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Raptors Reach Buyout With Mourning

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TORONTO (AP) _ Alonzo Mourning and the Toronto Raptors agreed on a buyout of his contract Friday, amid speculation the seven-time All-Star center will sign with the Miami Heat.

Mourning, 35, was acquired from New Jersey in a trade for Vince Carter on Dec. 17 but never reported to the Raptors. Should he clear waivers _ which is likely because he's owed at least $14 million under his current contract _ Mourning would be free to sign with the Heat on Tuesday.

Speaking on a radio show hosted by his former college coach, John Thompson, Mourning _ who lives in Miami and whose foundation is based there _ strongly indicated that he's hoping for a reunion with the Heat.

``I can still play this game at a high level; I've proven that,'' Mourning told WTEM-AM radio. ``Come in and use my skills to help contribute to the success of a team and make things a lot easier for them. ... I want to be home. I want to be close to my family. I want to be close to my foundation and my business interests.''

Heat center Shaquille O'Neal sounded receptive to the idea of being Mourning's teammate.

``A lot of people think two bullheaded guys will cause a problem, but you have to understand when two bullheaded guys are in the same bullring, it won't be a problem,'' O'Neal said. ``He's a strong guy. He still has something left in his tank. It will be a good addition to our team.''

The Raptors, who said Mourning's health issues prevented him from being part of the franchise's plans, didn't reveal buyout details; Mourning said he settled for $6 million less than what remained on his contract.

Toronto general manager Rob Babcock went through with the trade despite being told by Nets general manager Rod Thorn that Mourning only wanted to play for the Heat.

``Rod Thorn was very up front with us,'' Babcock said. ``He told us right from the beginning, 'Listen, Alonzo wants to retire in Miami.'''

That's why Mourning was an ancillary part of the Nets-Raptors deal, included to help balance the salary totals.

Mourning, who underwent a kidney transplant on Dec. 19, 2003, stopped playing in early December because of hip, knee, hand and leg problems. He was openly unhappy with the Nets' offseason moves, and demanded a trade to a contender. The Nets and Mourning discussed a buyout, but the two sides were too far apart.

Heat executives had no immediate comment.

``It doesn't concern anybody at this point because nothing's happened,'' Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``Everything's hypothetical. There's nothing to say.''

Miami _ which has the Eastern Conference's best record, but is only 11-10 against the West _ could sign Mourning for a prorated share of the $1.1 million veteran minimum salary, which would work out to be around $350,000 for the remainder of the year.

``Zo would make any team better,'' Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. ``We've all got a great relationship. We've all got great respect for him.''

The notion of Mourning's return to the Heat, for whom he was under contract for eight years, isn't new; rumors that he'd like to be back have swirled for weeks. He was at Miami's home game against Houston on Jan. 30, and drew loud cheers from fans who noticed him leaving through a courtside tunnel.

Mourning averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 18 games for the Nets this season. He played in 12 games for the Nets in 2003-04, retiring three weeks into that season because of complications from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease that was first diagnosed in 2000.

The kidney disease kept Mourning out for much of Miami's 2000-01 season, but he played in 75 games the next year and made the All-Star team. Yet his condition deteriorated again and he missed the entire 2002-03 season, his last in a $105 million, seven-year deal with the Heat.

His agent, Jeff Wechsler, wouldn't comment on Mourning's health status. A message left for Dr. Gerald Appel, one of Mourning's physicians, wasn't returned.

Since joining the NBA out of Georgetown in 1992, Mourning has averaged 19.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in 652 career regular-season games. He's made no secret that winning a ring is his top priority.

``We're already one of the favorites to get it done,'' O'Neal said, referring to the Heat's chances of winning the NBA title. ``With him in the lineup, it will make us a little more favorable to get it done.''
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