J.O. has got to go

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

Jermaine O'Neal didn't play yesterday and is listed as probable for today's tip in Dixie.

The more minutes O'Neal is able to see the floor and the more he's capable of having an impact on games, the more likely he'll be traded.

One of the NBA's best-kept secrets became public on the weekend when word leaked that O'Neal was being shopped around.

Given Andrea Bargnani's emergence and the urgency to address several glaring deficiencies, O'Neal represents Toronto's only hope in salvaging a season that is quickly going south.

Whether it's the rumoured package involving Shawn Marion, who sat out last night's game against Oklahoma City with a strained left groin, and Marcus Banks that would see O'Neal heading to Miami, something clearly must be done.

And soon.

Following yesterday's 117-113 loss to the visiting Phoenix Suns, the Raptors have dropped five games in a row and are a season-low 10 games below .500.

This is not what general manager Bryan Colangelo envisioned when he acquired O'Neal's veteran low-post presence in the off-season, a piece many felt would complement Chris Bosh.

There was even talk of the Raptors getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

There is no such talk today.

The only talk surrounding the Raptors is of change.

Marion's perimeter skills, ability to defend and rebound would be welcome, though the Matrix isn't the same kind of player Colangelo drafted and helped nurture in Phoenix.

Marion's expiring contract this summer will give Colangelo financial flexibility.

As much as Colangelo wants to balance both the short term and long term, it's the present that concerns him and there are plenty of concerns.

The Raptors are in serious danger of not even qualifying for the post-season, a scenario that seemed preposterous in the euphoria that accompanied Jose Calderon's re-signing and the trade for O'Neal.

Colangelo is under the gun for the first time in his three-year run in Toronto.

Having already fired a coach, he must act quickly in pulling the trigger.

The Heat, for obvious reasons, is waiting to see more of O'Neal on the court before making a move.

Sacramento big man Brad Miller, who played with O'Neal in Indianapolis, also has been mentioned as potentially being Miami-bound.

There is also talk of Miami and Dallas engaged in talks involving Josh Howard.

And there even be more rumours and more teams linked with the Raptors as the Feb. 19 trade deadline nears.

"B.C. is one of the best in the business,'' Anthony Parker said of Colangelo. "He'll try to do whatever is necessary."

Parker's expiring contract is coveted and as such his name has been floated in speculation.

Coincidence or not but the Raptors, who have been exposed on the perimeter, got one of their better performances by their perimeter players the same day it was reported that the team was in discussions with the Heat.

Joey Graham's 22-point performance represented a career best, while Jamario Moon posted three steals and three assists to complement his 16-point afternoon.

All the Raptors have done of late is show that they can compete.

What has become elusive is winning, the ultimate measuring stick in the bottom-line business of sports.

Calderon (hamstring) missed another game, while Jason Kapono (flu-like symptoms) was a no-go.

Kapono's outside jumper makes him an ideal weapon on a good team, which the Raptors aren't.

Bosh has seen his share of change in his time in Toronto.

He prefers not to get caught in the rumours and the potential for change.

At the same time, Bosh is fully aware of the team's plight.

The Hawks, Pistons and Bulls, Toronto's next three foes, are ahead of the Raptors.

"It's going to be tough,'' Bosh said. "We've just got to play like mad men.

"There's a lot more basketball to be played."

But time is running out.


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