Heat's O'Neal to be dealt to Suns

Feb 6, 2008 - 6:13 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- In one of the most improbable trades in NBA history, Shaquille O'Neal is close to joining the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns, Sports Illustrated reported on its web site Tuesday night.

Sources close to the Suns confirmed to SI's Jack McCallum - who spent the 2005-06 season with the team - that rumors of O'Neal being dealt from the Miami Heat to Phoenix are accurate.

The Miami Herald originally reported the deal on its web site, saying that the future Hall of Fame center will be sent to the Suns for forward Shawn Marion and backup point guard Marcus Banks.

ESPN later said that the deal is so close that O'Neal is flying to Phoenix for a physical on Wednesday.

A plodding and oft-injured big man in the late stages of his career, O'Neal would be an awkward fit with Phoenix, which plays at an uptempo pace and is known for its philosophy of taking a shot within the first seven ticks of the shot clock.

SI.com said that a decision has yet to be made, but the Heat made the initial calls because the relationship between O'Neal and team president and coach Pat Riley has become strained.

That may be because of the dismal season in Miami, which is a league-worst 7-37 - just two campaigns removed from a championship.

The report said that the money would work under the salary cap. O'Neal makes $20 million, which is close to the combined salaries of Marion ($16.4 million) and Banks ($3.9 million).

SI.com also said, citing its anonymous source, that the Heat are worried about the final year of O'Neal's contract, which pays him $20 million for the next two seasons, but the details most likely can be worked out.

But before the deal can be consummated, the web site reported that Miami will want Marion - who can opt out of his contract after this season - to agree to the deal. He vetoed a potential trade between the Suns and Boston Celtics this summer, SI.com said.

But most of the questions rest with O'Neal, who turns 36 next month and is battling nagging injuries - including hip bursitis. The 11-time All-Star has played just 32 contests this season and is averaging a career-low 14.2 points to go with 7.8 rebounds.

However, the report said that Phoenix is not worried about adding the hobbled O'Neal to the roster because it seldom runs a five-man fast break - implying that the 7-1, 330-pounder would not slow it down.

Marion, for his part, is one of the NBA's most athletic forwards who has thrived in the Suns' system. However, he has become disgruntled in recent seasons with the attention afforded to Phoenix superstars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

The 29-year-old Marion, who is a four-time All-Star, has averaged 15.8 points and 9.9 rebounds this season for Phoenix.

Banks, 26, has averaged 5.2 points and 1.0 assist as a backup to Nash. After this season, he has three years left on his contract worth a total of $13.4 million.

The move would be the second big trade in four days in the Western Conference after the Los Angeles Lakers acquired former All-Star center Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.

Most likely looking for a defensive presence to deal with Gasol, the Suns want O'Neal to man the middle so they can move Stoudemire to power forward.