proven top-four Eastern Conference team. I believe he was willing to offer Big Diesel $8 million per year for one or two seasons because it fit his team’s needs so perfectly.
The Pistons were, and still are, in desperate need of an interior big man who can draw double teams and take up some space in the paint. At this point in his career, O’Neal is best-suited to play in a slow-tempo offense (Detroit played at the second-slowest pace in the league last season), and on a team willing to give him plenty of touches on the low block. Their most important young building block, Greg Monroe, is also a skilled big man who thrives in the high post and would complement O’Neal quite nicely.
Of course, armed with only the Mid-Level Exception, the Detroit Pistons could not offer anything over $5.4 million per year. That is where Shaq’s former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers comes in. Not sure if you’ve heard, but the Cavs recently got their hearts ripped out by this guy named LeBron James in the offseason.
The Cavs lost the key to their team and the team’s’ owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a blistering post-LeBron tirade against his former star, where he vowed, in all caps no less, “I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former ‘king’ wins one.”
The problem with such a guarantee is that his GM”s hands were essentially tied and there were few avenue to improve the club. The team had no LeBron, was losing Shaq, was capped out and was going into the season looking at Jamario Moon as its starting small forward and Anthony Parker as the starting shooting guard. The Cavs have a trade exception thanks to its LeBron sign-and-trade deal with Miami, but teams don’t typically use large trade exceptions until closer to the trade deadline when they can try and poach a star player for pennies on the dollar.
It just so happens that if you’re a team looking to improve your roster and grab quality, veteran, second-option players with championship experience, you can’t do much better than the Detroit Pistons. Veterans Tayshaun Prince, a small forward, and Richard Hamilton, a shooting guard, have been on the blocks for months. The team has a glut on the wings, with emerging young small forwards Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko and now veteran Tracy McGrady, and high-priced shooting guard Ben Gordon along with Rodney Stuckey, who looks more like an off-the-ball player every day.
The Pistons were looking to eliminate some of the glut, get a quality big man they sorely needed and payroll relief in the near- and long-term. So this is how, I believe, the deal would have looked.
The Pistons would have agreed to a sign-and-trade deal with Shaquille O’Neal for $8 million per year on a one- or two-year deal. They would have also received the unguaranteed contract of Delonte West worth $4.6 million and in exchange would have received either Richard Hamilton (salary of $12.5 million over the next three years, though the final year is not fully guaranteed) or Tayshaun Prince (entering final year of contract paying him $12.5 million).
And voila! The Pistons get a big man with some star power and hope to regain some lost luster, a great veteran to complement their developing big man, Greg Monroe, gain some financial relief by waiving West and see if they can actually claw their way back into the playoffs with a more balanced, sensible roster.
The Cavs, on the other hand, get some added firepower on the cheap by getting something instead of nothing for two players that weren’t going to be on the team anyway and have one less hole to fill as they explore options for their mega trade exemption as they try and stick it to their former king and win a championship before LeBron.
Did I just spend nearly 1,000 words writing on a ridiculously convoluted, half-baked theory that was probably never in the works? You’re damn right I did.