ORLANDO – The re-signing of Joe Johnson might not be the only big splash the Atlanta Hawks make this summer.
Free-agent center Shaquille O'Neal is seriously considering a two-year deal with the Hawks that starts at the mid-level exception of $5.8 million, according to NBA sources close to both the team and the future Hall of Fame player.
O'Neal, whose past season in Cleveland with LeBron James ended in disappointment, has been working out the past two weeks in Orlando, where he makes his offseason home.
Johnson, over the weekend, agreed to sign with the Hawks for the six-year, $119 million maximum allowable contract with the Hawks. Free-agent signings can't begin until July 8. Johnson was told by management that the Hawks intended to make significant changes to their roster, including the possible addition of O'Neal.
"I think he wants to see how everything shakes out with all the free agents, but he's seriously considering Atlanta's offer,'' said the source who asked that his name not be used. "He wants to play two more years, and he wants it to be with a contender. He thinks he can help them become a serious one.''
The Hawks, who lost in the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year, have a glaring need for a bigger, stronger center with a low-post game. They have been using undersized Al Horford, who could slide smoothly to power forward to make room for O'Neal.
The Hawks have recently been exploring the possibility of trading power forward Josh Smith as part of their summertime makeover, according to sources around the league.
O'Neal, 38, played 53 games for the Cavs last season, averaging 12 points and 6.7 rebounds in 23.4 minutes. Although he isn't the force he once was, he could solidify Atlanta defensively.
The Cavaliers traded for him last summer, believing he could be their answer to rival Orlando and Dwight Howard, but they never reached that matchup after losing to Boston.
The Hawks are thinking along the same lines after being swept by the Magic in the second round this spring. They had no answer for Howard around the basket, something that O'Neal still could provide. They also could use O'Neal's star appeal to help create some much needed interest in the franchise.
Although the Hawks looked awful against the Magic, they had won 53 games during the regular season, their fifth consecutive season of improving their victory total. Much of the blame for the loss fell on the shoulders of Johnson and Smith, their two most talented players, and coach Mike Woodson, who was fired.
O'Neal made $20 million last season in Cleveland – the final year of a long-term contract -- but he knows that his value has dropped dramatically, and he probably won't be offered anything more than the mid-level.
"He wants to make sure he finishes with a contender, and in a city he likes,'' said the source.