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Jermaine O’Neal and T.J. Ford to be Smuggled Across the Border

Jermaine O’Neal and Rasho Nesterovic

According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “The Indiana Pacers have agreed in principle to send six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal to the Toronto Raptors for point guard T.J. Ford and the 17th pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.” The story has been backed up by the Toronto Star and Indianapolis Star, so it’s as done as a deal can be before league approval. The trade is still pending all players involved passing their physicals (no easy task with Ford and O’Neal recently), but word is that it’s gotten to this point after recent medical information allayed the concerns of both teams.

I’m usually one to look for what will go wrong with a trade, but frankly this one just makes a lot of sense. It allows both teams to unload a player they didn’t have in their long-term plans and one injury risk is swapped for another. It also gives both teams a degree of financial flexibility when they would prefer to have it while filling a serious need for each. Basically, it’s what an NBA trade should be: a calculated gamble that makes financial and basketball sense. And because it pushes each team in the right direction for this season and beyond, even the casual fan can get behind it.

Jermaine O’Neal and Rasho Nesterovic Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Toronto figures to be a contender in the East in 2008-09 and Indiana doesn’t, so we’ll start with what this deal does for the Raptors. After a decent start to the season they faded in the second half amid a point guard controversy. As they started to fall in the standings Chris Bosh, the face of the franchise, publicly opined that the Raptors were “too soft.” He was right, and Bosh playing center was part of the problem. GM Bryan Colangelo has built a decidedly Euro team around shooters finesse players. They had no interior presence on the defensive end of the floor and undrafted 27-year-old rookie SF Jamario Moon was their best shot blocker.

After compiling a 41-41 record in the regular season Toronto was quickly dispatched by the Orlando Magic in the first round because they simply had no answer for the overpowering Dwight Howard. That will happen when you have starting center and power forward duo of Chris Bosh and Radoslav Nesterovich.

When the hot rumors had Jermaine O’Neal going to the Cleveland Cavaliers we talked about what a healthy Jermaine can bring. When healthy he brings an inside presence on both ends that nobody on the Toronto roster provides. This is a three-time All-NBA player and six-time NBA All-Star who finished third in the MVP voting for 2003-04. He can be a dynamic low-post defensive presence and interior scorer. A front line of Moon, Bosh and O’Neal should be considerably less soft and give Toronto an answer for NBA centers like Howard.

Why this deal works for the Pacers after the jump…

It’s true, Jermaine is an 11-year vet on the downside of his career who has missed significant time, and he will make $44 million the next two seasons. Clearly the Raptors think they can make a run in the East in those seasons with a real defensive presence inside. And when his huge contract does come off the books it gives Colangelo a ton of money to play with in what is shaping up to be a rich free agent class after the 2009-10 season.

The move also solves Toronto’s point guard controversy. Ford was this team’s guy until another spinal injury at the hands of Al Horford sidelined him for a couple months. The previously unheralded Jose Calderon stepped into the spotlight and immediately produced like an All Star point. In 56 games as a starter Calderon put up an incredible line of 13 points, 9.1 assists, 1.2 steals and just 1.9 TOs a game while shooting 53.1% from the floor and 91.1% from the line. That made him perhaps the most efficient offensive player in the league after Steve Nash, and his assist-to-turnover ratio was the best in the league. However, when Ford came back from the injury Calderon struggled while splitting time. This move makes him the unquestioned starter from day one, a role he should thrive in. He’s a better option than Ford and one with less injury concerns.

So yeah, this is a good move for the Raptors. But it’s good for Indiana, too.

First and foremost, the Pacers finally get a dynamic young point guard they can build around. After center, point guard is easily the hardest position to fill in the NBA. The spine problems are something that will follow Ford for the rest of his career and he is always one bad fall from retirement, but he’s a solid playmaker and a high character guy. The Pacers can use both. At 25-years-old Ford also fits in with the Indiana youth movement alongside future star Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, Jr., who was a minor revelation this season.

Just as important for Larry Bird, they get to move on without Jamaal Tinsley. This is a team that has had embarrassing legal and attitude problems following them around for years. They went so far as to trade away Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson just to clean the slate, but the remaining guys didn’t get the message and the police ticker has continued to churn out stories at a healthy clip since. According to Indianapolis Star reporter Mike Wells:

Bird said he has had “enough” of forward Shawne Williams, and they will trade him if they can get something in return. Williams is on “very thin ice” if they can’t find a taker for him, Bird said.

When asked about point guard Jamaal Tinsley, whose future with the franchise is just about sealed, Bird responded, “He’s just right below (Williams).”

In addition to moving on without Tinsley the Pacers were all too eager to unload the aging and injury ravaged O’Neal. With their new core of young players centered around Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Danny Granger they needed to get younger and become active in the draft and free agent market again. O’Neal was owed over $44 million the next two seasons and his contract stood as their only major impediment to true rebuilding.

Ford will obviously step in as the starting point, but Rasho Nesterovic also figures to start for Indiana at center. He’s nothing special, but Rasho’s $8.4 million contract is surprisingly large and comes off the books after this season. He will not be brought back. In the meantime, Nesterovic provides a serviceable big man who can knock down the 12-foot jumper.

Finally, the 17th pick also makes the Indiana Pacers bigger players in this draft. There are a number of solid sleepers in this class, so with the 11th and 17th picks they can either draft two pieces who will contribute somewhere down the road. They could also package the picks in a deal to move up in the lottery.

Related: Jermaine O’Neal, T.J. Ford, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Chris Bosh


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