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$23 Million Reasons to Hope

By no account will Jermaine O'Neal live up to the $23 million he is set to earn next season after picking up the option on his contract the other day.

It's just not possible. New Jermaine

Think about that for a second.

That's about $7 million more in NBA salary than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will earn next season. That's about $3 million more than Will Smith and Tom Cruise command for blockbuster roles.

Heck, that's about $22, 567,890 million more than Rudy Ray Moore probably earned for his entire Dolemite collection of flicks. And all O'Neal will be asked to do is stay healthy and make about six shots and four free throws a game, grab a few rebounds and block a shot every now and then. 

At this stage of his career, O'Neal is not the same caliber of player he was when he first signed that lucrative contract as an All-Star post player with the Indiana Pacers several years ago. Nor can he be considered completely washed up to the point of no return.

But what matters as much as money in this equation for O'Neal is that he returns next season in the best shape he's been since his prime Pacer years. Or something in that vicinity. Knee problems and an assortment of other nagging injuries, which included a concussion during the Heat's playoff series loss last month, were among the issues that slowed O'Neal once he arrived in the February trade for Shawn Marion.

Even amid the initial growing pains in his search for relevance in the Heat's system, O'Neal still provided the low-post balance that complemented Dwyane Wade's perimeter attack and boosted Miami's offense over the final two months of the season.

If he follows through with plans to push through a rigid training program and gets healthy this summer, there's no reason O'Neal can't return and produce as a top-five center in the East.

Beyond Orlando's Dwight Howard, who else can lay any claims of dominance this side of the Mississippi?

Emeka Okafor? Nope. Al Horford? Not yet. Bogut of the Bucks? Please. Brook Lopez? Promising, but still a ways to go.

But again, it all goes back to O'Neal's health. Even past age 30 and beyond the best seasons of his prime, O'Neal should have enough left - if motivated and relatively healthy - to give the Heat somewhere in the range of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks a game.

In the East, those numbers might even be good enough to make him Howard's backup at next season's All-Star game in Dallas.

In other words, there's still hope for J.O.  

At these prices, he's now contractually obligated to provide at least that much.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)




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