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Heat give Penny Hardaway comeback chance
By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer
Aug 9, 2007 - 10:52:57 PM

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MIAMI - Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal are together again. The 36-year-old Hardaway, who last played an NBA game in November 2005, signed with the Miami Heat on Thursday and is reuniting with O'Neal — his former Orlando Magic teammate back in the mid-1990s.

Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal is defended by New York Knicks' Penny Hardaway, left, and Kurt Thomas in this Feb. 9, 2005 file photo. Hardaway and O'Neal were reunited Thursday when the Heat signed him to a contract. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

"Penny is a player who has been an All-Star and has enjoyed an illustrious career," Heat president Pat Riley said. "We have been impressed at his hard work and dedication this summer to get back in shape and return to the NBA. He is a skilled player who can help us in multiple positions."

The team said Hardaway wasn't available for comment. O'Neal, who has occasionally offered less-than-glowing comments about his time with Hardaway in Orlando, told the Heat he supports the move to sign his former teammate.

Hardaway, a four-time All-Star game starter, has averaged 15.4 points in his career, but hasn't finished a season averaging double digits in scoring since the 2002-03 season with Phoenix. He played in four games with the New York Knicks early in the 2005-06 campaign before succumbing to knee injuries.

He's the second notable acquisition Miami has made during the free agent period; the team signed former Los Angeles Lakers starting point guard Smush Parker last month.

Hardaway figures to be a candidate to inherit the role similar to the one Eddie Jones held with the Heat at the end of last season, someone who can play either shooting guard or small forward. Jones agreed to two-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks last week.

Miami has spent much of the offseason looking for free agent help; the Heat tried unsuccessfully last month to sign guard Mo Williams, who remained in Milwaukee after the Bucks offered him a deal worth more than $20 million over what Miami could afford. Miami also has been in discussions about acquiring restricted free agent Mickael Pietrus from Golden State, and still could bring back James Posey — another free agent who has spent the past two seasons with the Heat.

"I can't worry about what we don't have or what we missed out on," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said earlier this week. "We have to worry about what we can continue to get."

Somewhat surprisingly, that list includes Hardaway.

Back in his Orlando days, including the Magic's run to the NBA finals in 1995, Hardaway was the first in the triumvirate of young, high-scoring guards that O'Neal has been paired with throughout his NBA career. O'Neal teamed with Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers, and helped Wade deliver a championship to Miami in 2006.

Hardaway and O'Neal teamed to average nearly 48 points per game in their three seasons together with Orlando — but that duo was split more than a decade ago, when O'Neal headed to the Lakers. A year later, Hardaway was widely perceived to be the reason then-Magic coach Brian Hill was fired.

Hardaway was sent to Phoenix before the 1999-2000 season in a sign-and-trade deal for forwards Pat Garrity and Danny Manning, along with two draft picks. The Suns shipped him to the Knicks midway through the 2003-04 season, and another trade brought him back to Orlando in February 2006 — for five whole days before the Magic waived Hardaway and his expiring $15.8 million contract.

At the time, Hardaway said he planned to continue playing. A year and a half later, he's getting that opportunity.

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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