Tag:Shaquille O'Neal
Posted on: August 3, 2010 4:58 pm
Edited on: August 4, 2010 10:46 am
 

The Big Shamrock (UPDATE)

Shaquille O'Neal is about to take his talents to South Bay -- Boston, that is. The 38-year-old, 15-time All-Star is close to agreeing to a deal with the Celtics, a person with knowledge of the agreement confirmed to CBSSports.com.

Shaq, soon to be known as the Big Shamrock -- or, fill in your favorite nickname -- is on the verge of accepting the veteran's minimum starting at about $1.4 million, the person with knowledge of the deal said. The number of years was still being worked out Tuesday, but Comcast SportsNet-New England -- which first reported the Shaq-to-Celtics news -- said O'Neal is seeking a two-year deal. In all likelihood, the second year would be a player's option.

As Royce Young pointed out , the fit is ideal for both O'Neal and the Celtics. Shaq, who struck out in his bid for a fifth championship last season with LeBron James in Cleveland, wants one more shot with a veteran-laden, contending team. The Celtics, who already have added another O'Neal (Jermaine) to bolster their frontcourt, needed another experienced big man to help them navigate the early part of the regular season while Kendrick Perkins recovers from a knee injury sustained in the Finals against the Lakers.

Shaq had significant talks with the Hawks about bolstering their young roster with his experience, but the Celtics are a better fit. The no-nonsense, winning culture that Doc Rivers has created will be the perfect environment for Shaq to thrive with whatever abilities he has left in the tank. Based on his increased production in the playoffs, it appeared to me that Shaq had more to offer last season than former Cavs coach Mike Brown was willing to give him a chance to provide. Rivers, however, will have to wrestle with the glaring deficiency in Shaq's game at this stage of his career -- the same issue that caused Brown to skimp on his minutes last season: Shaq's defensive abilities have declined far more than his offensive talents.

Rivers will have to figure out a way to incorporate Shaq into the Celtics' team defensive concepts, a task that won't be easy with the departure of associate head coach Tom Thibodeau, architect of Boston's defense during the Big Three era. But once Perkins is back, Shaq's presence will give Rivers more flexibility with his front line in the playoffs than he's had in recent years. When he needs a basket on the block, he can go to Shaq. When the situation calls for a defensive presence, he can go with Perkins.

When he needs a free throw from either one, forget it -- but hey, nobody has a perfect plan for next season other than the Miami Heat. At least Shaq didn't wind up there.

In all seriousness, O'Neal's presence in Boston could represent the Big Antidote to Miami's Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The only glaring weakness in the Heat's rotation is at the center position, so Shaq-to-Boston makes even more sense when you consider that. And we won't have long to wait to see it happen, with the Heat and Celtics reportedly opening the 2010-11 regular season on Oct. 26 in Boston.






Posted on: July 16, 2010 9:56 pm
Edited on: July 16, 2010 10:38 pm
 

Summer League Buzz

LAS VEGAS -- If members of LeBron James' entourage get hired by the Miami Heat, the NBA wouldn't rule out opening an investigation into possible salary-cap circumvention, a high-ranking official familiar with the league's thinking told CBSSports.com Friday.

While league officials are not actively pursuing any tampering charges related to James' decision to sign with the Heat -- and, in fact, have received no complaints that would trigger such a probe -- it wouldn't be surprising to see an investigation related to any jobs given to people in James' circle of advisers. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the league would not need a team to lodge a complaint to launch such an investigation.

In a detailed account of the Heat's nearly two-year effort to recruit James to join Dwyane Wade in Miami, Yahoo! Sports on Friday quoted an NBA front office executive who said he wants the league to examine whether Heat president Pat Riley promised jobs or other benefits to members of James' camp as part of his recruiting pitch.

 “You can’t promise jobs or preferential services outside of a contract or a job for a friend," the team executive told Yahoo! Sports. "If that’s part of the deal, it’s a violation.”

The penalties for such side deals designed to circumvent salary-cap rules are severe. In 2000, the Minnesota Timberwolves were fined $3.5 million and lost three draft picks after disclosure of a written deal with free agent Joe Smith. The arrangement called for Smith to play under three consecutive one-year contracts, after which it was agreed that the team would use his Bird rights to sign him to a multi-year deal to make up for the money he'd left on the table. Owner Glen Taylor and then-GM Kevin McHale agreed to leaves of absence in order to get back two other draft picks that had been taken away as part of the penalty. In addition to forfeiture of draft picks, league rules call for a maximum fine of $5 million, voiding the contract of the player in question, and up to a one-year suspension of any team officials involved.

