FLORIDA TODAY – Jul 12, 2004 – Jeff Dalessio and John Denton – Impending deal to Miami means more meetings against Orlando.
He’s 7-foot-1 and 340 pounds with arms like Popeye, tree trunks for legs and three NBA Finals MVP awards on his mantel.
And he’s coming to your division, 18-year-old Orlando Magic rookie Dwight Howard.
“Who wants to play Shaq and get in a wrestling match with him all night?” Howard said as news broke that Shaquille O’Neal was on the verge of joining the Miami Heat. “He could probably just put a finger on me and push me out of the way.”
Word of a pending trade between the Los Angeles Lakers and Heat isn’t just the worst nightmare for the 6-11, 243- pound Howard, who’s sure to be on the receiving end of a few O’Neal elbows when the two teams tangle at least four times next season in the newly formed NBA Southeast Division.
It’s also sure to bring frowns to the faces of Magic fans, who had a tough enough time watching their former center collect three NBA titles three time zones away in Los Angeles.
Now, pending NBA approval of the trade, O’Neal is headed back to the Sunshine State in a move that will reportedly net the Lakers Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, another player — possibly Caron Butler — and a future draft pick.
First, Tracy McGrady is sent packing. Now, the guy who led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals joins its biggest rival.
Hang in there, Magic fans.
“Magic fans are going to be struggling with this for a long time,” said John Murray, a South Florida sports psychologist. “It would be like Larry Csonka or Dan Marino coming back to play for the Jets. The only solution for Orlando is to sharpen their mental skills and beat Miami. This would give them double satisfaction.”
The trade can’t be completed until 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, when the NBA’s two-week player movement moratorium expires, but it’s reportedly a done deal. Perry Rogers, O’Neal’s agent, told the Los Angeles Daily News, “As of right now, there is an agreement to agree” and spoke of his client’s love for the city of Miami and admiration of Heat president Pat Riley.
O’Neal also was high on Orlando, where he still maintains a home eight years after leaving the Magic for the bright lights of L.A. But because of his massive contract — O’Neal is due to make an NBA-high $27.7 million next season — Orlando GM John Weisbrod last month called a Shaq-Magic reunion “pretty close to mathematically impossible,” adding, “We’d be fielding a roster of seven guys.”
The 32-year-old O’Neal soured on the Lakers after the team was eliminated, 4-1, by Detroit in the NBA Finals. When discussing the Lakers’ future afterward, general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters he never would trade star guard Kobe Bryant, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of sending O’Neal elsewhere.
The next day, O’Neal demanded a trade.
Despite a dip in O’Neal’s statistics this past season — a career-low 21.5 points with 11.5 rebounds and 2.48 blocks — Magic coach Johnny Davis calls him “the most dominant player in the game.”
“There’s just nobody else like him in our league,” Davis said. “He’s so big that he’s almost unstoppable.”
His presence in Miami is bad news for the rest of the new Southeast Division, which includes three teams coming off forgettable seasons — Orlando (21-61), Washington (25-57) and Atlanta (28-54) — and the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
With O’Neal in the middle, the Heat (42-40 in 2003-04) would go into next season as the undisputed team to beat and a possible NBA championship contender. Even with the loss of three starters — Odom, Butler and Grant — they return Olympian Dwyane Wade at point guard and Eddie Jones, their leading scorer each of the past four seasons, at shooting guard.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Lakers fans are hoping O’Neal and the team will have a change of heart before 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
That also sums up the feeling in Orlando.
“I think he’s OK right where he was,” Davis said.
The NBA’s other big trades involving the big men
Two days after the 1965 All-Star Game, when he had 20 points and 16 rebounds, two-time reigning NBA scoring champion Wilt Chamberlain is sent from the Golden State Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers for Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer, Paul Neumann and $150,000.
The 76ers went on to post the NBA’s best record the following season, then knocked off their nemesis, Boston, on their way to the NBA title the following year.
Following his fourth, and final MVP season, Chamberlain is shipped from Philadelphia to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff.
Chamberlain spent his final five seasons in L.A., helping the Lakers to the NBA Finals four times. At age 35, he grabbed 19.2 rebounds a night and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
Unhappy in Milwaukee, three-time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar requests the Bucks trade him to either New York or Los Angeles. He gets his wish, going to the Lakers in a deal for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters.
The Kareem-led Lakers win five NBA titles — 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988 — and he picks up three more NBA MVP awards, giving him six total.
Why Shaq’s still got it
1. As bad as he is at the line, no one shoots better from the field (NBA-leading 58.4 percent last season).
2. Anyone catch that 36-point, 20-rebound effort in Game 4 of the NBA Finals?
3. When he’s motivated and in shape, no one can stop him down low.
Why Shaq’s slipping
1. He’s coming off a career-low season scoring — 21.5 points a game.
2. He made just 49 percent of his free throws — down from his 62.2 clip the season before.
3. He’s been injury-prone and overweight, not playing in more than 67 games in any of the past three years.
— Jeff D’Alessio, FLORIDA TODAY
Sunshine Superman. Shaquille O’Neal is coming back to play in the Sunshine State and that could mean trouble for Orlando Magic rookie Dwight Howard and their fans when they meet four times.
Edition: F Final All