— AND - Shaquille O'Neal has waited since June for this day, a moment in this man's storied NBA career where he could begin helping LeBron James and his hometown fulfill a dream. For their dream is also Shaq's dream; he wants what they have long wanted: a championship.
No team wins an NBA championship in late October, not even if it does have Shaq and LeBron in its lineup. To dream overly much about one now might prove a distraction with a full season and a long, arduous postseason left to play.
But after seeing Shaq, LeBron and the Cavs play Tuesday night, people will need to mute their talk of an NBA championship. They ought not discuss the topic just yet, because not much the Cavs did against the Boston Celtics, another team with title aspirations, suggested such talk was anything but wishful thinking.
For in this 95-89 loss at home, the Cavs looked like an NBA team struggling to find its rhythm, although their struggles surprised nobody.
As LeBron would put it: "It's a real transition period for ourselves."
Before the game, he had mentioned the team needed time to meld into a cohesive unit. He proved prophetic. Unlike the Celtics, the Cavs had added too many pieces in the offseason, and those pieces need to figure out where they fit.
The most important of those pieces was the 7-foot-1, 345-pound Shaq. He had a fast start, helping the Cavs build a 19-5 lead early. Big leads can evaporate quickly in the NBA, and this lead did. As it disappeared, so too did Shaq. He looked as out of place on The Q's hardwood floor as CC Sabathia there in spikes.
The temptation in Cleveland is to look for deeper reasons. People might moan about the Sports Illustrated curse, a bit of sports foolishness that says putting a star athlete on the cover (LeBron and Shaq were on its NBA preview edition) dooms him to a disastrous season.
What will doom the Cavs won't be a fictional curse from the Land of Oz — SI curse or not. It will be their inability to mesh LeBron with Shaq, Anthony Parker and all the other new pieces, plus trying to find meaningful roles for Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson.
Incorporating Shaq into the mix, however, is crucial to whatever awaits the Cavs as the 2009-10 season unfolds, coach Mike Brown said.
"He's gonna help us a lot," Brown said. "At the beginning, he was going good, and we were going good. It's going to be a feel by me as to how many minutes we are going to play him."
Brown has plenty of time to sort all of this out.
"It's one game," he said.
LeBron and Shaq agreed.
Neither expected the Cavs to go 82-0, even if Shaq were closer to 25 than to 40. Yeah, they would have preferred to treat the 20,562 fans inside the Q to a performance that was befitting a team with title aspirations, but ...
So they travel to Toronto for a game Wednesday, and LeBron, Shaq, Brown and the rest of the Cavaliers will put this first game of the season behind them. They have things to work on — from defense to how best to involve Shaq.
"You can't win a championship in the first game," O'Neal said. "We would have liked to start off 1-0, but there are plenty of games left. We'll be fine."