Sunday, July 18, 2004

Jones reunited with his biggest critic - Shaq



By Steven Wine
The Associated Press

MIAMI - Few NBA players who lead their team in scoring four years in a row have endured more criticism than Miami Heat guard Eddie Jones.

He's timid. He's selfish. He chokes in the clutch. And that's just according to Shaquille O'Neal.

NBA'S TOP 10 OFFSEASON MOVES
The 10 NBA teams that have made the biggest moves this offseason:

1. MIAMI HEAT - SHAQUILLE O'NEAL

The Heat become instant championship contenders with the 7-foot-1, 340-pound O'Neal in the middle. As an added bonus, Shaq will be playing with something to prove this season. He and Dwyane Wade should be the game's most lethal one-two punch for years to come.

2. LOS ANGELES LAKERS - KOBE BRYANT, LAMAR ODOM, BRIAN GRANT, CARON BUTLER

Just by retaining Bryant, you have to put the Lakers up this high. But make no mistake: The Lakers are no longer the superpower they have been. Losing O'Neal will wreck the franchise for years. And the Lakers will struggle to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference.

3. HOUSTON ROCKETS - TRACY MCGRADY

For years, McGrady (above) has looked on at the freedom Bryant had while playing with O'Neal. Finally, he gets to play with a respected big man in Yao Ming. The two of them will be an awesome tandem, and the Rockets are a threat to win the West.

4. DENVER NUGGETS - KENYON MARTIN, MARCUS CAMBY

The Nuggets had to overpay to get Martin ($90 million), but his addition gives Denver one of the best starting fives in the NBA. With a lineup of Andre Miller, Carmelo Anthony, Martin, Nene and Camby, Denver has a team that is capable of winning big.

5. UTAH JAZZ - CARLOS BOOZER,

MEHMET OKUR, CARLOS ARROYO, GORDAN GIRICEK

Many have said for years that free agents would never opt to play in Salt Lake City. But the Jazz solved that problem by stockpiling gobs of cash. Say what you will about Boozer's decision to leave Cleveland, but he always plays hard and he is a blossoming star. He will fit in perfectly in Jerry Sloan's system.

6. DETROIT PISTONS - RASHEED WALLACE,

ANTONIO MCDYESS

Wallace was never really a threat to leave, not after the Pistons rolled to the NBA title in June. Detroit has all the pieces returning with which to make a run at a second consecutive title. McDyess is injury-prone, but he's the perfect fit to replace Okur and give the Pistons another high-energy big man off the bench.

7. SAN ANTONIO SPURS - MANU GINOBILI, BRUCE BOWEN, BRENT BARRY

Lost in the Shaq-Kobe hysteria was the Spurs' ultra-important resigning of Ginobili. He has all the makings of a star player, and by keeping him and Bowen, the Spurs remain the team to beat in the Western Conference. Barry can play two positions and he can hurt teams with his dead-eye 3-point shooting when foes collapse on Tim Duncan inside.

8. ORLANDO MAGIC - STEVE FRANCIS, CUTTINO MOBLEY, KELVIN CATO, HEDO TURKOGLU, DWIGHT HOWARD

No team has been busier than the Magic this summer. Orlando knew it had to remake its roster after last season's disaster. The Magic should have an entirely different starting five. Francis and Mobley can push the ball, while Turkoglu is one of the game's most versatile swingmen. Howard is a project offensively, but he will get plenty of points just by running with Francis.

9. PHOENIX SUNS - STEVE NASH

It was quite a coup for the Suns to get Nash (above), a player they originally drafted in 1996. But they had to dramatically overpay, giving the 30-year-old Nash $65 million over six years. Not even free-spending Mark Cuban was willing to match that for a player who might be wearing down already.

10. INDIANA PACERS - STEPHEN JACKSON

The Pacers were desperate to add scoring, and they did just that by trading Al Harrington to Atlanta for Jackson. But how will he mesh with Ron Artest and Reggie Miller? Jackson has sparred with teammates and coaches in the past, and his shot selection is often questionable. And Indiana eventually might regret giving away Harrington.

--JOHN DENTON, Florida Today

Trashed in O'Neal's autobiography three years ago, Jones now finds himself reunited with his biggest critic.

"I'm sure Shaq has grown up so much that he's not going to take shots at his teammates," Jones said.

Despite their rocky relationship, Jones professes delight about the addition of O'Neal, acquired in a blockbuster trade Wednesday. They played together for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-99, and with opponents preoccupied trying to contain O'Neal, Jones thrived and twice made the NBA All-Star team.

But after the Lakers traded Jones to Charlotte, O'Neal had harsh words in his book about his ex-teammate. According to O'Neal, Jones didn't want the ball in important situations and was unhappy when Kobe Bryant became the Lakers' primary perimeter option.

A bum rap from the world's tallest rapper? Jones said he asked the Lakers to trade him during the 1998-99 season, which may have contributed to O'Neal's ire.

"Sometimes when you're young, you make rash statements," Jones said. "I think he made a lot of statements that he really didn't believe. He came to me afterwards. To me it's quashed. I don't think much else about it."

Jones was 25 and O'Neal 24 when they first played together in Los Angeles. Now that they're 33 and 32, Jones believes the relationship will be better. And he's counting on O'Neal to be different after spending five seasons with coach Phil Jackson.

"When I was there, he was a lot younger and always very immature," Jones said. "Over the years, having a coach like Phil around made him grow up, and he became dominating."

After Jones left Los Angeles, O'Neal and the Lakers won three NBA titles. Jones has played 10 seasons without reaching the finals.

When asked about their relationship, O'Neal didn't renew his criticisms of Jones but didn't recant them, either.

"He said some things, I said some," O'Neal said from Orlando in a telephone interview. "This right here is a whole new era. Eddie knows when I come down there, I'm coming down there for strictly business."

The Heat failed to win a playoff game in Jones' first three years with the team, and he was considered part of the problem - an overpaid underachiever who shrank in the spotlight. Then last season the Heat survived an 0-7 start under new head coach Stan Van Gundy to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

The players traded to the Lakers - Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant - helped foster a positive mood in Miami's locker room. Jones said he doesn't see that changing with their departure.

"I don't think chemistry is going to be bad," Jones said. He added with a laugh, "Everybody knows Shaq is going to get the majority of the touches."

With the Heat trading three starters to acquire O'Neal, it's imperative for the team that he and Jones get along. A repeat of the sort of feuding that prompted O'Neal and Bryant to part company is unlikely, because Jones seems to fare best in a complementary role.

He expects O'Neal to make him and the Heat better.

"I'm excited about having a guy so dominant that can create so many opportunities for you and your teammates," Jones said. "The game becomes really simple. You pound it inside to him, and he'll create for everybody."

"It's going to be a fun, fun, fun time."




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