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Pacers officially trade O'Neal

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers fans might not recognize many of the players on the roster next season.

That's exactly what team president Larry Bird is going for.

Indiana completed two trades Wednesday that Bird said were important moves for a franchise that is trying to redefine itself and move past the brawl between Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans in November 2004 and the numerous off-court incidents that followed. The Pacers announced that they have officially sent six-time All-Star power forward Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston and first-round draft pick Roy Hibbert. The Pacers also sent second-round draft pick Nathan Jawai to the Raptors.

In another trade, the Pacers sent Ike Diogu and first-rounder Jerryd Bayless to Portland for Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts and first-round pick Brandon Rush.

Both previously reported trades became official Wednesday.

The big trade was with Toronto because the new Pacers immediately provide youth and versatility. The new contracts also will give Indiana salary cap flexibility after next season.

"We had a trading partner, and we went out and got guys that we thought could help our team and get us moving in a different direction, but a direction that I feel is going to be the best for the franchise," Bird told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Trading O'Neal was difficult for Bird, but O'Neal will be 30 before next season starts. He has missed 122 regular-season games the past four years, mostly due to injuries. Bird said the Pacers needed to get what they could for a player who is due more than $44 million the next two seasons.

"The last few years, we've seen that we're up against the cap, and what we're paying him, almost a third of our cap, made it very difficult to do any other deals," Bird said.

Ford is one of the key pickups in the deal. The point guard has career averages of 11.6 points and 6.9 assists.

Like O'Neal, he has had injury issues. He was 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.

Bird said Ford was cleared by the Pacers' medical team.

Bird called Jack a "tough, defensive-minded player that can get the ball where you want it."

The Pacers also were happy with backup point guard Travis Diener last season. Ford, Jack and Diener make troubled Jamaal Tinsley expendable. Tinsley is unpopular with Pacers fans because of his surly on-court demeanor, history of injuries and tendency to find trouble off the court.

"Right now, our feeling is that we have three point guards who can get the job done for us," Bird said. "With Jamaal, we're looking and listening, and maybe we can get a deal that we can get him to a place where he can excel with his skills. He's a very talented basketball player, and a guy that's done a lot for the Pacers, but sometimes, it's just time to move on."

Bird likes Rush, a 6-foot-7 guard who helped Kansas win the national championship this year.

"He's a kid we feel will be able to defend right away and be able to play in the league at a pretty high level in his first year. He can do a little bit of everything."

Bird said Hibbert, a 7-foot-2, 278-pound center, was the best big man in the draft. He has big plans for the big shot-blocker because Nesterovic and Jeff Foster are free agents after the upcoming season.

Baston, a 6-10 forward, is a three-year veteran with career averages of 2.8 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game. He's a former Pacer, having played in 47 games with Indiana in the 2006-07 season.

McRoberts, who was a star at Carmel High School in suburban Indianapolis, played little as a rookie last season, including stints in the NBA's developmental league.

The moves leave the Pacers without a definite starter at O'Neal's old spot -- something the Pacers plan to address as they continue to wheel and deal this summer.

"We'd like to get a guy we know can come in and play from the power forward position, can give us something we don't have right now," he said. "We're looking for another power forward who can help us coming off the bench or even starting."

For now, Bird is happy that he's continued to put his stamp on the team in his first offseason since former CEO Donnie Walsh left for the New York Knicks.

"The main focus was that I'm going to change the culture, and that's what I'm going to do first," he said. "I think we're on the right road to getting that accomplished."

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