Heat Finally Upgrade at Center, Send Shawn Marion to Raptors for Jermaine O'Neal

Allen LevinCorrespondent IIFebruary 17, 2009

With the Miami Heat sitting at 28-24 and holding the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference by a mere half game at the All Star Break, GM Pat Riley decided it was time to make a move. Miami traded forward Shawn Marion and point guard Marcus Banks to Toronto for center Jermaine O'Neal and forward Jamario Moon. The Heat have a respectable record and are on pace to be in the postseason, but they still don't matchup to the East's elite.

Before the trade, the Heat were on pace to get the fifth or sixth seed in the East and most likely be knocked off in the first round. Now, with the acquisition of O'Neal, the Heat still look to be behind top powerhouses Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando, but they made huge strides by acquiring a true center.

Miami is now looking more on pace to catch up to the Atlanta Hawks and secure the fourth spot in the conference, which will give them that most coveted homecourt advantage in the first round. That is certainly a far cry from last year's 15-67 finish.

Not only does the deal for O'Neal help Miami in the immediate future, it also helps them out huge in the long term. O'Neals contract only runs through next year and he becomes a free agent in the 2010 season, conviently when all the big name All-Stars are on the market. He's owed nearly $23 million next season, but his contract comes right off the books after that.

The deal shores up a lot of free cap space and ensures the Heat can give Dwyane Wade a maximum contract and sign another big name free agent such as Chris Bosh.

Additionally, the Heat acquired a future first round draft pick from the Raptors, which could come up big in the future.

The acquisition of Moon might also prove to be a blessing in disguise. The second year player is averaging 7.3 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. He is an athletic, fast true small forward that could work his way into the starting lineup. Everyone in the front office is excited to see Moon play in a Heat uniform.

Overall, it looks like the Heat got the better end of this deal. Marion was simply not working out in the Heat's system. While they did start to have some chemistry, Marion was better suited for Phoenix's old run and gun system. He is averaging 12 PPG and 8.7 boards a game, which is the worst since his rookie season.

Banks was a seldom-used third string point guard for Miami. He never really worked his way into the rotation, with first year head coach opting to use Chriss Quinn as the primary backup to Mario Chalmers. Banks only averaged 2.6 PPG in 16 games of play.

The Heat now will have a legitimate frontcourt that has a true, defensive big man that is a huge upgrade over Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire. While O'Neal isn't as good as he used to be in Indiana, he will still be a legitimate defensive presence and will be a great rebounder. He will also offer a good inside game that will space the floor and help get open looks for three-pointer shooters Daequan Cook and James Jones.

Miami already has the Hawks looking over their backs as they only hold a three game lead over the Heat. This move is really exciting for a team that was the worst in the league last year.

They have the opportunity and the ability to become a top four team in the Eastern Confernece and will most likely be competing in at least the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

O'Neal will play his first game in a Heat jersey on Wednesday against the Timber Wolves. Here comes the rising of the Heat.