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Heat is on: O'Neal OKs Miami deal


In a trade as big in scope as the featured attraction, the Miami Heat is poised to acquire 7-foot-1, 350-pound Shaquille O'Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Although the deal still requires league approval that cannot come until Wednesday, the Heat completed its seduction of the 11-time All-Star during a meeting yesterday in Orlando.

Convinced by Heat president Pat Riley that South Florida would be a place where he could reach his professional and financial goals, O'Neal ended the session by granting approval for the Heat to negotiate a trade with the Lakers.

In return for the sport's most dominant force over the past decade, the Heat was forced to part with promising forwards Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, but also was able to unload the burdensome contract of erstwhile center Brian Grant. In addition, the Lakers will receive a future first-round draft choice.

The trade was completed last evening, with the Heat signing off on the details.

While most trades merely require approval from the teams involved, the O'Neal situation is unique, with the center eligible to opt out of the final year of his contract after earning $27.7 million this coming season.

That had several teams concerned about exchanging the required matching salaries and then losing the center after one season. In addition, O'Neal, 32, had spoken of an extension beyond the two remaining years on his contract, an extension that would have him earning in excess of $30 million well into his 30s.

O'Neal's agent, Perry Rogers, however, said no extension was attached to O'Neal's approval of the move to South Florida. O'Neal, who has had a residence in Orlando since he came to the NBA in 1992, assured the Heat he was coming to stay.

"No extension was agreed upon. That was never a condition for Shaquille," Rogers said. "He wanted to go to an environment that was a team environment. We feel confident that that's what Pat Riley and [owner] Micky Arison have created as a culture. This is the type of place that Shaquille would love to finish his career."

A year after moving to an athletic, aggressive style with a lineup that featured the energy of rookie guard Dwyane Wade, Butler and Odom, the Heat, with O'Neal, would be more likely to play a halfcourt style, similar to the approach it took during Alonzo Mourning's tenure, which produced four Atlantic Division titles in the late '90s.

NBA teams may negotiate off-season trades and free-agent signings starting July 1, but may not complete such transactions until July 14. However, once teams reach agreements, the deadline is considered a formality.

O'Neal made his initial trade request shortly after the Lakers were eliminated from the NBA Finals. From there, it became apparent that free-agent guard Kobe Bryant would return to the Lakers only if O'Neal was traded. With the free-agent signing period to start Wednesday, the search for an O'Neal trade partner was expedited.

The addition of O'Neal would continue a string of personnel successes for Riley during his 10 years with the franchise, having previously acquired Mourning, Grant, Eddie Jones and Tim Hardaway in trades and Odom in a free-agent signing.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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