Shaq makes long-term plans in Miami
MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal likely left millions on the bargaining table. What he wants more than money is another championship.
O'Neal signed a $100 million, 5-year contract with the Miami Heat on Tuesday, a deal that gives the 12-time All-Star center added financial security while allowing his team salary flexibility to pursue other players.
He'll make $20 million in each of the next five seasons in an agreement believed to include incentives. He was to have earned $30.6 million this coming season, but opted out of that deal for a longer-term pact with less money annually.
"Shaquille can name his price," said his agent, Perry Rogers. "And the price he named was winning."
Rogers said O'Neal remains the player with the highest average annual salary in the league.
The deal was signed shortly after the league's moratorium on player signings expired Tuesday. Signings were supposed to begin nearly two weeks ago, but minor complications in putting the new six-year collective bargaining agreement into writing forced two delays.
O'Neal never looked to go elsewhere. He didn't even speak with other clubs.
"I'm very excited about my new agreement with the Heat," O'Neal said in a statement released by the team. "This contract allows me to address all of my family's long-term financial goals while allowing the Heat the ability to acquire those players that we need to win a championship."
O'Neal was vacationing Tuesday in Rome. Team doctors will fly there and administer a physical Wednesday. Heat president Pat Riley said signing O'Neal was the team's top offseason priority.
"For over a year, the Heat's relationship with Shaquille has been a win-win situation on and off the court," Riley said. "We have been able to secure one of the most dominant men to ever play the game of basketball. ... At the same time, we have gained flexibility to achieve our ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship."
The Heat do not want to be a luxury-tax team, and paying O'Neal $20 million annually -- a figure some could consider a bargain -- should not put Miami over the tax threshold. It also seems to ensure that Miami could use its midlevel exception annually to sign players; this year's midlevel is $5 million.
"You get paid the most, but you do it in a way that's not detrimental to what the team wants to accomplish," Rogers said.
The 7-foot-1, 327-pound O'Neal made an immediate impact during his first season with Miami, which acquired him in July 2004 from the Los Angeles Lakers for three players and a draft choice.
He averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds in the regular season, leading the league with a 60.1 field goal percentage. O'Neal ranked sixth in the league in blocks (2.34 a game), double-doubles (43) and rebounds.
"I guess that's five more years of wide-open shots for me," said forward Udonis Haslem, who signed his five-year, $30.7 million deal to stay in Miami on Tuesday. "I'm looking forward to that, definitely. Obviously Shaq has been a tremendous benefit to the whole team. ... I'm going to ride him until his wheels fall off."
O'Neal had previously led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles from 2000-2002. Even while hampered by a bruised thigh throughout the playoffs, he helped the Heat reach the Eastern Conference finals.
"This is one of those deals where everybody can be really proud," Rogers said. "In a day and age when it's only about the team using a player for the amount of time they'll think he'll be totally at his best, or a day in age when players want to get paid all they can right now, this was every party understanding the other's needs."
Agreeing to terms with O'Neal could be the first in a flurry of moves by the Heat.
Miami is considering a trade that would send swingman Eddie Jones to the Memphis Grizzlies for point guard Jason Williams and small forward James Posey and forward Andre Emmett. Part of that deal -- a five-team megatrade -- also would bring forward Antoine Walker, a three-time All-Star who averaged 19.1 points and nine rebounds last season for the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, to Miami.
The deal involving Jones and Walker was pending league approval Tuesday night.
The Heat are also awaiting decisions from backup center Alonzo Mourning, who's considering retirement, and free agent point guard Damon Jones -- whom Miami wants back.
But the O'Neal deal was the biggest part of Miami's offseason puzzle.
"It's an obscene amount of money, but he's worth it," Rogers said. "This team is going to do some exciting things. And there's no sense in going out and making $25 million if you're not winning championships."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press