The Miami Heat president has been seriously considering a trade package for O’Neal that would send Shawn Marion to Toronto, multiple league sources said. Yet Riley first needs to see O’Neal’s progress before he’ll make the leap of faith on a trade.
Nevertheless, O’Neal, 30, was telling league associates as recently as Friday that he believes there’s a good chance he’ll end up in Miami.
“If he’s healthy,” one source close to O’Neal said Friday, “it could very well happen.”
League executives say that Riley has been determined to make a deal for a center, and has had substantive talks with Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo.
No GM has seemed more determined to overhaul his team than Colangelo, and several league executives say he won’t hesitate to take Marion – whom he drafted in Phoenix – and his expiring $17.1 million contract for O’Neal.
Miami would need to include another player, or two, to make the salaries match. O’Neal makes $21.3 million this season, and has a player’s option for $23 million for the next season.
Colangelo has been willing to move everyone on his roster but Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani. In fact, the emergence of Bargnani, the 2006 No. 1 overall pick, has made an even stronger case for moving O’Neal. Before returning to the struggling Raptors on Friday, O’Neal had missed nine straight games with a sore right knee. He’s averaging 14 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
For Miami, the core choice is difficult: How much does the 7-footer have left in that battered body? The Heat had been believed to be a favored destination for Utah’s Carlos Boozer, but there are increasing questions about Boozer’s appeal because he has knee problems of his own.
Riley “doesn’t seem as interested in cap space this summer,” said a rival executive who exchanged trade proposals with him recently. “He just seems concerned with having space in 2010.”
The Feb. 19 trade deadline is looming.