One impediment to prosecuting such a case against the Heat -- if and when members of James' camp are hired for any jobs -- is that it will be difficult to prove it is any different from what the Cavs did to appease James when he played for them. One member of James' circle of friends, Randy Mims, was employed by the Cavs as a "player liaison." The hiring was never investigated, and the Cavs were never subject to any punishment for the arrangement.

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While the Hawks have ruled out paying luxury tax to sign Shaquille O'Neal -- or any other free agent, for that matter -- the organization hasn't shut the door completely on bringing Shaq to Atlanta, a person familiar with the team's thinking told CBSSports.com. If O'Neal were to lower his asking price from the mid-level exception -- starting at about $5.8 million -- to the bi-annual exception of about $1.9 million, the Hawks would be interested in exploring such a signing. Atlanta would be able to pay O'Neal the bi-annual exception -- or a portion of its mid-level -- and avoid paying luxury tax. But the current ownership group has never paid luxury tax and doesn't plan to begin paying it now. Also, the Hawks haven't discussed -- nor are they interested in -- a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Cavs that would cost them a piece of their young core, sources say.

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The Raptors continue to explore several potential trade scenarios involving point guard Jose Calderon, who was going to be dealt to the Bobcats earlier this week before Charlotte owner Michael Jordan backed out of the deal. Interest from potential trade partners has been lukewarm, according to a person with knowledge of the talks. ... Wizards assistant GM Tommy Sheppard and Kings assistant GM Jason Levien will interview for the Hornets' GM opening, two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed to CBSSports.com. Hornets president Hugh Weber already has spoken with Spurs executive Dell Demps and plans to speak with former Trail Blazers execs Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn, as well as former Suns exec David Griffin, sources said. Weber, according to one of the sources, is hoping to have the process wrapped up quickly, perhaps as soon as Sunday. ... Demps has spoken with Suns officials about that team's opening for a personnel man to work under incoming team president Lon Babby, a former player agent.



Posted on: July 16, 2010 12:03 am
Edited on: July 16, 2010 6:47 am
 

Summer League Buzz

LAS VEGAS – After the whirlwind of being the No. 1 pick in the draft, signing his $25 million endorsement contract with Reebok, and doing other things that No. 1 picks have to do, John Wall is back where he’s most comfortable: on the court.

That’s where he was Thursday night, as I was typing this: in a courtside seat with his knees wrapped in ice, texting with abandon and watching former Kentucky teammate Eric Bledsoe play for the Clippers against the Trail Blazers in an NBA Summer League game. Earlier, Wall had 21 points and 10 assists in his third pro game, an 88-82 victory over the Mavericks. Wall is now 3-0 since the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the East Regional Final.

“I was excited to play that first game and get into a rhythm and start winning games for my team,” Wall said Thursday night.

Though he didn’t shoot well (4-for-19), it was arguably Wall’s best game since arriving in Vegas. He’s averaging 21 points and 9.3 assists, but the best number Thursday night was in the turnover column: three, after committing eight in each of his first two games.

“I’m trying to get better at everything,” Wall said.

Wall said he’s spoken “once or twice a week” with his future backcourt mate, Gilbert Arenas, since the draft, and hopes to work out with the Wizards’ former franchise player before training camp. Wall is used to playing with top talent – three of his former Kentucky teammates are making their NBA debuts in Vegas this week – but finding a comfort zone with Arenas will be his most important on-court relationship to date.

The Wizards, so far, couldn’t be happier with how Wall is handling the first days of his NBA career. “No diva factor,” is how one source described him. That’s exactly what the Wizards need after enduring the nightmarish fallout from Arenas’ firearms incident and suspension.
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The Hawks continue to be the most likely landing spot for free-agent center Shaquille O’Neal, but even Atlanta – which could use Shaq’s ability to sell tickets – is balking at his asking price. The Hawks, after retaining free-agent Joe Johnson with a six-year, $124 million contract, may not be able to get ownership to approve offering O’Neal the mid-level exception starting at $5.8 million.

