MIAMI Few NBA players who lead their team in scoring four years in a row have endured more criticism than Miami Heat guard Eddie Jones.
He's timid. He's selfish. He chokes in the clutch. And that's just according to Shaquille O'Neal.
Trashed in O'Neal's autobiography three years ago, Jones now finds himself reunited with his biggest critic.
''I'm sure Shaq has grown up so much that he's not going to take shots at his teammates,'' Jones said.
Despite their rocky relationship, Jones professes delight about the addition of O'Neal, acquired in a blockbuster trade Wednesday. They played together for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-99, and with opponents preoccupied trying to contain O'Neal, Jones thrived and twice made the NBA All-Star team.
But after the Lakers traded Jones to Charlotte, O'Neal had harsh words in his book about his ex-teammate. According to O'Neal, Jones didn't want the ball in important situations and was unhappy when Kobe Bryant became the Lakers' primary perimeter option.
A bum rap from the world's tallest rapper? Jones said he asked the Lakers to trade him during the 1998-99 season, which may have contributed to O'Neal's ire.
''Sometimes when you're young, you make rash statements,'' Jones said. ''I think he made a lot of statements that he really didn't believe. He came to me afterwards. To me it's quashed. I don't think much else about it.''
Jones was 25 and O'Neal 24 when they first played together in Los Angeles. Now that they're 33 and 32, Jones believes the relationship will be better. And he's counting on O'Neal to be different after spending five seasons with coach Phil Jackson.
''When I was there, he was a lot younger and always very immature,'' Jones said. ''Over the years, having a coach like Phil around made him grow up, and he became dominating.''
After Jones left Los Angeles, O'Neal and the Lakers won three NBA titles. Jones has played 10 seasons without reaching the finals.
When asked about their relationship, O'Neal didn't renew his criticisms of Jones but didn't recant them, either.
''He said some things, I said some,'' O'Neal said from Orlando in a telephone interview. ''This right here is a whole new era. Eddie knows when I come down there, I'm coming down there for strictly business.''
The Heat failed to win a playoff game in Jones' first three years with the team, and he was considered part of the problem an overpaid underachiever who shrank in the spotlight. Then last season the Heat survived an 0-7 start under new head coach Stan Van Gundy to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
The players traded to the Lakers Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant helped foster a positive mood in Miami's locker room. Jones said he doesn't see that changing with their departure.
''I don't think chemistry is going to be bad,'' Jones said. He added with a laugh, ''Everybody knows Shaq is going to get the majority of the touches.''
With the Heat trading three starters to acquire O'Neal, it's imperative for the team that he and Jones get along. A repeat of the sort of feuding that prompted O'Neal and Bryant to part company is unlikely, because Jones seems to fare best in a complementary role.
He expects O'Neal to make him and the Heat better.
''I'm excited about having a guy so dominant that can create so many opportunities for you and your teammates,'' Jones said. ''The game becomes really simple. You pound it inside to him, and he'll create for everybody.''
''It's going to be a fun, fun, fun time.''
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