by Marcel Mutoni

All weekend long, rumors swirled about a potential deal between the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors. Word is that Miami is willing to take on Jermaine O’Neal and his battered body (plus the massive contract), while Toronto gets the perennially unhappy Shawn Marion (and his expiring deal).

The Toronto Star has the details:

The Raptors are moving toward a significant mid-season trade that would ship Jermaine O’Neal to the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks in a deal involving highly paid veterans unable to fit seamlessly into new situations.

Multiple league sources confirmed yesterday that talks have progressed to the point where the trade, although not imminent, could be finalized when the Heat are satisfied O’Neal is healthy enough to help them in their drive for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Toronto’s braintrust is ready (and somewhat desperate) to make this thing happen immediately, but the Heat are cautiously waiting to see just how healthy O’Neal is first, and if he can truly help them secure a playoff spot this season. And naturally, Pat Riley is downplaying the whole thing.

Adding fuel to the speculation, however, were both players’ absence from their respective lineups yesterday.