Shaq to Cleveland?

Talks between the Suns and the Cavs regarding a possible deal sending Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland are reportedly ongoing, but nothing is imminent.

The clubs have not spoken within the past few days, but sources say talks of a possible trade involving O’Neal, Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic never completely died after it was first discussed in February.

O’Neal, 37, will make $20 million next season in the final year of his current deal, while Wallace will make $14 million in the last year of his contract and Pavlovic $4.9 million with only $1.5 million guaranteed.

The salary swap is close enough to make the trade work under the salary-cap guidelines, and the Suns would save $10 million in the transaction — $4.5 million in salary and $5.5 million in luxury-tax payments.

They could save even more money if Wallace takes a buyout, a possibility that was raised when Wallace said he was considering retirement after the Cavs’ Eastern Conference finals loss to the Orlando Magic.

If the Suns acquired him and bought out his contract for less than face value, they could lower their actual expenditures, although the full amount would still count toward their luxury-tax total.

What’s funny is that the Suns walked away from the negotiation table last season because they thought that a trio of Shaq, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire could contend under new coach Alvin Gentry. Stoudemire got hurt, so what’s changed? It appears that the Suns are unwilling to pay the luxury tax price of keeping Shaq on the roster, that’s what.

This trade has the potential to set up some serious drama next season. Imagine a (hopefully) healthy and motivated Shaq joining LeBron in Cleveland. Assuming the Lakers win the Finals, Kobe and Co. will be seeking a repeat. Imagine Shaq and Kobe squaring off for a title next season…

Whether or not this helps Cleveland depends solely on Shaq’s ability to play at a high level deep into the postseason. If they do acquire him, they will need to watch his minutes closely and give him some time off during the season. Winning 66 games isn’t as important as having a healthy Shaq ready for the playoffs.

I like this trade for Cleveland, but Shaq wants another extension and he knows he’s not going to get it in Phoenix. It’s not necessarily a good idea for the Cavs either, as any extension for O’Neal means that they won’t be able to sign a big-name free agent next summer. But if they can rent Shaq’s services for a season and see how it goes, then maybe he could play himself into an extension with an NBA championship.

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