The Celtics and Mavericks have been monitoring the O’Neal situation, although one person with knowledge of the Celtics’ plans said they’re “not very” active in their discussions about turning Shaq into the Big Leprechaun. The Knicks’ reported interest in Shaq is lukewarm at best, sources say. But if O’Neal is willing to lower his price – say, to the bi-annual exception of $1.9 million – his market would expand considerably. One Eastern Conference GM said if the right team gets O’Neal, he could be “the key to the East.” The thinking is this: The only weakness on Miami’s superteam is in the middle, where Shaq could do some damage.
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Hornets officials have begun their search to replace fired GM Jeff Bower, but have not gotten back to several coaching agents involved as to which of their clients will be getting interviews. Former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard would be good fit, especially considering his relationship with Hornets coach Monty Williams – a former Portland assistant. But a person familiar with the state of the Hornets’ search said several potential candidates haven’t been informed of where they fit on the team’s list of priorities. Meanwhile, ESPN.com reported that Spurs executive Dell Demps interviewed for the job Thursday.

As for Pritchard’s former employer, the Blazers are believed to have zeroed in on Thunder assistant GM Rich Cho, whose strengths in data analysis have wowed the Vulcan Inc. cronies who have owner Paul Allen’s ear. The Vulcanites, as they’re not so fondly called, are wielding plenty of influence in the power vacuum created when Pritchard was fired on draft night, sources say.

The Suns’ search for a day-to-day GM is on hold until former player agent Lon Babby officially is installed as team president. Babby, sources say, will take control of the search, which is believed to be wide open.
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As impressive as Wall was for the Wizards Thursday night, he wasn’t even close to being the fan favorite in the game. That honor went to Jeremy Lin, the former Harvard standout invited to play on the Mavs’ Summer League team. Lin, trying to become the NBA’s first American-born Asian player, showed a real flare for getting to the basket and was impressive with 13 points and a plus-14 in 27 minutes.


Posted on: July 14, 2010 12:28 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2010 12:30 pm
 

Free-Agent Buzz

The Nuggets bolstered their front court Wednesday by agreeing to terms with Al Harrington and Shelden Williams, while also bringing back one of their own free agents, guard Anthony Carter, people with knowledge of the deals confirmed to CBSSports.com.

In giving the full mid-level exception to Harrington -- five years, $34 million -- the Nuggets are now out of the running to match the Raptors' four-year. $18.8 million offer sheet for restricted free agent Linas Kleiza.

Harrington, 29, is a good teammate and proven scorer whose presence will help the Nuggets survive the absence of injured big men Kenyon Martin and Chris "Birdman" Andersen at the start of the 2010-11 season. But Harrington's erratic, often puzzling offensive play could present a problem for a Denver team that already has its share of free spirits.

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Luke Ridnour's four-year, $16 million deal with the Timberwolves only bolsters belief around the league that Minnesota will trade Ramon Sessions, one of the many point guard GM David Kahn has assembled. Charlotte, having lost starting point guard Raymond Felton to the Knicks, is the most sensible destination. A person with knowledge of the Bobcats' dealings said the club has yet to engage in such talks with the T-Wolves.

Of far more importance regarding the Ridnour signing is what it says about Ricky Rubio's future in Minnesota, when Kahn already has Ridnour, Jonny Flynn and Sessions (for the time being) to play the same position. The Knicks have coveted Rubio since draft night in 2009, but Kahn continues to steadfastly refuse to entertain trade offers for the Spanish sensation, who will play at least one more season in Italy -- at which time Kahn will persuade him to play for the Timberwolves or acquire three more point guards.

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The Hawks want Shaquille O'Neal to eat up some minutes in under the basket and sell some tickets. The Cavs like Marvin Williams, who was drafted under Cleveland GM Chris Grant's watch when Grant was a front-office employee with the Hawks. A sign-and-trade with O'Neal getting the veteran's minimum or close to it -- about the best he's going to do at 38 -- makes perfect sense . But at this point. a person who would be involved in such discussions told CBSSports.com Wednesday it has never been discussed. Give it time.












Posted on: May 14, 2010 4:59 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2010 10:04 pm
 

How the Celtics did in Mike Brown (UPDATE)

On a day when the fallout hit the fan with alarming swiftness in Cleveland, it’s worth revisiting how the team with the best record in the NBA got in this predicament in the first place. 

