Trade rumors have been swirling around the Raptors' Jermaine O'Neal, and for good reason. O'Neal has been out with a sore right knee for 10 of the last 11 games, and the air was ripe for conspiracy theories Monday when he was held out of Toronto's game against the conference-rival Hawks. The Miami Heat, reported to be mulling a possible deal that would send Shawn Marion to Toronto for O'Neal, had a scout at the Hawks-Raptors game. That's standard procedure with the Heat scheduled to play the Hawks next Monday, but the O'Neal situation is sufficiently curious as to arouse suspicions. As Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel points out, O'Neal hasn't scored a single basket since Dec. 29.
Raptors G.M. Bryan Colangelo is said to be itching to complete a big trade before the Feb. 19 deadline. O'Neal is a likely candidate, with his $23 million expiring contract next season and with the emergence of Andrea Bargnani in O'Neal's absence.
O'Neal's agent, Arn Tellem, wouldn't discuss the likelihood that O'Neal would be dealt. But a person with direct knowledge of the Raptors' plans told me that O'Neal will stay right where he is until he can prove that his knee is sturdy enough for a playoff run with a new team. "Nothing can happen until he's completely healthy," the person said.
So the speculation will continue until O'Neal gets back on the floor and proves that he can help a team with playoff aspirations. No telling how long that will be.
UPDATE: Here is the latest, according to a source familiar with the situation. Miami wants O'Neal to prove he's healthy before trading for him. Raptors G.M. Bryan Colangelo, being the shrewd negotiator that he is, will likely call the Heat's bluff by trying to find another potential suitor for O'Neal. This ostensibly would force Heat president Pat Riley to decide whether he wants to pull the trigger on the deal before he's ready to. It's a poker game. A second source says Miami is definitely trying to add a big man. O'Neal would fit the bill. It'll be interesting to see who blinks first.