|REYNOLDS ON BASKETBALL: Trade gives Shaq, Heat something they both need|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 06 February 2008 15:28|
In what became the final days of his tenure with the Miami Heat, the 7-foot-1 center repeatedly approached several of his friends and confidants, telling them, ``I'll miss you when they trade me.''
More often than not, they would laugh it off, telling him he was crazy.
And in the end, everyone involved in Wednesday's megatrade that sent Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to South Florida - the Heat, the Phoenix Suns, O'Neal himself - got what they needed, wanted and deserved.
The Heat got some future salary cap space that will figure to make its rebuilding process a quick one.
The Suns got a center, albeit an aging one, who is still a matchup problem for any player on the planet.
O'Neal got a chance to begin again and resume chasing another championship, which is all he wants now.
A win-win-win scenario.
always felt it was forever.''
But if O'Neal's career path - through Orlando, the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami and now Phoenix - has proven anything, it's that nothing in the NBA is forever.
The destination was probably a surprise; many around O'Neal thought the trade possibilities included spots like New York or Dallas. Of course, why would anyone think it'd be Phoenix? Just about everyone seems to have the perception that the slow-of-foot O'Neal won't fit with Phoenix's up-tempo style.
That perception is comically wrong.
No, O'Neal won't be leading any fast breaks or suddenly become a dominating 25-point, 15-rebound guy every night again. But when he's on the floor, he's got to be guarded. And more often than not, multiple defenders are paying attention to O'Neal, who still thinks of himself as the biggest, baddest, 35-year-old in the league.
It's the simplest formula in basketball: If two people are guarding O'Neal, then at least one of O'Neal's teammates has to be open. And he'll find them. He wasn't dominant when Miami won the 2006 NBA title. He won't have to be dominant for Phoenix to finally get a championship, either. He'll just have to be on the floor.
the ball out to Nash or Leandro Barbosa or Raja Bell or Amare Stoudemire.
Good luck with all that.
Yes, parts of the O'Neal era in Miami were marked by great disappointments - a Game 7 loss at home to Detroit in the 2005 Eastern Conference finals, an ongoing divorce saga that pained him more than he ever publicly acknowledged and this season's Heat crash to the bottom of the NBA standings.
All that, though, gets overwritten by the 2006 NBA title, his fourth ring.
And if he's going to get a fifth ring to further cement his legacy, he had to go elsewhere.
So in the end, O'Neal got what he needed, and so did the Heat.
Never mind if some feelings got hurt by the deal. Never mind if O'Neal - who is far more thin-skinned than most people realize - will think on some level that Miami quit on him, that Riley fell out of love with him, that this trade labels him as the scapegoat for all the problems the Heat have now.
Actually, in time, this trade will probably be the solution for everyone.
Even if Marion doesn't opt out of the final year of his contract, Miami will have another $20 million to play with in free agency a year ahead of schedule. The Heat can get younger and more athletic, surround Dwyane Wade with more talent and make this horrific season seem like nothing more than a one-year blip. It's not that Miami couldn't win another title with O'Neal, but with his salary on the books, finding the right pieces was just too difficult.
``We were very, very fortunate and absolutely blessed to have Shaq,'' Riley said. ``We would not be wearing rings without him and I'll never ever forget him for that.''
On his final game night in Miami, O'Neal pulled the ``You'll miss me'' bit one last time.
He said it to a Heat employee standing just outside the locker room, coincidentally near the enormous photo of O'Neal's face that covers half the wall in the corridor.
Now, the photos and memories and the enormous championship ring are all that's left, and O'Neal and the Heat are going their separate ways, the perfect breakup in that each got exactly what was needed from the other.