- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Indiana Pacers have withheld from trading Jermaine O'Neal at least in part because they're still hopeful that the Los Angeles Lakers will change their stance and consent to surrendering Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum in a trade for O'Neal, according to NBA front-office sources.
In the meantime, sources say Indiana has discussed another O'Neal deal in which the New Jersey Nets would send the Pacers a package featuring veteran swingman Richard Jefferson and young center Nenad Krstic.
It's not yet clear whether the Pacers would proceed with New Jersey if the Lakers don't budge. Jefferson, for one, believes that his Nets bosses wouldn't make this deal, telling ESPN.com's Andy Katz: "They said they want to keep the team together."
In the short term, sources say, Indiana remains focused on dealing with the Lakers, with the Pacers convinced that discussions can be revived even though L.A. has repeatedly indicated that it's unwilling to part with Odom and Bynum in the same deal.
Minnesota's Kevin Garnett is the Lakers' dream trade target, but they privately acknowledge that the Phoenix Suns are the favorites to land Garnett -- this summer if not during Thursday's draft -- given Garnett's preference to wind up with the Suns.
Yet L.A. maintains that pairing O'Neal with Kobe Bryant won't move them very far up the Western Conference ladder if it costs them Odom and Bynum in the same trade. It's also no lock that acquiring O'Neal would appease an increasingly distant Bryant, as the Lakers believed before Bryant's determined push to be traded over the past month.
Despite Pacers president Larry Bird's reported fondness for Odom and Bynum, Odom might be the least excited about a Lakers-Pacers swap. ESPN.com reported earlier this month that Odom, according to sources close to the 27-year-old, would be "quite unhappy" if he's sent to the Pacers in an O'Neal deal. With two seasons left on his contract, at $13.2 million and $14.1 million, it's believed that Odom would immediately seek a three-year contract extension from any team that makes a move for him.
The Lakers and the New York Knicks -- coached by his close friend Isiah Thomas -- are reportedly O'Neal's two preferred destinations if he and the Pacers part company after seven seasons. Yet joining New Jersey, if those discussions progressed, would team O'Neal with point guard Jason Kidd and swingman Vince Carter, who is soon expected to sign a lucrative extension with the Nets.
Calls for a dismantling of the Kidd-Carter-Jefferson triumvirate grew louder after the Nets failed to get past Cleveland's thin and inexperienced team in the second round of the playoffs, making it three straight seasons that New Jersey has been eliminated before the conference finals. But on Wednesday, Nets president Rod Thorn publicly dismissed suggestions that Jefferson is being offered to the Portland Trail Blazers for big man Zach Randolph.
From the Pacers' perspective, Jefferson (a member of Team USA at the 2004 Olympics) and Krstic would represent two front-line additions in exchange for their biggest trade asset, with Krstic unquestionably further along in his development than Bynum. Yet both players -- like O'Neal, who was hobbled by knee trouble last season -- would come with injury concerns. Jefferson has missed big chunks of two of the last three seasons because of wrist and ankle surgeries and Krstic played only 26 games in 2006-07 before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Said Jefferson: "They told me that they would keep us together. They said: 'Don't believe all the talk. We're not trading you.' They said they want to keep the team together. I want to stay. I want to win games in New York.''
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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