Big Motivated?

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Considering Shaquille O'Neal has been named NBA MVP once, finals MVP three times and All-Star 11 times – not to mention one of the 50 greatest players in league history – the following statements may sound a bit crazy.

The big guy now has a chance to cement his legacy. Now we find out what he is really, truly about.

OK, so that's a bit much. He can fail with the Miami Heat, after forcing a trade that was finalized Wednesday, and he still is a three-time NBA champion and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But at 32, with a new team, a new lease on life and seemingly all the motivation (scorned lover) anyone needs, O'Neal has a chance to show everyone that he truly is a win-first kind of guy and still the most dominant player in the league. He can put a historic exclamation point on an already fabled career.

Even the most ardent O'Neal backer has to admit he has slipped the past two years. He got a bit sassy and a lot fat after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their third straight NBA title in 2001-02. He took the summer off rather than rehabilitating a toe injury, missed the start of the season as a result and began missing practice due to things such as "overturned chicken trucks."

Predictably Los Angeles got beat by the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals.

Then last season he never truly got in shape and started showing his age. He posted a career low in scoring, a still impressive 21.5 points per game but a full 6.0 ppg less than the year before. His free-throw shooting, always weak, dropped below 50 percent for the first time in seven years, a sure sign that fatigue was a nightly issue.

The NBA finals were a debacle in which the Detroit Pistons simply outworked Los Angeles for the title. It wasn't entirely Shaq's fault. Kobe Bryant stopped passing, Phil Jackson stopped coaching and the other Lakers just stopped doing anything. But Shaq deserved some blame, too.

Last month, when Lakers owner Jerry Buss showed favor to Bryant – a free agent facing a sexual assault trial – over him, Shaq forced this trade to the Heat.

So now we see. Is O'Neal in this to pout? Or do we get the Big Motivated?

O'Neal has a golden opportunity in South Florida. If he shows up in big-time shape and with some fire in his eye, he still has the legs to plow through the NBA. Even in the finals against Detroit he showed some old form – his 36-point, 20-rebound effort in Game 4 was impressive.

But can he still bring it every night? Only if he is committed. Only if this is not about leaving L.A. but about leading Miami.

This deal was perfect for Shaq. First off, Miami got a steal. In trading an undersized center (Brian Grant), an often unmotivated talent (Lamar Odom) and a young forward (Caron Butler) the Heat didn't have to gut the franchise.

Miami gave up neither a single all-star nor mega-talent Dwyane Wade.

The offense will run through the Diesel first. Wade is a talent, but he is a team player, a good soldier who isn't going to "Kobe the offense" (purposely screw it up because he can).

Then there is Stan Van Gundy, who really can coach (something Jackson did almost none of in the finals), and executive Pat Riley, who has been dreaming of a return to glory. The Eastern Conference, while tough at the top, will feature less night-in, night-out challenges.

And the energy surrounding this revived franchise is enough to pump up anyone. In L.A. the Lakers are expected to win, and even when they do the movie stars sitting courtside hardly cheer. In Miami it is bedlam – already.

But what are the Heat getting from O'Neal? A rejuvenated MVP candidate and the NBA's ultimate matchup problem in 20-something shape? Or a fading superstar more interested in hanging out in South Beach?

We'll probably know on the first day of training camp, when we find out how he spent his summer. Does he arrive weighing 360? How about 340? Or even 320?

It is his choice. It is his legacy.

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