Shaquille O'Neal, a former NBA most valuable player and 11-time all-star, is headed to the Miami Heat in a trade that could shift the balance of power in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
As expected, O'Neal, 32, was traded yesterday afternoon to the Heat for forwards Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler and a first-round draft pick, the Lakers announced. The NBA has granted approval to the trade, which was agreed upon Saturday.
Meantime, the Lakers were still awaiting word on whether Kobe Bryant would return or sign on, perhaps, with the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I was always a scapegoat [in Los Angeles]," O'Neal told ESPN yesterday. "I knew they were making some changes, some drastic changes I didn't want to be a part of, so I asked to be traded."
The acquisition of the 7-foot-1, 340-pound O'Neal was orchestrated by Heat President Pat Riley, the former Lakers coach who is enjoying a resurgence as a deal maker, and catapults Miami into the NBA's Eastern elite. "Today the Miami Heat took a giant step forward in our continued pursuit of an NBA championship," Riley said in a statement. "We feel that we have traded for the best player in the NBA."
In return, the Lakers get three players -- none of whom has ever been an all-star -- nonetheless capable of making an instant impact. Odom, 24, is the most accomplished, having averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds last season. Butler, 24, is entering his third season and has shown flashes. Grant, 32, knows the West, having played his first six seasons with Sacramento and Portland.
"It's impossible to get back a player like Shaq," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchack said. "It's certainly a disappointing day in a lot of ways in Los Angeles. I can't deny the impact Shaquille has had on my life, on this team, on this city. He brought us many moments of amazement."
In Miami, O'Neal will find a supporting cast that features second-year star Dwyane Wade, a point guard who propelled his team into the playoffs this past season. While the team has little depth, O'Neal has earned a reputation for transforming teams into instant winners since he was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992.
The Magic and the Lakers, who signed him as a free agent in 1996, became powerhouses after acquiring him. He led Orlando to the NBA Finals in 1995, the team's best finish. In Los Angeles, he won three NBA championships.
O'Neal's scoring average fell from 27.5 points in 2002-03 to 21.5 points last season, the lowest output of his career. O'Neal and the Lakers parted ways after years of conflict between him and Bryant, the free agent guard the Lakers are scurrying to re-sign. Meantime, Cleveland's Carlos Boozer and Detroit's Mehmet Okur signed offer sheets with the Utah Jazz, while the Los Angeles Clippers' Quentin Richardson signed one with the Phoenix Suns. Because those players are restricted free agents, their current teams have 15 days to match the offers.
In other moves, Boston re-signed Mark Blount, Adonal Foyle returned to Golden State, Dallas re-signed Marquis Daniels, Toronto added Rafer Alston, San Antonio re-signed Bruce Bowen and Charlotte signed Jason Hart and Tamar Slay. Also, Memphis added Brian Cardinal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.