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While the Shaquille O'Neal-to-Cleveland Cavaliers trade talk created lots of buzz over the weekend, there is an obstacle standing in the way of a future Shaq-LeBron pairing: The Phoenix Suns are not going to give O'Neal away merely to save money.
The Suns, who could save roughly $10 million by sending O'Neal to Cleveland for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, also want to gain basketball value in any trade involving O'Neal, according to league sources with knowledge of the team's thinking.
With Wallace considering retirement and Pavlovic averaging fewer than six points over his six-year career, Cleveland would likely have to strengthen its offer to get O'Neal.
The Suns reportedly had interest in Delonte West when the clubs discussed possible deals at the February trade deadline, but the Cavaliers greatly value West and would be hard-pressed to part with him. As it stands, the teams have had only preliminary discussions and will continue to speak in the days and weeks ahead.
Phoenix has also fielded calls from other teams that have inquired about O'Neal, including the Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers and New York Knicks. While getting talent in return is a priority, the Suns' desire for financial relief is real, which means they will likely trade O'Neal and his $20 million contract this offseason.
O'Neal is open to being traded and Cleveland is his preferred destination, according to a league source with knowledge of his thinking. LeBron James is also excited about the possibility of playing with Shaq, according to people close to the situation.
While O'Neal hopes to end up in Cleveland, the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer also hopes to get a two-year contract extension, according to the league source. That being the case, he would like to get assurances that James, who can become a free agent after next season, will remain in Cleveland for at least the next three years. O'Neal is hardly in position to make such demands, and neither James nor the Cavs are likely to make him any promises. The Cavaliers could be in position to have a significant amount of cap space to pursue free agents such as Chris Bosh in 2010 and they are not going to give that up for O'Neal.
The source said O'Neal's desire for long-term security would not be a deal-breaker.
Meanwhile, interest elsewhere in O'Neal remains fairly high.
Dallas could send the Suns Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier, but the Suns have little interest in the Mavericks' plodding center, especially since he has two years and more than $23 million left on his contract.
The Hornets could perhaps offer more talent than anyone else by giving up either Tyson Chandler or Peja Stojakovic, but both players also have two years at big money left on their deals (roughly $24 million for Chandler and $30 million for Stojakovic).
The Knicks are trying to pawn their troubled center Eddy Curry off on the Suns but are getting nowhere.
While the Shaq-to-Cleveland deal is not imminent, it does have a legitimate chance of coming to fruition.
"It's plausible, it's possible," said a league executive. "But there's nothing happening right now."
Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.