It was Mardi Gras in Miami when
"Remember this," O'Neal told the cheering throng. "I'm going to bring a championship to Miami. I promise."
Mission accomplished, Shaq.
Now take a hike.
The pending deal that would send O'Neal to Phoenix for
O'Neal, meanwhile, is averaging a career-low 14.2 points in 32 games. Essentially a part-time player since 2005, O'Neal has been plagued by knee and hip injuries this season that have limited his mobility and made him a fraction of the dominating force that terrorized the league earlier this decade.
In finding a willing trading partner, the Heat have positioned themselves to rebuild on the fly. Beyond getting out from the final two years and $40 million left on O'Neal's contract, Miami will have the last two months of the regular season to decide if the 29-year-old Marion is a good fit next to
Marion, who is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract after the season, likely will not have a lot of options when he hits free agency. Barring a sign-and-trade deal, Miami, Memphis, Atlanta and Philadelphia are the only teams as of now that could have the salary-cap room to sign Marion in the offseason. Memphis has been slashing payroll in anticipation of a possible sale. Atlanta is going through ownership issues and also has free agents of its own in
That leaves Miami. If Marion and Wade can forge a Suns-esque running attack, then it could be worth investing $60-$70 million in Marion over the next five seasons. (Wade, incidentally, can opt out after the 2009-2010 season.) A tandem of Marion and Wade combined with a high first-round pick (
Trading O'Neal also allows
Expect Riley to step down after the season, if not sooner. It has been widely assumed that assistant coach
Trading O'Neal means Miami has options. It also means that for the second time in four years, O'Neal has breathed life back into the organization.