First of all, the news: Shaquille O'Neal had successful surgery on his right thumb, and the team announced he's going to be out for eight weeks, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Brian Windhorst.
So that's good news.
But more importantly, this is the best thing that could have possibly happened to the Cavs this year. It's addition by subtraction, multiplied by Mike Brown's sudden inability to screw things up. Without Shaq, Mike Brown's going to have play a smaller, faster lineup that suddenly makes the Cavs one of the most terrifying teams in the league. Shaquille O'Neal was brought into Cleveland for the express purpose of defending Dwight Howard in a series with Orlando. In a few months, Shaq will likely return in time to play Orlando, and the Cavs will have someone to guard Howard one-on-one.
Until then, this move forces Mike Brown to get out of his own way. For a few years now, the Cavs have been better when they play small. More fun, more explosive, and just better. The problem this whole time is that Mike Brown, for all his defensive wizardry, almost never goes to small ball unless foul trouble or injuries forces his hand. This doesn't necessarily make the Cavaliers a bad team, but let's say that it transforms their offense from what should be a sports car, into a plain-but-perfectly-reliable sedan. They can still hum along at a decent pace with Shaq and Anderson Varejao up front, but they won't be leaving anyone in the dust.
Playing small, the matchups get a lot more impossible for Cleveland opponents. They can spread the floor with shooters, put Lebron and JJ Hickson (or Leon Powe, who just returned from injury) in the high or low posts, and from there, just eviscerate defenses. There's no way to stop that offense. Choose from this group for up to four perimeter spots:
Mo Williams, Delonte West, Lebron James, Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson, Antawn Jamison, Jamario Moon
And then this group for the final big man:
Anderson Varejao, Lebron James, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, Leon Powe
Suddenly, that team goes from a Ford to Ferrari. More athletic, more explosive, and more unpredictable. It's no guarantee that all of the combinations will have perfect chemistry from the outset, but this is why Shaq's injury is such a windfall for the Cavaliers and their fans. Mike Brown's going to be forced to create the chemistry. He's got to use his imagination with lineups, switch up the combinations, and generally, be an uncharacteriscally creative coach.
Lebron James is the single greatest player in the NBA, but more than that, he's the most fun to play with from a strategy standpoint. Put him at any position on the floor, and he's a nightmare for the opposition. Using him exclusively at small forward borders on criminal levels of boring. Coaching exclusively in the missionary position, if you will. Why can't we think outside the box on this one? Now, Mike Brown's going to have to.
Lebron and his Ferrari. Ballin. (Via Cleveland Plain-Dealer)
Completely by accident, the Cavs are about to get a lot more interesting. Cleveland's getting a brand new sports car, and it's going to be a hell of a lot more fun than Shaq or Varejao anchoring the low post for 35 minutes-a-night. Spread the court, get out and run, and leave opponents in the dust. It's gonna be fun.
(Can a Ferrari play defense? Well, that's another story...)