Shaquille O’Neal probably left millions on the bargaining table. His biggest obsession now isn’t dollars but championships.
O’Neal signed a $100 million, 5-year contract with the Miami Heat on Tuesday, a deal that ensures the 12-time All-Star center plenty of added financial security while allowing the team salary flexibility to pursue other players.
He’ll make $20 million in each of the next five seasons in an agreement believed to include incentives. He was to have earned $30.6 million this coming season, opting out of that deal for a longer-term pact with less money annually.
“Shaquille can name his price,” said his agent, Perry Rogers. “And the price he named was winning.”
Rogers said O’Neal remains the player with the highest annual salary in the league.
The deal was signed shortly after the league’s moratorium on player signings expired Tuesday. Signings were supposed to begin nearly two weeks ago, but minor complications in putting the new six-year collective bargaining agreement into writing forced two delays.
O’Neal, however, never looked to go elsewhere. He didn’t even speak with other clubs.
“I’m very excited about my new agreement with the Heat,” O’Neal said in a statement released by the team. “This contract allows me to address all of my family’s long-term financial goals while allowing the Heat the ability to acquire those players that we need to win a championship.”
O’Neal was vacationing Tuesday in Rome. Team doctors will fly there and administer a physical Wednesday. Heat president Pat Riley said signing O’Neal was the team’s top offseason priority.
“For over a year, the Heat’s relationship with Shaquille has been a win-win situation on and off the court,” Riley said. “We have been able to secure one of the most dominant men to ever play the game of basketball. … At the same time, we have gained flexibility to achieve our ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship.”
The Heat do not want to be a luxury-tax team, and paying O’Neal $20 million annually — a figure some could consider a bargain — should not send Miami over the tax threshold. It also seems to ensure that Miami could use its midlevel exception annually to sign players; this year’s midlevel is $5 million.
“You get paid the most, but you do it in a way that’s not detrimental to what the team wants to accomplish,” Rogers said.
The 7-foot-1, 327-pound O’Neal made an immediate impact during his first season with Miami, which acquired him in July 2004 from the Los Angeles Lakers for three players and a draft choice.
He averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds in the regular season, leading the league with a 60.1 field goal percentage. O’Neal ranked sixth in the league in blocks (2.34 a game), double-doubles (43) and rebounds.