Wednesday , Feb , 18 , 2009 C.Y. Ellis

Marion-for-O’Neal trade could work out great for Miami

Marion-for-O'Neal trade could work out great for MiamiThe biggest actual trade this NBA season hasn’t created close to the amount of buzz as even the rumored trades so far.

I kind of understand.

The Raptors have been great disappointments, and though the Heat – who finished with the league’s worst record last year – have made great strides, they haven’t been in the class of the Elite Three in the Eastern Conference.

But that doesn’t mean the Shawn Marion-for-Jermaine O’Neal trade wasn’t an incredible deal for Miami. And it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get more pub than a not-gonna-happen Vince Carter-for-Tracy McGrady swap, or a fantasy three-team deal involving Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Simple truth is this: The Heat won big here – really big.

Now, with a legitimate post presence to go along with one of the best perimeter players in Dwyane Wade, Miami will be a force to be reckoned with in the East playoffs. They’re not among the elites in the conference with Orlando, Boston or Cleveland, but guess what? They’re right below that tier.

They’re good enough to host a playoff series.

Good enough to get to the second round.

And, after that – with Wade’s ability to single-handedly take over a series – anything can happen. 

Finally, an inside presence

You don’t need me to tell you how important a force in the middle is in the NBA, and how it could make Wade even more dangerous.

Besides, you saw what “The Flash” was able to do in the 2006 NBA Finals with an aging Shaquille O’Neal averaging a spectator 13.7 points per game.

But it won’t just help out Wade.

With James Jones, Mario Chalmers, Chris Quinn, Daequan Cook and Yakhouba Diawara, the Heat have an array of three-point shooters who will now have a lot more open looks with O’Neal drawing attention inside.

Yes, Jermaine is a true power forward. But in the East, you can get away with a 4 playing the 5 position.

Fact of the matter is, O’Neal may not be the player he was from 2001-07, but he was the best thing the Heat could’ve gotten before the free-agency floodgates opened up after the 2009-10 season.

Carlos Boozer is the biggest prize in the upcoming free-agent class but, at 6-foot-9, he can only play power forward – a position the Heat have two guys, Michael Beasley and Udonis Haslem, signed to long-term deals for.

The Heat weren’t going to get Chris Bosh for Marion. And they weren’t going to get Stoudemire, either – there’s no way Phoenix was taking “The Matrix” back.

Now, the Heat have taken away from a position they have plenty of depth at – small forward – and addressed the team’s biggest deficiency – low-post scorer.

Marion is a great player, but he just wasn’t a fit in South Beach. 

Every part of the deal works

Not only did the Heat get the low-post scorer they desired, but they did two very critical things: made themselves one of the most well-positioned teams for the 2010 free-agency class – with O’Neal’s gaudy $20-plus million per year contract expiring in a couple of seasons – and got rid of seldom-used point guard Marcus Banks’ horrible contract – which calls for more than $4 million over the next three years.

Along with that, and a conditional first-round pick, the Heat got a pretty darn good player in Jamario Moon.

Jones, acquired this offseason, will likely be the Heat’s starting small forward, and Diawara – a great defender and spot-up three-point shooter – is a very capable back-up. But Moon, in his second year, has shown flashes of his potential stardom, and people around the league look at him as a future All-Star because of his unbelievable athleticism and great defense.

If the Heat can add some depth at point guard after the respective teams of Jamaal Tinsley and Stephon Marbury finally reach buyout agreements, watch out, East. 

2010 could be historic

Even me – a Heat fan out of the womb – will tell you that, despite this move, the Heat are still not legitimate championship contenders because I don’t think you can win it all anymore with Jermaine as your second-best player.

The biggest perk this deal had was it gave the Heat a low-post threat who could serve as a stopgap until his deal expires and some of the best players in the NBA are available in the 2010 offseason.

I know these days there is no true loyalty, but I don’t believe for one second that Wade – single, marketable and successful – will play for a city other than Miami any time soon.

Why go anywhere else, really?

What could happen is some big-time free agents flocking down South and joining “The Flash” to form the best 1-2 combination in the game.

Maybe LeBron James’ ego won’t allow him to share the spotlight with his draft-class buddy, but Bosh and Stoudemire sure would.

One can only dream right now.

But before that time comes, here’s some hardnosed reality: The Heat, after finishing last a year ago, are legitimate contenders in the NBA right now.