There were numerous factors. The health and playoff savvy of their proud opponent, the Boston Celtics. The failure to re-integrate Shaquille O’Neal into the starting lineup after he’d missed the last six weeks of the regular season. LeBron’s free agency. LeBron’s elbow. 

All of it conspired to set a series of potentially devastating dominoes into motion. The first one – Mike Brown getting fired as the Cavs’ coach – didn’t tumble on Friday. But it’s teetering as violently as the emotions of fans all over northeast Ohio. 

Amid a report by SI.com that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert already has decided to fire Brown, Gilbert and GM Danny Ferry held their season-wrapup news conferences Friday and said that wasn’t true. It isn’t true yet, is what they should have said. Gilbert, in effect, delivered that very message when he refused to answer a point-blank question as to whether he could say definitively that Brown would be back next season. 

“I like the way you asked that question,” Gilbert said, and then he dodged it, saying everyone in the organization would be evaluated over the next 7-10 days. 

“We are going to take a long, deep, hard look at every key position in this franchise from top to bottom,” Gilbert said. “We’re not going to react emotionally the next morning after unexpectedly losing a series.” 

Essentially, the decision will be up to LeBron James, according to a person familiar with organizational dynamics. "That's where this thing is headed," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss team business. "LeBron's going to make the call. That's what this is all about."

How could the Cavs be held hostage by James on the free-agent front and also have him deciding the future of their coach?

"Hey, they created this monster," the person said. "They kept giving in to him on everything and now you pay they price."

The notion that Brown is on his way out – after back-to-back 60-win seasons and only one year removed from being named NBA coach of the year – should be obvious to anyone who watched the Celtics-Cavs series. Boston coach Doc Rivers constructed a strategy aimed at attacking the Cavs’ biggest weaknesses, which is what any team tries to do. Few teams have executed such a plan better than the Celtics did. The fact is, as the aftermath engulfed the Cavs on Friday, the Celtics had to be amazed that their plan worked as well as it did. 

This wasn’t X’s and O’s. It was shock and awe. The Celtics saw not only weaknesses, but vulnerabilities – which are like festering weaknesses in basketball. They thought if they attacked certain areas successfully, it would not only result in good outcomes on the court, but potentially lethal side effects for the Cavs. The most damaging side effect of such a strategy is dissension, which became the theme for the Cavs over the last two games of the series. 

“You have to get a team to that point,” Ray Allen said. “It doesn’t involve taking shortcuts. You can’t just start games trying to go for the jugular right off the bat. It’s like an A, B, C all the way to Z process that all of us have to go through, and it requires everybody. When we’re as a team willing to put forth that effort from the offensive and the defensive end, then you can find those weaknesses and create that dissension.” 

The Celtics knew that going into the series, Brown already was facing an uphill battle with Shaq’s return to the lineup. They knew he’d feel pressured by Shaq’s reputation and $20 million salary to play him if he was healthy. The more Shaq was on the court, the Celtics believed, the better. The more he was on the court with Antawn Jamison, who hadn’t played alongside O’Neal until the playoffs began, that would be better still. 

The Celtics knew that Kevin Garnett would be able to attack Jamison, given that Garnett was one of the few opponents that Jamison ever faces with more size and length than he has. If the Celtics got Garnett going in a big way, that would free up Kendrick Perkins to wrestle under the basket with Shaq. All of this, they hoped, would lead to all kinds of griping and disagreements behind the scenes for the Cavs about who should be playing up front, and in which matchups. Sure enough, that’s just how it played out, with Brown eventually trying to re-insert Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the rotation in Game 5 – too late to quell the grumbling and insecurities in the Cavs’ locker room. Responding to the pressure of the unfavorable Garnett-Jamison matchup, Brown decided to start Game 6 with Shaq on Garnett and Jamison on Perkins. Um, that didn’t work, either. 

But that was only a small part of it. The Celtics knew that Mo Williams is a less than willing defender, and that he wouldn’t react well to pressure from Rajon Rondo, or to hard, physical screens. Williams shying away from contact in the Heat of a playoff battle would, in turn, infuriate LeBron to the point where Brown would have to take Williams off Rondo for stretches in games. Brown’s inability to solve the Rondo problem – he switched to Anthony Parker in the middle of the series, then started using LeBron in certain situations in Games 5 and 6 – only resulted in more dissension, which ultimately undermined Brown’s authority. 

