Pacers, Raptors complete trade sending O'Neal to Toronto
TORONTO -- Frustrated by off-court distractions and on-court failures with the Indiana Pacers, Jermaine O'Neal said Wednesday he broke down and cried when he learned last month he was being traded to Toronto in a deal that sent guard T.J. Ford to Indiana.
At a news conference, O'Neal said the Pacers' struggles, beginning with the brawl against Detroit Pistons fans at Auburn Hills in November 2004, began to erode his enjoyment for the game.
"It's probably been one of the worst situations any pro team has been through," O'Neal said. "There are a lot more things that went on behind the scenes that kind of wore you down. It wore me down a bit mentally and I started to not really enjoy playing as much as I used to love to play the game. When I got the call from my agent and he told me about the possibility of coming here, it was like a rebirth. Sometimes you lose that love and you need a move or something to get that fire back in you."
Also Wednesday, the Raptors officially announced the re-signing of restricted free agent guard Jose Calderon, whose emergence last season while Ford was injured allowed Toronto to acquire O'Neal. The Raptors re-signed Calderon to a five-year deal worth $45 million on Wednesday.
General manager Bryan Colangelo said trading Ford "brings clarity to an issue that was somewhat of a distraction as [last] season wore on." Colangelo said the Raptors had three or four offers for Ford, but felt O'Neal was too good to pass up.
"Of all the transactions that were contemplated in the so-called T.J. Ford sweepstakes, this deal was number one," Colangelo said.
Ford averaged 13.2 points and 7.2 assists in two seasons with Toronto.
The teams agreed to the deal in principle before last month's draft, but it couldn't be officially announced until Wednesday.
A six-time All-Star, O'Neal averaged 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds over eight seasons with Indiana. He'll pair with two-time All-Star Chris Bosh to give the Raptors one of the league's best inside tandems.
O'Neal called Bosh after the trade to reassure the five-year veteran that he's not interested in upstaging Bosh.
"This is Chris' team," O'Neal said. "I'm here to help him lead. He's been a centerpiece for quite some time and he's a hell of a talent. I'm not into whose team this is, I'm into success. I've been through some rough times over the past four years and to get this opportunity, it makes you want to do whatever is necessary for this team to be successful."
O'Neal missed 40 games last season because of lingering pain from a torn ligament in his left knee that was surgically repaired the previous summer. After returning for the final nine games of last season and rehabbing the knee this offseason, O'Neal said he's back at full strength.
"I played on one leg for two-and-a-half years," O'Neal said. "I have no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a healthy year for me."
A first-round pick by Portland in 1996, O'Neal joined Indiana in 2000-01 and became a central part of the team that lost to Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals four seasons later.
The Pacers began the 2004-05 season hoping to reach the NBA finals, but the brawl in Detroit sent the team into a tailspin.
"It got to the point where I was extremely miserable," O'Neal said. "Everything around me was falling apart. After (the brawl), I never saw the light of day again. It was all downhill after that."
"It was kind of mind-blowing a little bit, that these situations kept happening after what we'd been through the year before or a month before," O'Neal said. "We'd win a game and have one media person. We'd have a shooting and it would be like the NBA finals."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.