There are plenty of uncertainties surrounding the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics as they’re currently constructed, and after discouraging playoff exits for both teams, the pressure to win now has only increased.
The veteran big men may eventually make a difference for their new teams in the postseason, but the spotlight will still be on reigning MVP - and potential free agent - LeBron James(notes) and Boston’s Big Three in the NBA’s season opener Tuesday night as the Cavaliers seek a 12th straight home win over the Celtics.
Cleveland (66-16) and Boston (62-20) were the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference last season, and considering they had represented the East in the past two NBA finals, but both teams were ousted by the Orlando Magic. The Celtics fell in seven games in the conference semifinals before the Cavaliers were eliminated in six in the East finals.
Those postseason failures sparked Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry and Boston counterpart Danny Ainge to tinker with their respective rosters, but that wasn’t all on the minds of the two Eastern powers. James can opt out of his contract following this season, and Ray Allen(notes) can do likewise with the Celtics, leaving the possibility Boston may rebuild around point guard Rajon Rondo(notes) considering the mileage on veterans Kevin Garnett(notes) and Paul Pierce(notes).
The Cavaliers signed free agent swingmen Anthony Parker(notes) and Jamario Moon(notes) while Boston added similar versatility in Marquis Daniels(notes). The biggest changes, though, came at center - Cleveland jettisoned Ben Wallace(notes) and Sasha Pavlovic to Phoenix for three-time finals MVP O’Neal, while the Celtics signed Wallace, a four-time All-Star who’s been on a playoff team for 13 consecutive seasons.
“I’ve heard, ‘Is Shaq good for their team?’ Like, how could he not be?” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ll take him. He gives them size, he gives them another post player, he gives them a great passer. He gives them a rebounder. He’s one of the most intimidating forces in the league.”
While the burly O’Neal will partner with the solid shooting of backup center Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) to give Cavaliers coach Mike Brown two very different big men, Boston should have the same luxury on the interior. Center Kendrick Perkins(notes) is a consistent scorer in the low post, while Wallace, who’s attempted 4.6 3-pointers a game over the past four seasons, provides a threat on the perimeter.
“He’ll spread the floor offensively, something we’ve never had,” Rivers said. “Heck, most people don’t have a (center) sitting behind the 3-point line. Defensively, he’s been terrific. He’s also going to give us some post play on the offensive end.”
The other thing Wallace adds is a hot temper, having been whistled for 291 technical fouls since entering the league in 1995.
O’Neal has 117 himself since Wallace debuted, and many feel his dynamic personality won’t mesh with James’.
“People look too far into individuals than the team aspect of things,” James said. “They think two stars can’t coexist. But it’s not just about me and Shaq, it’s about the whole team. Me and Shaq can’t do it by ourselves. We need everybody on the floor to work hard every day to make this thing happen.”
While All-Star point guard Mo Williams(notes) gives James a secondary scorer, Cavaliers guard and former Celtic Delonte West(notes) didn’t play during the preseason after being arrested last month for carrying three loaded guns while riding a motorcycle. In addition, his wife reportedly filed a domestic violence report over the weekend.
On Monday, Brown said that West would likely be inactive for Tuesday night’s game.
Wallace likely will join Daniels on Boston’s second unit along with Eddie House(notes), Glen Davis(notes) and Shelden Williams(notes). Wallace and Williams should provide quality depth in case Garnett’s surgically repaired right knee, which caused him to miss 25 games last season, hampers him.
Davis, who played well in Garnett’s absence last season, is out indefinitely with an injured right hand.
Garnett, the 2007-08 defensive player of the year, Pierce and the Celtics have held James to 40.0 percent shooting in 14 combined regular-season and playoff games the past two seasons, but James has averaged 30.3 points on 45.1 percent shooting in his past seven games against the Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena, while Pierce has been held to 14.7 points while shooting 34.3 percent.
The Cavaliers have won 11 straight at home over Boston by an average of 12.8 points, with their last loss coming in overtime on Dec. 18, 2004. Overall, the home team has won 16 consecutive games in the series.