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 player to be determined.
In this Nov. 9, 2007 file photo, Indiana Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal (7) puts up a shot as Charlotte Bobcats' Emeka Okafor defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C. The Toronto Raptors have agreed in principle to acquire O'Neal from Indiana for point guard T.J. Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic, the 17th pick in the draft and a player to be named, according to a report Wednesday, June 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/Rick Havner)
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.
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.
Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo told The Canadian Press on Wednesday that he was in the midst of "four or five" conversations with teams involving Ford and a combination of Toronto's No. 17 pick and/or other Raptors players leading up to Thursday night's draft.
A deal can't be finalized until July 1, when Ford's base-year compensation tag comes off the books.
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 now 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.
Nesterovic, a 7-footer from Slovenia, averaged 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds last season in his ninth NBA season.
The Pacers also would get Toronto's pick at No. 17, Roy Hibbert, as part of the deal. Hibbert, a 7-foot-2, 278-pound center from Georgetown, averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a senior.
O'Neal averaged 13.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in 42 games last season, missing 33 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.