MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal has a warning for the NBA: The alien is back.
As if the league's other 29 teams didn't have enough to worry about with Miami's offseason acquisitions of Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, James Posey and Gary Payton, now there's this: O'Neal has showed up to training camp with even more muscle on his already hulking frame.
Shaq says he's been working out twice a day in the offseason and currently weighs 340 pounds, about 15 pounds more than his playing weight of a year ago. And all that new weight is muscle.
"I was an earthling last season," Shaq said in reference to his strength level. "I had to go back to my alien roots."
He decided after Miami's loss to Detroit in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals that he had focused too much on conditioning and didn't feel his usual dominant self down the stretch. Shaq had spent the 2004 offseason trying to keep his weight down, hoping to ease the strain on his joints and keep him fresh for the playoffs.
But in spite of finishing second in the MVP voting, O'Neal was a bit disappointed in the results -- especially his relative lack of effectiveness against Detroit in the conference finals. This year, he wants to go back to being the self-proclaimed Most Dominant Ever.
"Last summer I did all cardio, didn't do any weights, and was kind of weak," he said. "This year it was all weights, two times a day."
O'Neal's change of focus from conditioning to strength is a bit of a gamble, however, especially since he could easily overpower opponents even at his previous size.
As teammate Alonzo Mourning noted, "He didn't have to lift any weights. All he has to do is show up on the block."
The 33-year-old center has an arthritic toe and has been periodically sidelined by other leg problems over the past few seasons. He's missed 54 games all told in the past four years, or an average of 13.5 per. (Last season was actually his best of the batch, with only nine absences.)
By putting additional strain on limbs and digits that are already taking a pounding from his lumbering mass every night, it's not clear that he's lessened his injury risk. For proof, look no further than last season's failure against Detroit, when Shaq's leg problems were a major factor.
But fortunately for O'Neal, the Heat have plenty of solid players backing him up. Mourning has signed up for a full season after giving the Miami frontcourt a spark down the stretch last season. Behind him, Michael Doleac and newly signed Earl Barron are true centers who also can hit the outside jumper.
"We have the deepest frontcourt in the league," said Mourning, "which should help, especially down the stretch."
With three quality backups, that should be allow Shaq to get more rest during the regular season and save his energy for the playoffs. The hope in Miami is that those reduced regular-season minutes will offset the additional pounding his lower body takes from carrying the extra muscle, allowing him to dominate when the game mean the most.
He also may have to carry less of an offensive load in Miami's revamped lineup. In spite of Shaq's summer bulk-up program, Miami figures to be a more uptempo team this season. That could result in his being left behind while the other Heat players are running the break. Miami added Williams and Posey to the lineup, both of whom excel in the open court, and the Williams addition also allows Wade to run out ahead and use his outstanding transition skills.
"We will try to run more," noted Heat coach Stan Van Gundy. "But I don't think it has to be mutually exclusive. We can take advantage of Shaq's rebounding to start the break. But do we want to run and up down like Phoenix and leave Shaq at halfcourt? No."
And O'Neal is content to be starting the breaks rather than finishing off half-court sets.
"If I'm the guy getting the rebound and getting it to J-Will for the fast break, then that's two points. I don't worry about [Miami running]," he said. Besides, "You know and I know in the playoffs it's all going to slow down."
That's when he hopes his more muscular frame can dominate against the Pistons' smaller Ben Wallace -- something he failed to do in his past two postseasons.
If so, he can credit his offseason of pumping iron as the reason why.
And if not?
It will be just one more offseason move for Heat fans to second guess in June.