Shaquille O'Neal still remembers his time with the Miami Heat and what the city of Miami is like when the franchise is at its best.
O'Neal was at the center of the Heat's first NBA championship run during the 2005-06 season in his second year in South Florida along with a cast that included Dwyane Wade, Jason Williams, Udonis Haslem and Alonzo Mourning, among others.
The Heat won two more championships in 2012 and 2013 during the "Big 3" era with Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh leading the attack.
"This is a city that once you give them a great product, they will support you," O'Neal said.
Nowadays, though, the Heat franchise is stuck in a middle ground in the NBA. Miami is a low-end playoff team, as evidenced by last year's No. 6 seed in the East. It's stuck in a cap space conundrum, evidenced by the hefty contracts the team is paying disgruntled center Hassan Whiteside (due $25.4 million next season and $27 million in 2019-20) and combo guard Tyler Johnson (due $19.2 million each of the next two seasons).
And unlike the rest of the top teams in the league — the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics of the NBA — the Heat lacks that standout star player in his prime.
"Well, every team that does great has a superstar player," O'Neal told the Miami Herald on Thursday at a media availability in Miami promoting his new movie "Uncle Drew," which opens in theaters Friday. "I don't see why superstar players don't want to come to Miami. You have the night life. You have the weather. ... I'm sure the great Pat Riley is putting his minds together, and I'm sure they're going to make some moves this summer."
Exactly how the Heat makes those moves — if they're even possible — will be interesting to watch develop as free agency begins Sunday. Riley said he anticipates a quiet summer on the Heat's end, but things could be set in motion if the Heat gets the right offer on the trade front.
O'Neal also touched on other topics regarding the Miami Heat on Thursday. Included among them:
▪ Whiteside's production. The Heat used the 7-foot center sparingly during their first-round exit in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers to balance with the 76ers' small lineup.
The Heat is open to trading Whiteside if the right opportunity arises.
Shaq has been vocal about his opinions on Whiteside before, offering advice to the 29-year-old center after he went on an expletive-filled rant earlier in the season.
"When he's running around, he's a nuisance," O'Neal said. "But he has to have the opportunity to go out there. If you want him to get in there and be active, you've got to use him. They need to use him the proper way."
▪ Wade's legacy in the NBA. O'Neal and Wade played together for four seasons in Miami and won that coveted first NBA championship in 2006. Wade, who returned to the Heat in February in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is still debating whether to return to the NBA for a 16th season or retire. Either way, O'Neal said Wade, a 12-time All-Star, has made his mark on the NBA.
"He's a great player. His legacy is definitely set," O'Neal said. "For the mega-superstars, we're not used to decline. So we'll all remember D-Wade for his fadeaway shots, his 20- and 30-point games. When you get into Year 16, you can't do 20 every night. I'm sure that probably doesn't feel that good scoring six or eight points, but that's a product of getting older. Mentally, you think you have it, but physically you don't. It starts to wear on you."