- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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The discussions have been in the preliminary stages and no financial terms have been broached. But with each team being over the salary cap, they can offer O'Neal no more than the mid-level exception of $5.8 million per season.
O'Neal, who played with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, would like to play two or three more seasons, according to sources close to the future Hall of Fame center.
An AOL Fanhouse report on Monday said O'Neal has been offered a two-year deal starting at the mid-level exception by Atlanta and that O'Neal is seriously considering it. However, his agent, Perry Rogers, denied that an offer had been made.
"We have had no offers from the Hawks,'' Rogers said.
O'Neal would be interested in playing for each of the three teams, sources close to him said.
He has great respect for Boston's coach, Doc Rivers, a good relationship with Kevin Garnett, and it was Shaq who gave Paul Pierce his nickname, "The Truth." With starting center, Kendrick Perkins, sidelined for up to six months after undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn ACL, O'Neal would seem to be a solid replacement.
O'Neal also has a strong relationship with Atlanta's new head coach, Larry Drew, who was a Lakers assistant coach for parts of O'Neal's tenure in Los Angeles. The Hawks' interest in O'Neal is based on his ability to matchup with Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, who led the Magic to a four-game sweep of Atlanta in the second round of last year's playoffs.
O'Neal also has a close relationship with Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki and owner Mark Cuban. O'Neal could conceivably help Dallas matchup better against the Lakers.
While O'Neal, who averaged 12 points and 6.7 rebounds in 23 minutes a game last season, believes he is still a starting caliber player, being assured a spot in the first five is not a deal-breaker, the sources said.
If LeBron James re-signs with Cleveland, O'Neal, who has played 18 seasons, would also be open to returning to the Cavaliers, according to one of the sources. Cleveland is one of the few teams that could pay O'Neal more than the mid-level exception.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.