NEW YORK -- The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't wait until the NBA draft to make the first blockbuster deal of the 2009 offseason. An NBA source confirmed late Wednesday night that the Cavaliers have an agreement in principal to send a package that includes Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace to Phoenix in exchange for center Shaquille O'Neal.
The deal was first reported by ESPN and Yahoo! Sports.
O'Neal has been on the Cavaliers' radar since February, when Cleveland nearly acquired the 15-time All-Star center for Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak. While Cleveland was reluctant to pull the trigger then, the Cavs' struggles in the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando -- specifically with Magic center Dwight Howard -- prompted Cleveland GM Danny Ferry to seek out a center who can defend Howard one-on-one.
He found an answer in the 37-year old O'Neal, who had a resurgent season with Phoenix last season, averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds in 75 games with the Suns, the most games he has played since the 1999-2000 season. The acquisition of O'Neal doesn't hurt the Cavs plan to pursue a top free agent in 2010 either: O'Neal's $20 million salary comes off the books after next season.
Neither Wallace or Pavlovic is likely to play for the cost-cutting Suns. Only $1.5 million of Pavlovic's 2009-2010 contract is guaranteed and the Suns will likely cut him to save $3.5 million. Wallace was contemplating retirement after the season and the deal to Phoenix -- a team with no chance to win the NBA championship next season -- may push him out the door. If the Suns can negotiate a fair buyout of his $14 million contract, Wallace will likely take it, saving Phoenix owner Robert Sarver several million dollars in the process.
Of greater concern is how the Shaq trade affects Phoenix's ability to extend the contract of Steve Nash. Nash can become a free agent after this season and has said he will wait and see what moves the Suns make before deciding whether to re-up with the franchise. Phoenix GM Steve Kerr met with Nash and his agent, Bill Duffy, in New York last week. Nash may choose to wait and see if Phoenix is able to land another complementary star via free agency or trade before he makes a decision on re-signing with the Suns.