CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) – The temptation to play reporter was too strong for Dwyane Wade to resist, so he grabbed a microphone and asked the $100 million question.

“Shaq, now that you didn’t take all the money, what’s next for the Heat?” Wade asked, grinning.

Shaquille O’Neal hopes the eventual answer to that question is a championship.

“This year,” O’Neal said, “there ain’t no stoppin’ us.”

Speaking publicly for the first time since agreeing to a $100 million, five-year contract with the Miami Heat – who offered more money than O’Neal ultimately accepted – the 12-time All-Star center said Saturday that he believes a flurry of offseason moves has brought his team closer to that elusive NBA title.

“I’m getting to the point in my career where I do need firepower,” O’Neal said. “I want my career to be about championships. So I took one for the team, and that’s what a great team player does. I’m very grateful and I’m very honored that (Heat owner) Micky Arison did what he did and I appreciate it.”

By taking less money – he would have made $30.6 million this season under the terms of his old deal, which he opted out of – O’Neal gave the Heat far more flexibility. And once O’Neal’s deal got done, it took Miami president Pat Riley only a couple hours to spring into action.

He put together a trade that brought forward Antoine Walker from Boston, plus guard Jason Williams and forward James Posey from Memphis – all part of a five-team, 13-player deal that cost the Heat swingman Eddie Jones, and a pair of relatively little-used reserves from last year’s squad.

“We lost a great teammate,” Wade said. “But I was also excited because the guys coming in can help us get to where we need to go, and that’s to win a championship.”

O’Neal said he’ll make sure the right chemistry is in place to ensure that the revamped roster works.

“Jason Williams is going to get everybody the ball. He sees everything. Antoine is going to shoot the 3. It’s going to be fun,” O’Neal said. “I’m very excited. I mean, I can’t wait to play the first game and then go home and watch the first game.”

The Heat entered the offseason looking nothing like a team that needed to be revamped.

Miami won 59 games last season, was the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and went to seven games with Detroit in the conference finals – losing with O’Neal hobbled by a bruised thigh and Wade suffering from a painful rib injury that restricted his movement.

“We still could have got it done,” O’Neal said. “It just wasn’t our turn. It just wasn’t meant to be. Now you just have to live with that. Like I said, the thing that happened last year is only going to make us stronger. The great Pat Riley has made us stronger.”

Instead of just adding a piece or two, Riley went out and brought in another scorer, a true point guard, some longer bodies – all designed to complement O’Neal and Wade.

“Of course you’re surprised after the season we had, a heartbeat away from the finals,” Wade said. “But you know, Pat Riley seemed to change. He seemed to change from the year before when we were excited about our young team, and it did us good – so I’m sure this will do us good also.”

O’Neal said he plans to report to training camp weighing about 335 pounds, or roughly eight more than he played at last season; O’Neal said he currently weighs 345 with 10 percent body fat.

And he tried to distance himself from the soap opera earlier this season, surrounding rumors that Riley was ready to replace Stan Van Gundy as the team’s head coach.

“I think it’s unfair to both guys,” O’Neal said. “And I think it’s unfair to me, to put me into that. Anytime a coach wants to make a change or needs to be changed, my name has been put in there unfairly. I’m staying far away from that.”

AP-ES-08-13-05 1552EDT

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