Shaquille O'Neal, the towering presence who guided the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive championships, has come west again to an altogether improbable destination — the run and gunning Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix completed a trade with the Miami Heat to land an aging O'Neal, who turns 36 next month and is averaging a career-low 14.2 points. The Suns sent disgruntled four-time All-Star forward Shawn Marion, 29, and backup point guard Marcus Banks to the Heat for O'Neal.
It appears to be a direct counter move by the Suns to the Lakers' trade last week for center-forward Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies.
A rivalry has developed between the Suns and Lakers — who were eliminated by Phoenix the last two seasons in the playoffs — and could be more intense with O'Neal now standing firmly in the path of the Lakers again becoming title challengers.
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"I don't know if (the Gasol trade) precipitated the (O'Neal trade) or ... it's just part of the plan of trying to help themselves out," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The reality is, it changed the complexities of our division. This may be another one of those situations where people are going to have to scramble a little bit (to keep up)."
O'Neal underwent a physical in Phoenix on Wednesday. He is scheduled to address the media this morning and talked with Suns stars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire before the deal went through. O'Neal, who has missed 15 games this season because of various injuries, is an unlikely match for the Suns.
"Any team he's on is going to be better," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who was traded to Los Angeles in 2004 as part of the trade that originally sent O'Neal to the Heat. "It kind of surprised me, because I thought (Phoenix) liked their style of play. Now they can play a little more traditional style of basketball."
SHAQ'S WAKE — The Atlanta Hawks and Heat must replay the final 51.9 seconds of their Dec. 19 game in Atlanta on March 8, but Shaquille O'Neal won't be with Miami for the game after his trade to Phoenix.
Hawks GM Billy Knight said "the league doesn't know" whether the two new Miami players — Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks — are eligible for the end of the Dec. 19 game. "They'll have to make a determination."
The replay is necessary because the Hawks' official scorer ruled incorrectly that O'Neal fouled out of the game. The Hawks won 117-111 in overtime. Play will start from the time after O'Neal's disputed sixth foul, with the Hawks leading 114-111.
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