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July 16, 2004

NBA off-season heats up for Shaq

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
The Shaquille O’Neal sweepstakes are over in what has already been an busy off-season for the Lakers. And that doesn’t even include Kobe Bryant. O’Neal demanded to be traded, and up until this week, it seemed as if Dallas and Sacramento were the two teams that had the best chance of getting the 7’1" center.

The Lakers also needed a new coach, and were spurned by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who, after realizing that the NBA was a graveyard for many successful college coaches not named Larry Brown (Tim Floyd, Leonard Hamilton, Rick Pitino, John Calipari), opted for the security of Duke, where he is the face of not only the program in Durham, but all of ACC basketball.

After Coach K turned down the Lakers, Rudy Tomjanovich took the job after spending all 34 years of his NBA life (as a coach, player, and scout) in Houston. But Rudy T got about 20 minutes in the spotlight on Saturday before word came out that LA and the Miami Heat had a deal very close to being done that would send Shaq east and Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant to the Lakers.

Before everyone starts championing this move on the Heat’s part, remember how well they did last season and in the playoffs. The Heat had built up a great chemistry that has now been gutted in order to get Shaq. While Shaq is an incredibly huge upgrade made even better due to the much smaller centers in the East, the Heat now have holes on the wing and inside due to the losses of Odom and Butler, two players who are on the rise. There is also the issue of Shaq’s health and how long he can play at a high level. This trade will create a major buzz for the Heat, but they may have just mortgaged their future for a trade that may not necessarily bring them closer to a title.

O’Neal is 32, and his scoring in 2004 was down 21% from the last year. Next year will be Shaq’s 13th, and almost every Hall-of-Fame center ever has begun to decline between year’s 12 through 14. Just look at Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as recent examples.

For LA, it is now imperative that they re-sign Bryant, and odds are that they will. After all, he has been calling many shots for them as a Free Agent, such as calling Krzyzewski to get him to come to the Lakers, all while Kobe himself was not even on the team.

Kobe aside, one place the Lakers really kill themselves is down low. Brian Grant, who is a mere 6’9", 252 lbs., cannot play center nearly as well in the West as he has in the East. His health is an issue, and his numbers last year (7.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG) are well down from when he first arrived in South Florida. Even bringing free agents Vlade Divac or Eric Dampier down the California coast still weakens the Lakers in the paint.

Lamar Odom won’t be able to pass off as a power forward as easily out West either. His defense has been a concern, and facing players such as McGrady, Webber, Gasol, Garnett, Duncan and Nowitzki more often will only expose that flaw even more. Odom is actually taller than Grant (6’10") but weighs 20 lbs. less and will have his issues in Los Angeles. This is his second run in the Second City; he spent three years as a Clipper that were never as good as his season last year in Miami.

Three-for-one trades like this are worrisome for the team that gets “one." While there will be headlines like “The East is Back!!" Miami may get a few more wins, but they will not be a title favorite in the East stuck behind Detroit (if they re-sign Rasheed Wallace), maybe New Jersey (if the Nets match Denver and Atlanta’s offer sheets for Kenyon Martin) and perhaps even Indiana, who just added versatile guard Stephen Jackson, who was a key contributor in San Antonio’s 2003 title team and can drop 30 points and 12 assists on any given night.

O’Neal gets what he wanted, a ticket out of Los Angeles to an Eastern team that should help extend his career. The Lakers get three solid players, and two (Butler, and Odom) who are yet to hit their primes and could team up with Kobe to be a force in the West in a couple years. They also were able to get Shaq out of the Western Conference. It seems like everybody is happy now, right?

Well, Miami brass, VP Pat Riley, owner Mickey Arison, and coach Stan Van Gundy will tell you that they are mighty happy. And they probably believe what they’re saying, too. However, despite Shaq and Dwyane Wade teaming up, this is no Shaq and Kobe. And even the Lakers always had key bench players in those years they won titles (AC Green, Derek Fisher, Devean George, Rick Fox), something Miami doesn’t have. The trade leaves them without three NBA rising stars in their 20s and replaces them with one of the best in the game, but at age 32. Unless O’Neal and Wade can absolutely dominate come playoff time, the Heat will not be playing in the NBA Finals.

Then again, neither will the Lakers this year. They also will now have three Small Forwards in Butler, Odom and George. And they will have two undersized Power Forwards in Grant and Luke Walton. This means that Kobe Bryant will need to help carry LA even more than he ever has in order to take them to the title.

While the off-season is not done yet, this huge trade still does not make either team a lock to win the NBA Finals. LA gets younger and can at least use these players to help rebuild for a title run in two years, something Miami cannot do. Three-for-ones always make me skeptical that there are too many holes left to fill for the team that only gets one. And while Shaq will give the Heat more headlines than they have ever garnered before, the lack of any other options beyond Wade will keep South Florida from celebrating the NBA Title in 2005.

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  • ar junior on July 16, 2004
    The Kenyon Martin trade is no good.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on July 17, 2004
    And lack of other options includes Eddie Jones. He is just not very good anymore.
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