Big deals rock NBA draft

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

It was a day of shock and awe, a day when the NBA's draft became overshadowed by some big-time trades involving marquee players.

Yesterday was supposed to be reserved for Blake Griffin, a can't-miss prospect who went first overall to a Los Angeles Clippers team that seems to always miss.

But long before commissioner David Stern stepped up to the podium to announce Griffin's name, the basketball world was shook to its very foundation.

Shaquille O'Neal was off to Cleveland to join LeBron James as the Cavs make their last-ditch pitch to keep King James in Ohio.

Vince Carter was heading home to Orlando, where the Magic made a very astute move in addressing the need for a creator and shooter after coming up short in the NBA final.

Amare Stoudemire was rumoured to be on his way to Golden State as the Phoenix Suns rid themselves of high-salaried players.

There were more rumours than prospects taken and more teams reportedly angling to make moves to clear cap space.

More change will arrive in the coming days as the July 1 free-agent door gets set to kick open.

But the team that opened most eyes was Orlando, which came within a tip-in and a free throw from perhaps beating the Lakers in the championship.

Carter has plenty of game left and his game will fit in perfectly in Orlando. He can still create in late-game situations and he'll get plenty of open looks playing on the perimeter with Dwight Howard drawing double teams in the post.

Magic GM Otis Smith showed once again why he is among the brightest in the business.

Orlando was prepared to exceed the league's dollar-for-dollar tax threshold, but conventional wisdom had Hedo Turkoglu staying in Orlando.

Carter's name came out of the blue, even though his name has been bandied about in trades. None involved Orlando, whose bench isn't deep, but its starting five matches up against any team.

The New Jersey Nets, who as early as three years ago played the Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs with a core of Carter, Richard Jefferson (now in San Antonio) and Jason Kidd (free agent), have now ridded themselves of their identity in the name of dumping salary.

The Cavs are so desperate to keep James happy that they had no choice but to bring Shaq to Cleveland in what is shaping up as the Diesel's last stand and the team's last attempt to keep James.

O'Neal's career will now include playing alongside three of the elite wing players in the history of basketball in James, Dwyane Wade (Miami) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

O'Neal has won four titles and all that stands in the way of a fifth is the Magic, which eliminated the Cavs in six games in the East final.

"Shaq is an incredible ballplayer and a four-time NBA champion," James said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. "I have a lot of respect for him and his game.

"It will be a real honour to play with Shaq as my teammates and I look forward to another great season with the Cavs."

It says a lot about Shaq's game and the state of the NBA's economy when one considers the Cavs sent Phoenix a broken part in Ben Wallace and an average player in Sasha Pavlovic.

Like the Nets, the Suns are clearing cap space and one has to wonder about the future of Canadian Steve Nash.

When Shaq was first traded to Miami, the Lakers received a package that included Lamar Odom and Caron Butler.

"Our goals are aligned with what our players want, including LeBron, and that's to win a championship and win it next year," Cavs GM Danny Ferry said.

"We don't want to be patient. We want to be a team that has sustainable success. We want to be a team like we were this year, when if you don't win a championship you lose some sleep.

"But at the same time we want to be more than that. We want to be the team that wins it."

Chances are that if the Cavs don't win the title, James will bolt for free agency and Ferry will be looking for another job.


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