Mourning at practice; Shaq tells mates he's ready

Updated: February 25, 2005, 7:08 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Soon, the Heat will have Alonzo Mourning and Steve Smith coming off the bench, a healthy Shaquille O'Neal patrolling the paint and Wesley Person presumably being bought out of his deal.

Yet everything remained in limbo Friday, with no one certain when the Heat would debut their new look.

Mourning participated in bits of Miami's practice, although no roster spot has been cleared for him and no contract signed; under NBA rules, the Heat can have Mourning take part in limited portions of workouts during a 48-hour window leading to his potential signing.

O'Neal did not practice because of his sprained left knee. Heat president Pat Riley and other team officials indicated the All-Star center wouldn't play in this weekend's home-and-home with the Magic, but O'Neal– who didn't speak with reporters – told teammates he hopes to be ready.

"Any day now, we're going to have the giant back," guard Damon Jones said.

And Person, who knows Miami wants to clear his spot to accommodate the Mourning signing, didn't want to specifically discuss his feelings on the buyout talks.

"If I'm the odd man out, I've got to stay professional and find another job," said Person, who has played only 27 minutes since Dec. 4.

This is about as much drama the Heat has dealt with at one time all season, yet it doesn't seem to bother either coach Stan Van Gundy or his squad, which leads the Eastern Conference with a 40-16 record.

"We came in and got good work done today," Van Gundy said.

"We know what Orlando is going to do. The only thing that really changes for us is we play the game a lot different offensively if Shaq plays or if he doesn't play, but nothing else changes in terms of your preparation."

Forward Eddie Jones is impressed with what he's seen.

"Our team has been performing with what we have out there now," he said. "We've heard Zo's coming, we've heard it's going to happen, but we can wait for it."

Smith's absence from Friday's practice wasn't surprising. He was acquired by the Heat from the Charlotte Bobcats for forward Malik Allen just before Thursday's trading deadline.

Smith, the Heat's first-round draft pick in 1991, was expected to arrive later Friday and might be in uniform Saturday.

"He can really shoot the ball. He's done it in big games. But how he'll fit in with us, it's way, way too early to tell," Van Gundy said.

There's still no formal timetable for Mourning's signing, although a small chance still exists he might be in uniform by Saturday. The situation could change "minute to minute, hour to hour," Riley said.

Both Riley and Van Gundy would prefer, however, Mourning get some 5-on-5 practice time before making a full-fledged return.

"Anybody that's going to come into a new situation needs to work with players," Riley said.

"It doesn't mean it would preclude him from not being available this weekend, but it's better to get a couple of good days under your belt."

Mourning is expected to sign a deal for a prorated share of the $1.1 million veterans' minimum contract. The Heat wants to get him involved quickly, especially because only 26 regular-season games remain and the playoffs are fast approaching.

Riley believes there's still plenty of time for Mourning and the Heat to acclimate with one another.

"It's probably more frustrating for Zo than it is for us," he said.

Mourning wasn't available for comment and his agent, Jeff Wechsler, did not return phone messages.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press