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News » With LeBron and Shaq, Cavs give Cleveland sporting chance

With LeBron and Shaq, Cavs give Cleveland sporting chance

With LeBron and Shaq, Cavs give Cleveland sporting chance
It's a star-studded roster. It's a budget-busting payroll. It's a mob of microphones and reporters on media day.

It's LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal.

Together. In Cleveland . With the Cavaliers .

"I never thought I'd play with Shaq," James said. "I dreamed about it. I dreamed about playing with other Hall of Famers. This is great for the city, for the team and for me."

Who'd ever have dared think the Cleveland Cavaliers would one day have the game's brightest young star in the 24-year-old James and the sport's elder- statesman center in the 37-year-old O'Neal? And who would have thought they'd be willing to carry all the frustrations of area sports fans on their wide shoulders, aiming to become the first major Cleveland pro sports franchise to win a championship since the 1964 Browns?

James said the goal is indeed an NBA title. He said anything but that "is a disappointment." He promised he is already "a much better player" than when he walked off the court after the Cavs were eliminated by the Magic in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Orlando, Fla.

"I stay in the gym, I do a lot of shooting and working in the interior, in the post," he said.

James is coming off his first Most Valuable Player award. After six years with the Cavs, he has won everything except an NBA title. He believes he can combine with O'Neal to change that.

He talked about how Kobe Bryant won a title with Pau Gasol, how Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have produced championships in San Antonio.

Then he mentioned the combination of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in Boston.

"When you have a 1-2 punch like that, then they have to double-team somebody," said James. "Now, we have another guy they have to double-team."

So what will it be like face this new edition of the Cavaliers ?

"It can be scary," insisted James.

James said that when the massive 7-foot O'Neal catches a passes near the basket, he draws a crowd. No single center can defend O'Neal for an entire game without fouling out or physically wearing down.

"Shaq brings an interior presence we've not had before," James said. "He brings an intimidation factor that a lot of teams wish they had."

James meant no disrespect to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the center who has played with so much dignity for so long with the Cavs. The 7-3 Ilgauskas is the only Cavs player to be James' teammate for all six of his seasons here.

But Ilgauskas is primarily a midrange jump-shooter. While he always has been an underrated shot-blocker and defender, he does not have the raw physical strength of the 325-pound O'Neal.

The loss to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals exposed a couple of weaknesses. First, the Cavs lacked a center with the sheer size and pure physical power to contend with Magic star Dwight Howard.

They also came up short in terms of tall players to defend the likes of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu when they were 15 feet from the basket. The Cavs have had trouble with taller teams such as the Lakers, Rockets and Celtics. They needed quicker players in the 6-5 to 6-8 range. "[The front office] did a great job of sensing what was needed, getting some athletes for the perimeter," said James, meaning the addition of free agents Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker. What the Cavs have done is replace Ben Wallace with O'Neal, Wally Szczerbiak with Moon and Sasha Pavlovic with Anthony Parker.

But the real story is James and O'Neal together - two monster talents with public personalities and a global following.

James said he told the front office to trade for O'Neal, when the possibility of a deal with Phoenix emerged at midseason. The Suns backed off from trade talks for O'Neal in March. Phoenix missed the playoffs, then traded O'Neal to the Cavs for Wallace and Pavlovic after the season.

James knows O'Neal was the man in the middle with Kobe Bryant won his first three titles with the Lakers, and when Dwyane Wade won his only championship in Miami. James was asked if he talked to to Bryant about playing with O'Neal.

"No," said James. "[Shaq] is a teammate. It's not like adopting a kid."

James laughed.

O'Neal has said his goal in Cleveland is "Win a ring for the King," and he wants to be the player who pushes James into that elite championship circle.

"That's humbling," said James.

He paused.

"But there is only so much talking we can do," he said.

He meant it's time for the team to play ball. For Cleveland fans suffering through the painful seasons of the Browns and Indians, that can't come soon enough.

To reach Terry Pluto:, 216-999-4674

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 30, 2009


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