The third key part of this divide-and-conquer paradigm was putting road blocks between LeBron and the basket and daring him to, 1) make the wrong basketball play by forcing his dribble into triple coverage, or 2) make the right play by passing to his teammates, who wouldn’t be up to the task. Time and again in the series, LeBron’s supporting cast melted under the pressure – from Williams, to Jamison, to Parker. The only one who stepped up consistently was Shaq, and the Celtics knew Shaq didn’t have enough left in the tank to carry his team for 48 minutes. 

It was obvious that the Celtics’ strategy was working when I asked James before Game 6 if he wanted to or planned to have any input into the game plan. He didn’t say he didn’t want to, only that it wasn’t his place. 

“It’s tough, because you don’t want to try to step on Coach’s toes,” James said. “It’s the whole coaching staff, and I agree with the system that they’ve put in. We’ve been successful in the postseason. We’ve been successful in the regular season. For me to go sit in the coaches’ meeting and say, ‘This is what I feel the strategy should be’, you only can go so far with that. You have to play the game and be around the game to understand exactly what I’m saying. You just can’t do things like that.” 

James didn’t have much nice to say about Brown throughout the series, and he refused to come to his coach’s rescue in the postgame news conference Thursday night, when he questioned Brown’s in-game adjustments. The Celtics were probably busy preparing for their next divide-and-conquer mission, Orlando, by then. But somewhere, they were smiling.
Posted on: May 12, 2010 9:02 pm
 

Shaq: 'Others' need to help LeBron

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Shaquille O'Neal, he of the enormous physique and four championship rings, made it clear Wednesday that he's a fan of LeBron James' leadership and also of the television hit LOST.

Before I had a chance to ask Shaq, "What lies in the shadow of the statue?" he'd also made it clear what needs to happen for the Cavs to save their season in Game 6 Thursday night in Boston.

"Nothing's wrong with him," Shaq said of LeBron. "It's our job as `others' to make him look good. We got to hit shots when he gives up the ball and we've got to play defense. We've got to open up the floor for him. When he's coming off the ball and kicking it, guys have got to hit shots. If you don’t hit shots, then that team's not going to respect other players and they're going to crowd the floor. He's playing the right way -- dribbling, and when they come, kick it to the guys. It's our job as `the others' to make him look good."

Though much of the focus has been on LeBron's 3-for-14 shooting night -- his third sub-par offensive performance in the series -- Shaq remained focused on the aspect of the game that has put the Cavs in the hole they're in.

"Our problem is not offense," Shaq said. "Our problem is, you can't let guys get historical triple-doubles and you can't let five guys get into double figures. So our problem is not offense. But is LeBron a great leader? One of the best I've ever played with."

Like LeBron, Shaq referred to the sense of panic that has descended on northeast Ohio as the Cavs face second-round elimination for the second straight year. Cleveland has been waiting 46 years for a pro sports championship, and everyone here thought this was the year.
 
"I wouldn’t say panic," Shaq said. "But it’s a beautiful city. It’s a great city. Forty-six years is a long time. And back in the day when they had Brad Daugherty and Mark Price, they almost had a chance. But I think this is a team that you look at and say, `This is our time.' I wouldn't call it anxiety or panic. It's just that 46 years is a long time to wait for such a beautiful city.

"We all know what's at stake here," Shaq said. "LeBron wants to win the whole thing. We all want to win the whole thing. We just have to make him look good and we just have to step it up on defense. ... Everyone knows what's at stake, and [Thursday] we'll see what we're made of."
Posted on: March 1, 2010 11:45 am
 

Shaq out 8 weeks; not a deal-breaker for Cavs

The Cavaliers confirmed Monday that Shaquille O'Neal will miss about eight weeks after undergoing thumb surgery. Despite the fact that Cleveland has gone from having two 7-footers to none in the past two weeks, this isn't a devastating blow to the Cavs' championship hopes.

While the Cavs were playing well with Shaq -- 12-3 from Jan. 16 until he got hurt last Thursday night in Boston -- they never needed him for the regular season. From the beginning, Shaq was strictly a postseason asset -- specifically, an asset big and bad enough to play mind games with Dwight Howard and get in his way just enough for Cleveland to beat the Magic in a seven-game series this time around.

