NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com that a deal to make that happen is highly unlikely before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trading deadline, but multiple sources close to the situation confirmed that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix have indeed discussed the possibility.
In a proposal first reported by The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic were offered to the Suns for O'Neal as part of the Cavs' well-chronicled quests to add one more big man for the playoffs and show LeBron that they will do anything necessary to win a championship.
Yet sources with knowledge of the talks told ESPN.com that, entering the final two hours before the deadline, neither team was optimistic about reaching an agreement.
It's believed that the Suns have pushed Cleveland to substitute Wally Szczerbiak's $13.8 million expiring contract for Wallace, which would result in the huge financial windfall that initially prompted Phoenix to make Amare Stoudemire and O'Neal available in trades earlier this month.
Phoenix on Monday began informing teams that Stoudemire was no longer available after the team replaced first-year coach Terry Porter with Alvin Gentry. The Suns, though, remain eager to reduce their payroll by at least $7 million and up to $9 million to avoid paying luxury tax next season.
If the Suns were willing to accept Wallace and Pavlovic, they would slice $5.5 million from next season's books, as Wallace's salary decreases from $14.5 million this season to $14 million in 2009-10 and because only $1.5 million of Pavlovic's $5 million salary next season is guaranteed.
The Suns' desire to take back Szczerbiak and Pavlovic is understandable. In that scenario, Phoenix would erase $19.5 million from next season's payroll.
Confident that O'Neal's close relationship with James would offset any concerns about making such a bold midseason acquisition, Cleveland shifted its sights to Shaq after bids for a variety of big men -- including Washington's Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler and Los Angeles Clippers center Marcus Camby -- were rejected.
O'Neal has been rejuvenated this season at 36 in spite of the Suns' overall struggles, earning a Western Conference reserve spot in last Sunday's All-Star Game via the coaches' vote and sharing MVP honors with former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.