The conventional wisdom is that the trade for Shaquille O'Neal can only help Dwyane Wade, who made a remarkable transformation last season from untested, undersized rookie shooting guard to upper-echelon point guard. But it's a new ball game now. Finding seams in the defense and driving to the basket, Wade's forte, is less of a priority when there's a dominant big man who needs to be fed. And the ability to bury three-pointers--not Wade's forte; he hit just 16 last season--becomes more important. "Sure, it's new to us," says Wade, "but it's not like we can't see Shaq down there. I have the feeling it's going to be pretty easy to figure out."
The Heat's prime movers already seem to have their relationship figured out. In their first conversation O'Neal told Wade, "We have to be the leaders. We have to be on the same page. We ain't gonna let anything happen to us like what happened before." (See Shaq and Penny Hardaway. See Shaq and Kobe Bryant.) "He beat me to the punch," says Wade. "I was going to bring up the same thing with him. But it's better that he did it. He's the experienced one."
Coach Stan Van Gundy admits that he's thought about the ripple effect caused by adding O'Neal. Swingman Eddie Jones, for instance, has been upset in the past about having to play what he considers a lesser role. "Shaq will get 70 percent of the attention, and Dwyane will get the other 30," says Van Gundy. "What does that do to the other guys? How does that affect them?" Van Gundy is fairly sure (though not certain) that it won't be a problem because "those two guys are total team players."
And the larger one of the two is already making big pronouncements. "Me and DWade," O'Neal says, "are going to rock this city." --Jack McCallum
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Heat
"For the last two or three years Shaquille O'Neal has looked bored, which is sad to say with all the money he's being paid. But Shaq's got something to prove now, and he's going to have the master motivator--team president Pat Riley--in his corner.... Shaq can be the best defender in the league, but instead he's become the laziest. Most teams defend the pick-and-roll five or six ways, but Miami has done it the same way 99% of the time: The big guy comes out to trap and then has to hustle back to hit the boards. Patrick Ewing was great at that for Riley in New York--even if it meant trapping out to the three-point line--but will Shaq make that kind of effort?... Dwyane Wade took his game to another level in the playoffs, which is the sign of a potentially elite player. His jump shot needs work, but it's good enough to keep teams honest. His most impressive quality is how hard and incessantly he attacks the basket, and he busts his ass on defense.... It surprised me that Eddie Jones was criticized in Miami, because I thought he had an excellent season. He is certainly overpaid at $44 million over the next three seasons, but he's a reliable defender and scorer.... The problem isn't Jones; it's that the Heat has little else behind him. They're going to need Christian Laettner, Malik Allen, Udonis Haslem and Rasual Butler to be vital parts of the rotation; on a top team that group would be sitting at the end of thebench.... The way the divisions are set up, Miami has a good shot at making the Eastern Conference finals. Riley and Stan Van Gundy need to take it as far as they can this year, then improve their depth to championship level next summer."
Dwyane Wade became the fourth rookie to lead his team in playoff scoring and assists, joining Stephon Marbury, Michael Jordan and Billy Ray Bates.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003-04 statistics
Record: 42-40 (4th in East)
Points scored: 90.3 (22nd in NBA)
Points allowed: 89.7 (8th)
Coach: Stan Van Gundy
(second season with the Heat)
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL [New Acquisition]
CHRISTIAN LAETTNER [New Acquisition]
DAMON JONES [New Acquisition]
F UDONIS HASLEM
F MALIK ALLEN
*PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)