Chris Tomasson of FanHouse reports that Shaq’s first choice is to play for the Spurs and he wants a two-year deal. Shaq would take the mid-level to play in San Antonio but his “preference” if he joins the Hawks would be to play for more, according to Tomasson.
Sounds like Shaq might be trying to drive up the price for his services. If the Hawks wanted to give him more than the mid-level, they’d have to work out a sign-and-trade with the Cavs. I’m not going to speculate on those scenarios because I don’t know that the Hawks are willing to pay Shaq above the mid-level (or if they even plan to make an offer at this point) and don’t see any deal that would make sense for the Cavs.
I talked with another hack the other day and, just for fun, we tried to come up with some teams that fit Shaq’s criteria:
1. Spurs: Shaq likes Gregg Popovich and the feeling is mutual. Shaq has ties to the area where he attended high school. The Spurs have no clear starter to play alongside Tim Duncan and have the core to make one final run at a title. The only potential wrench in this pairing is the Spurs apparently have set aside their MLE for Brazilian center Tiago Splitter.
2. Mavericks: Shaq likes Mark Cuban and the feeling is mutual. Assuming they can’t sign free-agent Brendan Haywood, who is said to be looking for big money, then the Mavs will need a starting center unless they want to go with Erick Dampier.
3. Hawks: Shaq has told friends he is open to playing in Atlanta, which can offer him a major role off the bench if not a starting spot. The Hawks don’t look to be title contenders at the moment but they are expected to make more moves to improve the roster. If the Spurs go with Splitter and the Mavs re-sign Haywood, then the Hawks would seem to be the next-best option for Shaq.
(UPDATE: Haywood reportedly re-signed with the Mavs, moving the Hawks up to No. 2 on my supadupa, rock-solid list of educated guesses and somewhat-informed speculation. HT to blog commenter Sawyer.)
We ruled out Cleveland since there’s been no indication that either side is interested in a reunion. The Nuggets already have plenty of big men so can’t see where Shaq would fit. We also ruled out the Heat, Lakers, Magic and Suns because Shaq has been there and done that, with “that” meaning burn bridges on his way out of Miami, L.A. and Phoenix and publicly feuding with Orlando’s Stan Van Gundy.
Even if LeBron decides to go to Miami, I don’t see Shaq joining them even if he will take the minimum. Shaq’s relationship with D-Wade cooled near the end of their run and Shaq blasted everyone from the Heat’s coaches to their trainers after he was traded to Phoenix.
Boston might have been a possibility for Shaq but it looks like Jermaine O’Neal is headed there (Atlanta also has discussed signing J.O.). Plus, Shaq probably wouldn’t be a good fit for the Celtics anyway since they already have so many strong personalities and an established identity.
It’s still early in the process, but depending on how everything shakes out it looks like the Hawks have a pretty decent shot at signing Shaq if they decide to make a run at him.