All kinds of question marks and negativity surrounded Dr. Buss’ decision to trade Shaquille O’Neal. People said you can’t trade the most dominant big man in the game, that they’d regret it for many years to come. Well now it’s two years later, the Lakers are primed to make the playoffs, just like Miami.
While as of right now, the Heat appear to be in better shape to make more noise in playoffs than the Lakers, the Heat’s future is beginning to look pretty grim. Yesterday’s statement that he likely wouldn’t be back to coach next year from Pat Riley was very telling. With the majority of the core that he assembled locked up, Riley may be realizing the team he assembled himself may not work out like he thought.
Shaquille O’Neal will be the first one to tell you himself, you’ve got to surround him with shooters. They had him surrounded with two very good, unselfish shooters in Damon and Eddie Jones. They ship out two tailor made players to play alongside Shaq for guys who couldn’t be worse fits. Antoine Walker and Jayson Williams are shooters, that’s for sure. However, they’re the kind of shooters that want to put it up every time they get them, with little regard for the quality of the shot.
While Williams has shown the ability to fit in better than most anticipated, Walker has played extremely far under expectations. While playing with an oversized contract, Walker has yet to find his niche on this team, putting together a few games here and there, but nothing consistent. Because of his inability to guard the high quality small forwards in the east, he’s forced to come off the bench in an unfamiliar role for him. It’s tough to see a permanent role that Walker could fit into anytime soon. So while he’s struggling to find his spot on this team, the Heat will be paying him around 8.5 million per until 2011.
The additions of Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning were good pick ups, but the minutes that they’re being forced to play early in the season are really going to take a toll on them by the time playoffs run around.
Where it all centers around though is Shaquille O’Neal. Riley thought he got the deal of the century when he persuaded Shaq to sign for only 20 million per through the next 5. Instead what he got, is a deal that will haunt him for the rest of the century. Shaquille O’Neal is already breaking down before our eyes. Heat fans have already begun to see the light of what Laker fans knew good and well when they traded him off. He’s a lazy, unmotivated, and overrated guy who can hurt your team just as much, if not more than help it. The worst part of it is, he’s not even done with year one of his ridiculous contract extension. Now with Riley talking about not returning, for the remaining four years on Shaq’s contract they’re going to expect him to play for someone he’s unfamiliar with. We saw how that worked with Stan Van Gundy.
What keeps the Heat from totally erupting as a team is the young and super talented Dwyane Wade. If this guy is not on the team, the Heat don’t even get home court in the first round. Riley should be counting his lucky stars that he was able to pick this guy. If the Heat have any major success this year, most of the credit should go to Dwyane Wade.
Contract extension time is not too far away for Dwyane Wade. With the Heat committing a lot of money to Walker, O’Neal, and Haslem, signing Wade will be a tough task. By this time Shaquille O’Neal will be struggling in the manner that Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon did at the end of their careers. With all the lucrative offers that he’ll receive that come with better situations, Wade may find little reason to stick with the team that drafted him.
The Heat find themselves in a situation very similar to the one the Lakers were in the year they had 4 hall of famers. If they don’t get it done this year, major shake ups are going to come next year. Riley will be gone, GP will be gone, Mourning will be gone, and with them goes their depth. They’ll be too far over the cap to bring in any more help for Wade, and the only two coaches capable of coaching O’Neal (Jackson and Riles) aren’t available.
So while barring an unlikely championship, the future looks very grim for the Heat. The Lakers on the other hand, have all kinds of flexibility in the future, along with some nice young talent. Andrew Bynum, who the Lakers would have never been able to pick if they kept Shaq, has the potential to become a very good big man. They’ve got super versatile Lamar Odom, whose unselfishness is vital alongside Kobe Bryant. They’ve got all this, along with cap room in the future, and the ability to make moves for such big name players like Ron Artest. The Lakers never would have been able to be in such a position with Shaquille O’Neal sucking up the 3 years 90 million that he demanded to have if he was going to stay in LA.
Buss sincerely meant it when he said he’d trade Shaq 100 times out of 100. Come a few years, Heat fans will probably say they’d veto a trade for Shaquille O’Neal 100 times out of 100, if they could go back in time.