Suns Make a Big Move, Acquiring O'Neal From Heat

Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal (32) goes for the lay up against the Utah Jazz in this 2007 file photo. The 300-plus pound O'Neal joins an up-tempo Phoenix team.
Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal (32) goes for the lay up against the Utah Jazz in this 2007 file photo. The 300-plus pound O'Neal joins an up-tempo Phoenix team. (Douglas C. Pizac - AP)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Moments after he officially changed addresses for the second time in less than four years, Shaquille O'Neal sat down with Phoenix Suns General Manager Steve Kerr yesterday and looked up at a television screen.

"Seventy-one percent of the country thinks this is a bad deal. That makes me angry. I play better when I'm angry," Kerr said O'Neal told him.

Kerr is hoping that a change of scenery and an opportunity to win another title will motivate O'Neal after pulling off an improbable, blockbuster deal that brought the four-time NBA champion from Miami in exchange for forward Shawn Marion and point guard Marcus Banks.

The trade was stunning, although it was seemingly inevitable that both O'Neal and Marion would be moved. Marion had asked to be traded before the season, and the Heat had to deal O'Neal or be hamstrung by the $40 million he is owed over the next two seasons. The bold move by Kerr, a first-year executive, gives the Suns added urgency to win a title, with a suddenly aging core that features Steve Nash (34), Grant Hill (35) and now O'Neal, who will turn 36 on March 6.

"Any move you make is a roll of the dice," Kerr said.

O'Neal is having his worst season as a pro, averaging a career-low 14.2 points. His streak of 14 consecutive all-star appearances also ended this season. After being informed of a possible deal on Tuesday night, O'Neal flew to Phoenix yesterday for a physical. He has been out 14 games this season with a hip injury and the Suns needed to make sure that O'Neal still has something left.

Kerr said he felt confident about the move after receiving assurance from his medical staff that they could work through O'Neal's health struggles in recent years. "He's got something left. He's got something to prove," Kerr said. "He's always been at his best when he's been a little angry."

The Heat acquired O'Neal from the Lakers in July 2004 in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round pick.

He fulfilled his promise of leading the Heat to a championship in 2006, but since then Miami has been in steady decline. It reached rock bottom this season, with the Heat off to a league-worst 9-38 record.

O'Neal, 7 feet 1, 325 pounds, had also reportedly clashed with Pat Riley, president and coach of the Heat, over his conditioning and attitude.

The Suns have made a serious gamble on the oft-injured O'Neal and possibly closed the door on the run-and-gun style Coach Mike D'Antoni popularized with the assistance of Nash the past three seasons.

The deal reportedly was approved by all-stars Nash and Amare Stoudemire, who will shift to his natural position of power forward. O'Neal contacted both players Tuesday night and reportedly told Nash, "I won't let you down."


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