VIEWPOINT;GRANT, NOT SHAQ, HOLDS MAGIC TOUCH

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The numbers tell the story.

When Shaquille O'Neal was injured at the start of the NBA season, the Magic compiled a record of 17 wins and 5 losses. When Horace Grant was sidelined in midseason, the Magic's record was 9-10.

So who's more valuable to the Magic? Shaq wants between $15 million and $20 million a year to re-sign with the Magic or else he will take his size 22 Reeboks and head to L.A. Horace Grant will probably ask for as much as $10 million per annum.

If it came down to an either/or situation, my recommendation would be to let Shaq go. In that Reebok TV commercial where Shaq says he's got only one thing on his mind and that's winning a championship ring, the Big Fella comes across as dedicated. But I see him as disruptive and divisive.

Shaq didn't bother to show up for the team's final meeting after Orlando got swept by the Chicago Bulls. And his agent has been trying to foment dissatisfaction with the Magic's coach, Brian Hill, by hinting that if Shaq stays, Hill must go.

As Brian Schmitz wrote in the Orlando Sentinel the other day: "Shaq needs to change his attitude and his game for the betterment of the team, which would not necessarily be for the betterment of Shaq. And therein may lie the rub. It may be why Shaq's agent, Leonard Armato, gives the impression that Shaq doesn't believe Hill has the credentials or experience to make Orlando a champion.

"Perhaps Hill knows that only a makeover of Armato's client in the game plan can produce a champion."

The real problem is that the Magic is a one-dimensional team with Shaq in there, a team that's easily solved by a great team like the Bulls. Pass the ball in to Shaq and if he can't shoot it, he pops it out to Dennis Scott or Nick Anderson for the three-pointer. The Bulls shut down both options, especially in the second half.

But when Shaq's not available, the Magic is forced to involve the entire team. Penny Hardaway takes charge, and the Magic whips the ball around from player to player, opening up all kinds of possibilities.

The Magic isn't an old team like the Bulls, and the players like to run. But with Shaq lumbering down the court it's hard to get a fast break going. And Shaq's favorite things are not rebounding and defense-and certainly not free throws, at which he is about the worst in the league.

Shaq does not want to be the team leader, but he doesn't want anybody else to be either. That hurt the Magic against the Bulls because nobody took charge of the game when the Bulls applied their awesome pressure.

I get the impression that Horace Grant is well aware at whose giant feet the problem lies. Horace was quoted as saying: "It really doesn't take money to make me happy. All it takes is for our whole organization to be dedicated to winning. Hopefully, some changes can be made around here before I sign a contract."

I don't think Horace was talking about a new peanut vendor at the O-rena.

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