A pair of trades stole some of the thunder from last night's NBA draft as two of the league's biggest names changed teams.
The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a blockbuster deal, acquiring Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns. And fresh off an appearance in the NBA Finals, the Orlando Magic made a trade with the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter.
If Cleveland's gamble works and the 37-year-old O'Neal delivers a title, it could keep LeBron James around. James is an Akron native, but there is no guarantee that he will sign an extension with the Cavaliers. Cleveland can offer him one as early as this summer.
Last night, the reality of the talented 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 won three straight titles from 2000 to 2002 with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. His fourth title came with Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2006.
"Our goals are aligned with what our players want, including LeBron, and that's to win a championship and win it next year," said Cavs general manager Danny Ferry. "We don't want to be patient. We want to be a team that has sustainable success."
O'Neal is coming off an all-star season with the Suns, averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in 75 games, but there were times when he clogged Phoenix's high-powered offense. Still, the 7-foot-1, 325-pounder can be a defensive stopper.
"He is a force," Ferry said. "Always has been, still is. He's a wall around the basket - a tall, long wall. Offensively, he's going to get double teamed. He's a good passer. He's a great receiver. . . . He's a smart basketball player and he's a guy that our guys will respect. I think it's going to work very well."
The Shaq experiment failed in Phoenix. The Suns won one playoff game in his season and a half, and this spring failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The Suns got little in return for O'Neal, but the deal gives them financial flexibility in the future. All told, they will save $10 million.
The 34-year-old Wallace, who has said he may retire, is in the final year of a $14 million deal while the Suns plan to buy out Pavlovic, who has $1.5 million of his $4.95 million contract guaranteed.
Carter joining Magic. New Jersey dealt the eight-time all-star, who grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla., and lives in Orlando, and forward Ryan Anderson to the Magic for point guard Rafer Alston, shooting guard Courtney Lee and power forward Tony Battie.
The trade gives the Magic another star in a lineup that includes Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis. The deal might also convince Hedo Turkoglu, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent on July 1, to remain with the Magic.
Carter has averaged 23.5 points in a 10-year pro career.
"Vince gives us a veteran, go-to scoring presence, especially at the end of games," Orlando general manager Otis Smith said. "Our goal remains the same - to win a championship. Any time you can add an all-star to help you reach your goals, you have to do it."
The Nets get a solid backup for point guard Devin Harris in Alston and a talent who showed flashes of stardom in Lee.
With Jameer Nelson already named the starting point guard for next season, the team was looking to move Alston and his $5.25 million contract that ends after next season.