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Well-Paid Disappointment Swap On Tap

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A Daily Babble Production

It is hard to shake the feeling that there is something belittling about referring to the following trade rumor as a trash-for-trash deal.  The two main players involved have received 10 All-Star selections between them.  After all, averaging nearly 26 points and more than 16 rebounds per game is fairly impressive.  Except for when those represent the combined averages of two players also combining to make more than $38.5 million this season.

The Toronto Star's Doug Smith reported Sunday that the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors are moving closer to a deal centered on the exchange of Shawn Marion for Jermaine O'Neal, with former Celtic Marcus Banks likely to be thrown in as well.  Count me among those all for this one, although I'm past the point of harboring any special affections for either Marion or O'Neal.

It makes sense because there isn't much financial risk on either side, and neither player is doing a whole lot to better his team. 

On the Miami side, Marion is in the midst of the least productive season of his career.  He is putting up 12.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, and he isn't getting his points with much efficiency.  Marion is shooting less than 50 percent from the field (47.9) for the first time since 2004-05, and he isn't knocking down threes at all (19.4 percent).  His 51.8 percent true shooting mark is tied for the third-worst of his 10-year career.  He hasn't looked in rhythm offensively all season.  At $17.2 million, Marion is the Heat's highest-paid player this season, and it's hard to imagine Miami making too much of an effort to retain him at season's end.  With Dwyane Wade and rookie Mike Beasley expected to be the wings in South Beach for years to come, there isn't a real need to keep the Matrix around.

Toronto is a sensible destination.  The Raptors' wing play has been less than stellar this season (seriously, how many of their swingmen can you name?*), and the team could use a boost if it plans to make a concerted effort to salvage the season.  Marion is only 30 years old and may still have a lot of productive basketball left in him.  Prior to last season's 63 games played, he had appeared in at least 79 games in seven straight seasons.  Marion could provide some scoring punch at the three for the Raps while serving as a defensive presence as well.  He's off the books at the end of the season, so if the team isn't happy with him or just wants to clear cap space, the Raps won't be at any risk.

It works neatly that Miami could also use some help up front.  Udonis Haslem continues to do a yeoman's job at the four, but it's hard to see Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and Mark Blount cutting it all that well in the pivot in the long term.  Like Marion in Miami, Jermaine O'Neal has not been a success in Toronto.  Once again, JO is battling injury problems, and he is putting up a pedestrian 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game when he does play.  He hasn't been dominant at either end of the floor and recently remarked that Andrea Bargnani should be starting in his place in the Raps' frontcourt.

Label me guilty of believing at season's sart that the change of scenery and chance to play alongside Chris Bosh might rejuvenate JO's career.  It hasn't happened, and we have so far seen more of the same old, same old - injuries and ineffectiveness - that marked the end of O'Neal's stint in Indiana.  Despite the fact that he is only 30 years old as well, I'm growing closer to believing that the days of O'Neal being anything even close to a dominant interior player are long gone and that this is who he is now.  But at the very least, Miami would give him one more shot at a new set of scenery and a chance to be the man on the interior for a team that could use a more effective big man complement for Dwyane Wade. 

Sadly, even if O'Neal only performs around the level that he is now in Toronto, he would still be a quantum leap forward over what the Heat are getting in the middle at present.  While he makes an obscene $44-plus million over this season and next, O'Neal's contract comes off the books at the end of next season, which would leave the Heat unshackled for the free agent bonanza-to-be of summer 2010.  If he were to perform admirably in Miami, the Heat might be able to get him back at a steep discount two summers from now.  If not, he's gone, just like Marion would have been.

Shawn Marion is likely still a basket case, but he is a durable one who may have plenty of good basketball left in him.  Jermaine O'Neal's best days fall further back in the rearview mirror each day, but he would be an upgrade in the Miami frontcourt.  Both players have onerous contracts but ones that will be complete in the short term.  Let's see the Raptors and Heat roll the dice with this one.

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*Toronto swingmen: Jamario Moon, Jason Kapono, Joey Graham, Anthony Parker