Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday night that the Miami Heat have already agreed to send O'Neal to the Suns in exchange for All-Star forward Shawn Marion and out-of-favor guard
Marcus Banks. Miami is simply waiting for Phoenix management to complete a medical examination of O'Neal and formally accept what would rank as one of the most unexpected trades in league history.
"It looks like it's going to happen," said one source close to the situation. "We should know for sure by [Wednesday]."
ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported Tuesday night that O'Neal is scheduled to arrive in Phoenix on Wednesday to undergo a physical. A source close to Marion told ESPN.com early Wednesday that the Suns have informed the 29 year old that the deal will go through, with the forward eager now to move on after playing with the Suns for his entire career.
The Arizona Republic also reported that a deal could be imminent and
that O'Neal had contacted some Suns players Tuesday night. The Suns pushed back their shootaround,
originally scheduled for 9:45 a.m. MT to 4:45 p.m., shortly before
Phoenix hosts New Orleans.
The Miami Herald first reported on its Web site Tuesday night that the Heat have informed O'Neal that they are shopping him and that talks with the Suns were serious.
That apparently surprised O'Neal ... but also pleased him. Sources told ESPN.com that the 35-year-old -- in the midst of his least productive season and with the Heat cratering from a championship in 2006 to a 9-37 record less than two years later -- is eager to leave Miami and his deteriorating relationship with Heat coach Pat Riley.
"The process is in play, and that's all I really can say
because things have backed up before," Riley
said Wednesday in Auburn Hills, Mich., where his team was preparing
for the Pistons. "Nothing's been completed, and that's where it's
at right now."
Dwyane Wade wouldn't comment on the trade until it was completed.
"I don't have any reaction yet because I don't know the truth
yet,'' Wade said Wednesday morning. "So until
the truth comes out, I can't really react to it."
Making a move for O'Neal appears on the surface to make little basketball or financial sense for the Suns. O'Neal's arrival in Phoenix would undoubtedly prompt widespread skepticism about his ability to keep up in the Suns' high-octane system. The two years and $40 million remaining on O'Neal's contract after this season also clashes with the Suns' recent pattern of trading away players (such as Kurt Thomas) and draft picks in attempt to reduce payroll and eventually drag themselves away from the NBA luxury-tax line of $67.875 million.
The Suns, though, have been plagued by well-chronicled concerns about their chemistry for nearly two years, generally focusing on the occasional dissatisfaction voiced behind the scenes by either Marion or Stoudemire. In the locker room as well as the front office, sources say, there are factions that have believed for some time that one of them would eventually have to be traded for the Suns to reach their full potential.
Those in-house doubts about this group's ability to break through and win the first championship in team history have only grown this season, sources say, even though Phoenix currently holds the best record in the West at 34-14.
But owner Robert Sarver and team president Steve Kerr, according to sources with knowledge of the Suns' thinking, have ruled out trading Stoudemire, despite season-long speculation suggesting that his defensive deficiencies would ultimately lead to his exit before Marion's. Sarver and Kerr have deemed Stoudemire too valuable to part with, given that he's only 25 and continues to play at an All-Star level after three surgeries, making him perhaps the NBA's most successful comeback patient from the dreaded microfracture knee procedure.
Marion asked to be traded before the season but has rarely mentioned that declaration since, with many Suns insiders believing that he went public with that request mostly as a protest response to being mentioned in trade rumors for years. If he leaves now, it's likely more because Phoenix believes (a) that Boris Diaw can assume some of Marion's old duties, (b) that Stoudemire will relish playing alongside Shaq as a power forward as opposed to masquerading as a center and (c) that team chemistry will improve immediately with this change.
Acquiring O'Neal would also address the size issues Phoenix has faced since two-time MVP Steve Nash was reacquired as a free agent in the summer of 2004 to orchestrate coach Mike D'Antoni's free-wheeling system.
The Suns are said to be confident that Nash can find a way to get Shaq involved offensively. And it's undeniably true that the West is still filled with plenty of big men for Shaq to match up with. Just to name five: San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Houston's Yao Ming, New Orleans'
Tyson Chandler, Portland's Greg Oden (next season) and Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Of course, O'Neal turns 36 in March and has been plagued by a persistent hip problem that has cost him 14 games this season. He refused to speak with Miami reporters after Tuesday's practice, while Riley insisted that O'Neal would soon undergo an MRI after missing the Heat's past six games.
And when he has been healthy, O'Neal is averaging a career-worst 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, while the Heat's demise has deepened after they followed their historic comeback from 2-0 down against Dallas in the 2006 NBA Finals by absorbing a first-round sweep by Chicago last season.
So if the deal does go through as widely expected now, Phoenix would be banking on the idea that O'Neal will be rejuvenated health-wise and reinvigorated mentally by the prospect of fresh start, after a half-season in which his remaining effectiveness and durability have been doubted louder than ever.
Miami's motivation, meanwhile, is clear. The Heat's need to revamp their entire roster around Wade grows more apparent by the day in what ranks as an unprecedented collapse for a championship team that didn't lose its star players. Marion has the ability to opt out of his contract at season's end if he's willing to forfeit next season's $17.2 million salary, potentially giving the Heat substantial salary-cap space as early as this summer.
It remains to be seen if the Heat want Marion more for the financial flexibility or because they see him as a long-term complement to Wade. It also remains to be seen how much Phoenix will miss Marion's athleticism and versatility, since his ability to guard all five positions and tireless running made him a one-of-a-kind fit alongside Nash in D'Antoni's system.
Sarver said earlier this month that Marion was one of the Suns' cornerstone players who "flat-out was not getting traded," but that changed once Miami started shopping O'Neal. Although Riley later denied it, Bucher reported on ESPN2's "NBA Coast to Coast" last week that Miami had been begun to gauge trade interest in the hulking center with four championship rings from his time with the Lakers and Heat.
Although attempts to reach officials from both teams proved unsuccessful, D'Antoni did acknowledge the possibility of O'Neal's arrival on his weekly radio show Tuesday night, saying: "It would mean a lot. [But] that's a big question that's got to be thought over and pondered."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.