On Second Thought…….

By Paul Coro
Updated: June 14, 2009

PHOENIX – A potential Suns trade that would send center Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland to help LeBron James’ title quest is heating up again after the idea was put on a back burner following February talks.

The parts of the possible deal remain the same. Phoenix would send O’Neal to Cleveland for veteran power forward Ben Wallace, who is considering retirement, and reserve guard Sasha Pavlovic, whose final contract year is not fully guaranteed.

With O’Neal’s $20 million salary (but a $21 million salary-cap number due to a trade kicker), the trade could save the Suns $9.9 million or even more if Wallace wants a buyout.

The trade would save the Suns $3.1 million in payroll and projected luxury tax. Cutting Pavlovic, who has $1.5 million guaranteed in his final contract year’s $4.95 million salary, could save another $6.8 million in payroll and tax.

Wallace, 34, also is entering the final year of his deal, which would pay him $14 million. He is coming off an injury-marred season that was his most unproductive in 14 seasons.

Wallace would consider a buyout, but Cleveland could use him as a trade chip, particularly to get O’Neal to counter Dwight Howard, whose Orlando Magic ousted the 66-16 Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

If the Suns acquired and bought out Wallace, they would save more than the $9.9 million that a deal and Pavlovic waiver would save.

Trade interest in O’Neal, 37, has been strong after he was an All-NBA third-team selection this season. He played 75 games, his most in nine seasons, and averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds with a career-best 60.9 field-goal percentage. He has the most NBA field-goal percentage titles (10) in NBA history, one more than Wilt Chamberlain (nine).

There has been trade interest in all four returning Suns starters, but the Suns have stated an intention to keep point guard Steve Nash, who is holding off on extension talks to see how the Suns tweak the roster.

He has said the team needs more-active big men. Nash had some difficulty incorporating O’Neal’s post-up game after running a system based on his skills, and the pair were a particularly weak pick-and-roll defensive combination.

Wallace has lost athleticism, but the four-time Defensive Player of the Year still could be a defensive upgrade for Phoenix. After averaging 2.9 points (worst since his rookie year) and 6.5 rebounds (worst since 1997-98) this season in 56 pain-laden games, Wallace averaged 1.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in the playoffs. He suffered a broken leg and a sprained knee during the regular season.

Pavlovic, 25, is a six-year pro whose role was reduced but still hit a career-best 41 percent on 3-pointers. Pavlovic averaged 4.6 points per game as he went in and out of the rotation, going from a scoreless, 25-minute Game 3 against Orlando to six total minutes in the series’ final three games.