|Phoenix, the NBA's fastest team, on verge of adding slow, once-mighty giant - Shaquille O'Neal|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 06 February 2008 07:26|
The improbable pairing of the Phoenix Suns and Shaquille O'Neal went from rumor to near-reality overnight. The last major roadblock was the 14-time All-Star center passing a physical. A league official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press the deal could be complete Wednesday.
``The process is in play, and that's all I really can say because things have backed up before,'' Miami Heat coach Pat Riley said Wednesday in Auburn Hills, Mich., where his team was preparing for the Pistons. ``Nothing's been completed, and that's where it's at right now.''
The deal would send unhappy forward Shawn Marion and guard Marcus Banks to the Heat.
``I don't have any reaction yet because I don't know the truth yet,'' Heat guard Dwyane Wade said Wednesday morning. ``So until the truth comes out, I can't really react to it.''
The trade would signal an unexpected change in philosophy for the Suns, adding a 7-foot-1, 325-pound center who has won four NBA championships but has been plagued by injuries in recent years and turns 36 next month. O'Neal has been out with a hip injury and underwent an MRI exam in Miami on Tuesday.
For the three-plus seasons since Steve Nash came to town, Phoenix and its ultra up-tempo style have been the frenetic darlings of NBA fans grown weary of the slow style that has prevailed for years. But the Suns have fallen short in the playoffs, never making it to the finals.
Marion, unhappy being third fiddle to Nash and Amare Stoudemire, asked to be traded before the season began. Stoudemire, meanwhile, dislikes playing out of position at center. The Suns have the best record in the West (34-14) but have not played up to their own or fans' expectations.
On Tuesday night, the Suns pushed back their scheduled shootaround on Wednesday from 9:45 a.m. MST to 4:45 p.m., shortly before they face the New Orleans Hornets.
O'Neal is prepared for a trade, a confidant of his told The AP on Tuesday night.
O'Neal didn't speak to reporters before leaving Miami's practice Tuesday and did not accompany the Heat to Detroit. He was expected in Phoenix on Wednesday for a physical.
``I'm not going to talk about it,'' Riley said. ``If in fact things get completed, because there's so much more, then there'll be an official comment about it. Right now, there's nothing but hypotheticals.''
Suns general manager Steve Kerr, owner Robert Sarver and coach Mike D'Antoni did not return messages left on their cell phones by the AP.
Speaking Tuesday night on his weekly radio show on Sports 620 KTAR, D'Antoni professed to know nothing about such a deal. However, he said such an acquisition would ``mean a lot.''
``That's a big question that has to be thought over and pondered,'' he said.
If Shaq came back to the Pacific Division, he would join a team that has an intense rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers and O'Neal's old teammate Kobe Bryant.
``Really?'' Bryant said when told of the apparently pending deal. ``I know he likes the warm weather.''
The trade would require a significant financial commitment from the budget-conscious Sarver because O'Neal is scheduled to make $20 million this season and $20 million more each of the next two.
Marion could opt out of the $17 million final year of his contract after this season.
O'Neal entered this season talking about how he wanted to win at least one more title, saying his ``legacy'' wouldn't be complete unless he left the game with at least five rings.
The Heat, though, have lost 19 of their last 20 games and have the NBA's worst record at 9-37.
``This is the NBA. I'm not really surprised by anything that happens,'' Wade said. ``I'm not surprised by anything that's said.''
O'Neal, averaging a career-low 14.2 points per game, is going through a divorce, and his scoring average is nearly 11 1/2 points below his 25.6 career mark. His string of 14 All-Star appearance ended this season.
He missed much of the 2006-07 season with a knee injury and finished that year with career-lows in games (40), scoring (17.3 points), rebounds (7.4), minutes (28.4) and free-throw percentage (.422).
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.