O'Neal confirms trade to Toronto for Ford, 17th pick
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers are trading six-time All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal to the Toronto Raptors for point guard T.J. Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic, the 17th pick in the draft and a second-round pick.
O'Neal confirmed the trade Thursday, saying he was pleased with the move by team president Larry Bird.
"He wanted to get me to a place where I could contend and do what I'm capable of doing," O'Neal told The Associated Press. "We both agreed that the timing was perfect. His focus on getting them [the Pacers] to a level where they can grow and start to be competitive was tremendous."
O'Neal wasn't surprised by the trade.
"I knew last year that this time would be coming," he said.
Sources told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher on Wednesday that the Pacers and the Raptors had agreed send O'Neal to Toronto in exchange for Ford, Nesterovic and the No. 17 pick in Thursday's NBA draft.
ESPN.com has also learned that the Raptors will get the 41st pick from the Pacers as part of the deal while the Pacers will receive Raptors forward Maceo Baston to complete the deal.
Ford's contract makes him a "base-year compensation" player, meaning the trade cannot be completed until July 9.
The agreement was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
Pacers spokesman David Benner said he could not confirm the trade.
"We're stuck in our role here, the players can say whatever they want, we can't say anything," Benner said.
Earlier reports by Yahoo.com and the Indianapolis Star both said O'Neal and Ford must still pass physicals.
O'Neal said he took his physical Wednesday, but he wasn't sure if Ford had finished his.
O'Neal, who will turn 30 before entering his 13th season, has a contract paying him more than $44 million over the next two seasons. He will be a part of a powerhouse front line with All-Star forward Chris Bosh.
"I think playing alongside Chris Bosh gives us a different dynamic," O'Neal said. "You look at teams in the NBA, you look at their low-post players, and they always have one good player, and when that good player goes out, you can change your defense a little bit and load up on other areas. Even with us starting out the games together, one of us will always be on the floor. You won't get a chance to adjust your defense."
That's one of the main reasons he believes the Raptors can contend for an NBA title next season.
"You're talking about a team that's extremely athletic, extremely big at the wing positions, and they play defense," O'Neal said. "With my defensive mentality and ability to change the game and Chris' ability to block shots and change the game -- it's exciting."
The trade leaves the Pacers without their most-prominent player since Reggie Miller retired three years ago. It would, however, give them another first-round draft pick to go with their No. 11 selection as they look to rebuild after missing the playoffs two consecutive years.
Acquiring Ford also would give them a possible replacement at point guard for Jamaal Tinsley, who is unpopular with fans and has missed much time with injuries in recent seasons.
Ford has his own health problems, including being diagnosed in 2001 with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the openings of the vertebra the spinal cord runs through. He suffered a neck injury in February 2004 and was sidelined until the 2005-06 season.
Ford averaged a career-high 14 points and 7.9 assists in 2006-07 as the Raptors won the Atlantic Division. Last season, Ford missed 24 games after hitting his head on the court during a December game and ended up averaging 12.1 points and 6.1 assists. Throughout last season, backup Jose Calderon proved more than adequate and took advantage of Ford's injury to land the role as the Raptors' favored starter.
O'Neal averaged 13.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in 42 games last season, missing 33 straight games in midseason because of pain and swelling from an injured left knee. He tore meniscus cartilage in his left knee during the 2006-07 season and had surgery in April 2007, but it hadn't healed fully by last fall's training camp.
"When I sat out all those games last year, it was a career move," he said. "I knew what the situation was. I knew what the significance of me staying away from the game, rehabbing the leg and getting the knee back to its normal usage was."
O'Neal and the Pacers have struggled since 2003-04 when the team had the NBA's best record at 61-21 and he finished third in the MVP voting after averaging 20.1 points and 10 rebounds. He was suspended the following season for 15 games for his role in the brawl with Detroit Pistons fans. He has missed 122 games the past four seasons.
O'Neal said the moves could help the Pacers in the long run.
"I feel they will be a very good team down the road, or in the near future with coach [Jim] O'Brien's ability to coach," he said.
Nesterovic, a 7-footer from Slovenia, averaged 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds last season in his ninth NBA season.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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