Eight weeks from today is April 26 -- near the end of the first round, or (more likely) in the midst of a second-round playoff series. That will give Shaq enough time to get his tree-like legs back under him before Howard is posting him up in the playoffs. Maybe while he's rehabbing his thumb, Shaq could adopt Ron Artest's fish-and-veggie diet and drop a few LBs before he returns.

From now until the rest of the regular season, Shaq's absence will allow the Cavs to concentrate on getting Antawn Jamison acclimated to their offense. More importantly, it will give the Cavs a chance to play a little more freely, with better spacing, and at a quicker pace. They won't be a running team as they get deeper into the playoffs, but pushing the ball without Shaq down the stretch will only help them for the postseason stints when they'll need to play smaller lineups.

In the meantime, Cleveland will get back one of its 7-footers, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, once the 30-day waiting period expires following his trade to the Wizards. If Lakers coach Phil Jackson thought that was a "sham" before Shaq got hurt, imagine what the Zen Master thinks now.


Posted on: February 25, 2010 1:05 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2010 1:35 pm
 

Dwight Howard = Wilt Chamberlain?

When Dwight Howard isn't ignoring immature taunts from Shaquille O'Neal, how does he stay busy?

On Wednesday night, he put his name in the same sentence with Wilt Chamberlain.

I'd like to be able to say, "Dwight, I knew Wilt Chamberlain. And you're no Wilt Chamberlain." Sadly, I didn't meet the late, great Wilt until he joined the rest of the NBA's 50 Greatest at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland. I have spent considerable time around Dwight Howard -- watching him perform with boyish enthusiasm and astounding athletic talent, and listening to him thoughtfully, respectfully, and sometimes playfully answer questions from inquiring types like me.

At 24, Howard's resume has a long way to go before he can hold it up against Wilt's, or even Shaq's. Those are facts. So is this: Dwight Howard did something Wednesday night that nobody had accomplished since Chamberlain in 1969, a year before I was born.

In Orlando's 110-92 victory in Houston, Howard had 31 points and 16 rebounds and was 11-for-11 from the field. He also had three assists, one block and was 8-for-12 from the foul line, but that's not the point. The point is, Howard became the first player since Chamberlain to record at least 30 points and 15 rebounds while not missing a shot in at least 10 field-goal attempts. He also recorded his 19th consecutive double-double, a franchise record that broke a tie with -- you guessed it -- O'Neal.

Nobody is saying that Howard = Chamberlain, or even that Howard = Shaq. But it's time to stop dismissing the most physically overwhelming talent in the NBA as a mere freak. Howard is a freak who has his team playing the best basketball in the league.

When it comes to doubting Howard's killer instinct, offensive fundamentals and meanness, I'm guilty as charged. I've questioned Howard's desire to be the alpha male from time to time. But I'm ready to put that aside and just enjoy him for what he is and what he will be -- the most dominant big man in the NBA for the next decade or so.

Last season, Howard became only the fifth player in NBA history to lead the league in blocks and rebounds in the same season. Neither Chamberlain nor Shaq is on that list, which includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Ben Wallace. (In fairness, the NBA didn't count blocks as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season.) Howard currently leads the league in both categories again, and if he repeats the feat, he'll stand alone as the only player ever to do it twice.

More importantly, Howard's team is winning. The Magic are 13-4 since Jan. 20, and no other team has as many wins during that stretch.

The Cavs got Shaq for one reason, and one reason only: To contend with Howard in the playoffs. They just added Antawn Jamison in the hopes that they'll have an answer for Rashard Lewis, who destroyed Cleveland in the conference finals last season. Jamison is too much of a pro to belittle Lewis or anybody else. That hasn't stopped O'Neal from incessantly taunting Howard, calling him an impostor, and generally dismissing him as little more than a wart on his ample behind.

All of this will come home to roost in the playoffs, when the Cavs will have to get past Howard and the Magic if LeBron James is going to deliver the championship that he and the city of Cleveland so desperately need. Take a look at these numbers, crunched by NBA.com's John Schuhmann, showing the dramatic difference in LeBron's production against Orlando with Howard on the floor vs. off the floor since 2007-08. The translation: Howard is so good that he makes the best player in the NBA significantly worse.

Whatever happens in May and June, we know this: Howard will be there with a smile on his face. And he will let his play do the talking.


 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com