Shaq! A-ah! King of the Impossible?

Before we get further into this Shaq thing, let’s remind everyone of this: the Cleveland Cavaliers won 66 games last year, posting the best record in the NBA.

So how often does a team that good add a player this good before heading into the next season? Well, that depends on how you define “this good”. Shaq is one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history, but he’s not at that level anymore. Still, last season he averaged 17.8 PPG and was named to the All-Star team. So, going by those definitions (at least 17.8 PPG or an All-Star appearance), here are some other teams that made Shaq-like acquisitions after already having the best record in the league.

2004-05 Pacers
    Indiana had gone 61-21 the previous season, but lost to the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals. In the summer of 2004, the Pacers traded for Stephen Jackson, who’d averaged 18.1 PPG with Atlanta in 2003-04.
    Aftermath: The Pacers looked like a championship contender early in the season, but, um, there was this “incident” in Detroit that kind of derailed all that. After the Malice at the Palace, Indiana lacked the manpower to do anything serious, finished 44-38 and lost in the conference semis (again to the Pistons).

2003-04 Mavericks
    The Mavs were coming off a season in which they’d finished 60-22, tied with the Spurs for the best record in the NBA. But they lost to the Spurs in the conference finals, and had to watch as San Antonio went on to win the title, with an offensive-minded sixth man in Manu Ginobili. Well, Dallas brought in a high-scoring sixth man of its own, Antawn Jamison, who’d averaged 22.2 PPG with the Warriors the previous season.
    Aftermath: Jamison ended up winning Sixth Man of the Year, but he never quite meshed with the Mavs, who slumped to 52-30 and lost in the first round. After the season, Jamison was shipped off to Washington, and the Mavs are still looking for that elusive title.

2000-01 Lakers
    The Lakers were the defending champs, having gone 67-15 in 1999-00. However, they weren’t going to rest on their one championship, so they signed Isaiah Rider to a minimum-salary deal, after he’d averaged 19.3 PPG in 1999-00.
    Aftermath: Rider played a very limited role for the Lakers in 2000-01. They actually took off after he was suspended by the league for a violation of the drug policy. Rider didn’t play a game for the Lakers in the postseason, and they ended up repeating as NBA champs.

So, obviously there’s not much historical precedent for what the Cavaliers are trying to do. Still, I think this is the right move for them. Let’s take a look at some more numbers:
  1. Last year, Shaq averaged 17.8 PPG on 60.9% shooting (which led the league, the 10th time Shaq’s led the NBA in FG pct). No player has ever done that for a single season in Cavaliers history.
  2. The only teammate of LeBron James who has ever averaged at least 17.8 PPG for a single season is Mo Williams, who did it last season.
  3. Shaq’s career FG pct is 58.2%. The only Cavaliers player to shoot that for an entire season was Tyrone Hill in 1996-97.
Speaking of numbers, which number will Shaq wear with the Cavs? During his NBA career, Shaq has worn No. 32 (with the Magic, Heat and Suns) and No. 34 (with the Lakers). He also wore No. 33 in college. Currently, Joe Smith has No. 32 for the Cavs, but he’s a free agent, and would probably give up 32 for Shaq even if he sticks around (Smith has also worn No. 9, No. 8 and No. 7 in his career). The number 34 is retired for Austin Carr. Shaq also wore No. 33 in college, which is available in Cleveland. The last player to wear No. 33 for the Cavs was Devin Brown, and no one notable has ever worn the number for the Cavs. It’d be surprising to see Shaq go back to his college number -- especially since 32 would give him nice symmetry with LeBron’s 23.

Whatever number he wears, Shaq’s Cavaliers jersey will immediately become the second-most popular on the team, behind LeBron of course. What remains to be seen is if he can break the Cleveland curse that has lingered since 1948.