Sunday, July 11, 2004

Shaq heads to South Beach

The big news in South Florida this weekend is the expected arrival of basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal. While I originally opposed the deal, I am now warming to the prospects of O’Neal landing in Miami. The Heat is surely paying a heavy price to attain the Lakers Center. Lamar Odom, the biggest pawn offered up by Miami, had a career year last season. However, Odom was a perennial underachiever during his tenure with the Clippers. His career had been hounded by multiple drug-related suspensions. Furthermore, Odom was never a natural Power Forward in Miami. He had no chance guarding some of the upper echelon big-men, like Jermain O’Neal. Losing Caron Butler is also unfortunate. Butler was a lottery draft selection by the Heat two years ago. He was quickly becoming one of the best defenders in the NBA. Brian Grant, the last piece in the proposed trade, is a great defensive big man. Grant is the type of guy you’d want to team with O’Neal at Power Forward. Unfortunately, the Heat must pay this high price. The Lakers have also negotiated a future first round draft pick from Miami. In this day and age, it’s regrettable that Miami has no choice but to part with it. With O’Neal, it is very likely that any first round draft pick will be 20th or below. In the weak Eastern Conference, it’s hard to imagine the Heat not being among the premiere teams. As we saw this year, there wasn’t much immediate help in the First Round. The draft is used primarily as a developmental tool, with teams hoping a player will reach his potential many years down the road.

Even with the big price attached, the Heat should make this trade. Dwayne Wade is likely to be a superstar in the NBA. Teamed with O’Neal, this duo will be a force for many years to come. In Los Angeles, we saw O’Neal and Bryant win three championships with a mediocre supporting cast comprised of Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, and Rick Fox. If Wade develops to his full potential, Miami will have no trouble competing for a championship this coming year. We will likely see a very motivated O’Neal, who was spurned by the Los Angeles franchise. The Lakers management deemed Bryant more important than O’Neal, which led to O’Neal’s likely exit from the team. Without many quality centers in the East, it would be totally feasible to see O’Neal average 25 points and 15 rebounds per game. Even if O’Neal misses his customary 15 games a season, he has always been ready for the playoffs.

O’Neal will likely arrive in Miami on Wednesday, and the town will greet him eagerly. After the initial hoopla ends, Miami still has some work to do before next season. Backup Point Guard Rafer Alston signed with Toronto last week, leaving no true point guard on the roster. Wade played the point last season, but he cannot play that position 40 minutes a game. Riley will have to bring in a veteran guard via free agency. Kenny Anderson and Anthony Johnson are two names that have been mentioned. Also, the Heat must bring in a competent Power Forward to have O’Neal’s back. He doesn’t have to be a superstar; however, he must be formidable enough to keep defenses from focusing exclusively on the Center. The Heat has decided to sink or swim with their two stars, O’Neal and Wade. As long as management surrounds them with adequate talent, then there is no reason to believe that this team is not championship material.

The next few years will define both O’Neal and Bryant’s career, more so than even their three championships together. Lakers Owner Jerry Buss obviously feels that Bryant is the pivotal figure in those championships. O’Neal is disgusted that Bryant is calling the shots in Los Angeles. The facts, as they presently are, state that neither Bryant nor O’Neal have won a championship on their own. Their legacies will hinge on which of these two great athletes have success apart from one another.


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