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Posted: Friday February 13, 2009 6:44PM; Updated: Friday February 13, 2009 7:02PM
Chris Mannix Chris Mannix >
INSIDE THE NBA

Heat-Raptors deal may be win-win

Story Highlights

The Heat filled their need at center by acquiring Jermaine O'Neal

The Raptors got a slasher in Shawn Marion and cap room for this summer

Miami needed to bulk up to make itself more dangerous in the playoff chase

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One responsibility for Jermaine O'Neal with his new team in Miami will be to protect the rim against slashers like Kobe Bryant.
AP

The four-player trade between the Heat and Raptors has the potential to give both teams exactly what they need.

Miami counted the frontcourt as a strength during its 2006 championship run, but last season's trade of Shaquille O'Neal and the retirement of Alonzo Mourning left the Heat scrambling for options at center. They rotated undersized (Udonis Haslem), inexperienced (Joel Anthony) and ineffective (Jamaal Magloire, Mark Blount) players at the position this season. Jermaine O'Neal -- who was acquired Friday from Toronto along with forward Jamario Moon and a conditional first-round pick for forward Shawn Marion and point guard Marcus Banks -- could be a one-man solution to that problem.

When healthy, which he seems to be after playing at least 32 minutes in each of the last six games, the 30-year-old O'Neal still has the ability to score in the post. And though Miami lives and dies by the play of Dwyane Wade, coach Erik Spoelstra prefers his offense run inside-out.

O'Neal, one of the NBA's top shot-blockers, gives the Heat a legitimate presence in the paint as they pursue home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Miami entered the All-Star break trailing Atlanta by three games in the race for the No. 4 seed in the East.

"It gives us some power down low, which since Shaq left we've been missing," Wade told reporters after learning about the trade. "We really need that to compete in the Eastern Conference. Our main thing is we need to get it together fast. Making a trade at this time sometimes makes it tough on teams to get everybody on the same page. Hopefully, we can."

The deal also preserves the Heat's cap flexibility in 2010, when they hope to make a run at one of the elite free agents. (Miami now won't have the cap space to pursue Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer this summer.) O'Neal will make $23 million next season in the final year of his contract, creating an enormous amount of space once that deal expires. Moreover, with his days of being a franchise player behind him, O'Neal may decide to take a lower salary in Miami for the opportunity to compete for a title alongside Wade and another potential star free agent. And, of course, live on South Beach.

For Toronto, general manager Bryan Colangelo finally gets his hands on the type of slashing scorer he has long coveted. Marion can score from several different areas on the floor, freeing power forward Chris Bosh to operate in the low post or from the elbow. The 30-year-old Marion also is still a premier perimeter defender who can lock down the opposition's top wing scorer.

Don't rule out Marion staying in Toronto long-term either. Colangelo, who drafted Marion in Phoenix back in 1999, will make a hard push to re-sign him when the four-time All-Star hits the free-agent market after making $17.1 million this season. With O'Neal's 2009-2010 salary off the books, Toronto will have cap space to use this summer.

Meanwhile, O'Neal's departure opens up the center spot for Andrea Bargnani, who has split time as a starter and reserve this season. The No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft is averaging 16.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in 36 starts.

 
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