Sure, it was nice for Z to repeatedly say that he was cool with the move - that's the kind of all-class, team-player he is - but it was going to happen regardless.
Of course, the notion of them playing together also came up, but mostly as a joke. To some, it seemed as ridiculous as both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn "starting" games, just alternating snaps. (That's a little bit of a logical leap, but you know what I mean.)
They played a grand total of three minutes together in all of the preseason games - the kind of incidental minutes that were bound to happen, but would probably be very fleeting in actual games.
Well, as it turns out . . . Mike Brown will have them playing together this season, and not just in a match-up situation, or at the end of a quarter or something like that.
No, the so-called "Twin Tower," Shaq / Z tag-team is a set part of his gameplan. For now, at least. According to "Plain Dealer" beat writer Brian Windhorst, Brown's tentative minutes sheet has a four-minute block designated for this super-size lineup.
So is it still a joke?
I don't know. Maybe it's an abomination, maybe it's poor coaching, or maybe it's genius and maybe it's productive. Either way, after two games, it's too early to draw any conclusions about it. Just like, two losses in, it's too early to draw any conclusions about this season.
Since Mike Brown seems committed to experimenting with it . . . something, honestly, he'd be remiss not to at least try this early in the season . . . let's take a step back, and really think about it.
[Before we continue, I'd just like to note that, as shocking as it may be, I am not a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching staff. I'm not a member of any coaching staff . . . and haven't even tried "coach mode" on an NBA video game. So, these are just general, logical points and observations to consider. I'm not pretending to understand the mechanics of the Cavaliers' offense. Assuming there is one.]
The cons of the "Twin Towers" are fairly obvious (if not insurmountable). Talents aside, they're both aging, slow, not-so-mobile centers. They aren't going to help much in fast breaks, and they're not going to be a defensive factor in breaks the other way. At all.
Also, if you're counting on them to set picks . . . they aren't going to be as quick and crisp as if you had a young, athletic big. And then there's the fact that, technically, they're both of the increasingly rare breed of "traditional" centers that spend most of their time in the paint, under the basket.
All that being said, let's make a case for why the "Twin Towers" lineup could work, and why it might have to . . . at least, in limited doses. Here we go:
#1.) They don't really play the same position anymore.
Z is in the latter part of his career . . . and if he reinvented himself a little he could add years to his career. Nothing major, just furthering his transition from a conventional center . . . into more of a shooter. A stretch-type player, to do more pick-and-pops for those smooth 18-foot jumpers.If that continues, his game will take him away from the basket. Shaq isn't making that kind of move in this lifetime, so it isn't like they'll both be jamming up the paint on the offensive end. Of course, to do this Z would have to be active. I didn't say mobile, I said active. But it is a fine line.
As for Z's offensive rebounds, yeah, he's going to get less of those if he isn't under the basket. But these are the minutes he's on the floor with Shaq. When Shaq is out, Z would be the default backup center . . . and would blend his inside / outside game like he did last season.
#2.) On the defensive end, having two 7-footers could be an almost unprecedented force.
On the glass, it'd be a rebounding dream. Plus, even though neither "towers" are shot-blocking leapers, no average guard is going to be able to storm into the paint and get a shot up with both Shaq and Z hovering. Not many players would be up for that.
As for defending the other team's frontline, Shaq could obviously take the bigger, power player . . . and Z could defend the longer more finesse player. [Granted, not every opponent is going to neatly fit this profile.]
The defensive scheme would have to be changed when Shaq and Z play together. Z struggles by himself in the Cavs' rotating, "help" defense . . . so when they're both in the game, they'd have to play more of a zone-type defense.
Both Shaq and Z are going to want 20-25 minutes a game, at least. In blow-outs, or in back-to-backs they'll get more rest. But if it's a big game, and Mike Brown only gives Shaq 16 minutes, does anyone think that we'll not be hearing Shaq's reaction to that after the game?
There are 48 minutes in a game. So it works . . . barely.
The problem is, that doesn't leave any time for a small lineup. That's the one with Anderson Varejao at center and LeBron James at the "forward" position. The one that Mike Brown had in for most of the third quarter in Toronto on Wednesday night . . . when they finally had some consistent flow to the offense.
This is probably why Brown has the "Twin Towers" plan in his minutes sheet to begin with. He has to find a way to get them their minutes, while leaving time for a small, uptempo lineup to counter an opponent or to change the pace of a game.
So, even if the Shaq / Z combo doesn't excel, as long as it's a functional (and not a detriment), it could be a part of the arsenal. In addition to getting everyone their minutes, Shaq and Z together would be yet another match-up problem for teams to adjust to.
#4.) It's limited.
In tossing out an argument for this, it almost comes off as a pitch to have Shaq and Z starting together . . . and playing all their 25 minutes together as a tandem. But of course, this is not the case.
If Mike Brown has four minutes blocked off for this each game, let's assume that's more of just a placeholder. If we're playing more of a half-court team, perhaps they'd be effective on the court longer together.
They were good for a seven-minute stretch together against Boston on Tuesday night. Not anything special, but OK. And maybe they'll even get stronger as they learn to play off each other a little more . . . and get more comfortable with each other on the court. That's something that the entire team is still doing anyway, apparently.
When we play a run-and-gun team like the Golden State Warriors, it may be used less than four minutes, if it's even effective at all. Actually, that's a bad example . . . we might be able to beat the Warriors right now with five Shaqs on the floor.
A better example was Wednesday night in Toronto. The Raptors are not susceptible to being overpowered by two super tall, slow centers. They just shot long-range jumpers over "Zydrunaq" . . . and our missed shots immediately turned into fast breaks the other way. [You can read some of Windhorst's thoughts on the Shaq / Z use in that game, here.]
So, naturally, we'd adjust their minutes together based on the situation.
#5.) They must co-exist.
We brought in Shaq . . . and we already had Z. They're not the same player, they just play the same position. They both have their unique and valuable skill sets, and we have to find a way for them to co-exist on the same team. Both separately, and (occasionally) together.
If either one of them doesn't work out, they could be traded before the deadline. But that would be a serious move . . . either to get a superstar we can't pass up, or to right a sinking ship. Because if we mix it up again mid-season, we're going to have to go through another "transition" period, like the one we're going through right now.
Ultimately, the Shaq / Z experiment will be decided on the court. But as long as there's a chance for some upside . . . in some way . . . we should just go ahead and give it a go now, in reasonable situations, while we're still trying to put together a regular rotation.
Hey, you never know, right?