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Jermaine O'Neal-Shawn Marion: How the Trade Will Greatly Affect NBA Free Agency

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Jermaine O'Neal-Shawn Marion: How the Trade Will Greatly Affect NBA Free Agency

The Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat have reportedly kicked off the trade season, or what I like to call "Musical Chairs Week," with a long-rumored deal awaiting approval from the league office.

The deal, as has been reported, has the Raptors sending Jermaine O'Neal and Jamario Moon to Miami for Shawn Marion and point guard Marcus Banks.

While the deal makes a lot of sense for both teams, the Raptors may have shot themselves in the foot in the process.

In O'Neal, the Heat get themselves an upgrade at center (or centre for you Canadians) with a contract that expires after next season. When healthy, O'Neal is still an effective post presence—as evidence by his performance in last week's game against the Lakers indicates (22 points, 9 rebounds, 9 blocks).

While he isn't the player he once was, he won't be asked to do much in Miami besides rebound, block a few shots, and anchor the defense.

Marion never seemed to fit in at Miami, so his absence won't be noticeable.

In Moon, Miami gets an athletic freak with an expiring contract who won't be asked to do much other than occupy a courtside seat and keep it warm.

Marion brings Toronto someone who can defend three different positions and can still score points, but isn't the same player he was in Phoenix. He also comes with an expiring contract that, if they choose to let him walk at season's end, could give the Raptors about $15 million in cap space to play around with this summer—with very little competition from other teams.

This summer's free agent market will find very few participants since most teams are either over the salary cap or abstaining from spending money and saving it for next summer's free agent bonanza.

The world's economic crisis will also put a damper on spending as there exists the strong possibility that both the salary cap and the luxury tax limit will decrease.

In Marcus Banks, the Raptors get one of the league's most undesirable contracts and a player who won't be given much of a chance to play behind Jose Calderon and rookie Roko Ukic.

While Toronto has never been a serious player in free agency, being so far under the cap will give them the ability to absorb contracts from teams over the cap without having to give up more than a future second-round pick—the same way that the Clippers were able to get Marcus Camby from the Nuggets.

There are plenty of teams, like the Knicks and Nets, looking to create cap space for 2010, and a number of other teams, like the New Orleans Hornets, who are reportedly in financial trouble and desperate to move a contract for nothing.

While all of these things bode well for the Raptors' immediate future, there exists a real possibility that they did Miami a much bigger favor by making them an even bigger player in the 2010 free agency sweepstakes by taking Banks' contract off their hands.

The Heat no longer have any contracts currently guaranteed beyond next season. They have team options on the contracts of Michael Beasley, Daquan Cook, and Mario Chalmers that they will surely exercise. However, those three contracts total only about $8 million.

So what Toronto has essentially done is make the Miami Heat their greatest competition for Chris Bosh.

Robert Seagal, my favorite B/R writer when it comes to the Raptors, wrote an article last week about Toronto's strong nucleus for rebuilding. While Seagal is a proponent for moving Bosh, I argued in the comments section for moving O'Neal instead. But I cautioned:

"The problem with trading O'Neal is that the Raptors don't want to trade him in a way that would do another team a favor by handing them a huge expiring contract that will give him the cap space to steal Bosh away from them."

This is exactly what the Raptors did in moving O'Neal to Miami. If you looked at the list of top-10 free agents in 2010, there isn't another available player that makes more sense for Miami than Bosh right now.

LeBron James isn't going to Miami. I don't think Pat Riley wants Amare Stoudemire or Dirk Nowitzki either. Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson are consolation prizes, not primary targets.

Riley can exercise all three of those options, sign both Wade and Bosh to max contracts, and still have a little bit of money to give decent-sized contracts to retain Miami natives James Jones and Udonis Haslem.

What this means for the Raptors is that they are officially on the clock. They have one year to make Bosh excited about the prospect of staying. If they use their cap space wisely and field a competitive team next season, then Bosh might reconsider bolting.

By leaving Toronto, Bosh would be leaving between $25 and $30 million on the table since the Raptors can offer him both one more year and more money than any other team.

With Calderon and Bosh, the Raptors already have the two biggest components needed to field a successful team—a franchise point guard and an elite big man.

The Raptors will probably miss the playoffs this year, so they'll be adding a lottery pick to the team.

With the remaining cap space, the Raptors will try to add a center and a shooting guard to go with Bosh, Calderon, and Andrea Bargnani.

There are teams that should definitely be afraid of Toronto because of their ability to sign restricted free agents to offer sheets they might be afraid to match.

Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Marvin Williams, Linas Kleiza, Hakim Warrick, Ramon Sessions, Charlie Villanueva, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Paul Millsap, and Josh Childress are all restricted free agents sure to garner interest from the Raptors.

Some of the names on the list of possible unrestricted free agents that the Raptors could pursue without worrying about teams matching offer sheets are Jamal Crawford, Mehmet Okur, Hedo Turkoglu, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Ron Artest, Von Wafer, Allen Iverson, Anderson Varejao, and Eddie House.

Players that the Raptors could acquire via trade without having to give up anything of substance to absorb are Brad Miller, John Salmons, Richard Hamilton, Antawn Jamison, Mike Dunleavy, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Peja Stojakovic, James Posey, Corey Maggette, Mike Miller, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Andrei Kirilenko, and old friend Vince Carter.

The one thing that probably won't happen is the Raptors re-signing Marion. Unless they miraculously make the playoffs and win a round, there really isn't a chance that the Raptors would consider keeping Marion around.

Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo could decide to hire Marc Iavaroni to be the team's head coach next season. Iavaroni was an assistant in Phoenix and could bring with him the same style of play that Marion excelled in back with the Suns.

Needless to say, the free agent landscape in both 2009 and 2010 has changed dramatically as a result of this trade.

While the trade doesn't make Miami an elite team, it does make them the type of team that could win a first-round series and push their second-round opponent to seven games—something that has to put a little scare into the Celtics, Cavs, and Magic.

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