Aren't Pacers Best Fit for O'Neal?

by Jeff Tzucker
by Conrad Brunner

Thursday, May 8, 2003

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Conrad Brunner

Q. Jermaine (O’Neal) says that three teams are on his mind for signing: San Antonio and Orlando and Indiana. But if you look at it, in San Antonio Tim Duncan is going to re-sign from all the success they are having and can have. (O’Neal) would have to play center but didn't they sign Malik Rose to a contract so they don't really need him? Secondly, Orlando: Jermaine has mentioned he does not want to play center but that’s the position he would play because of the emergence of Drew Gooden. Finally, his best fit is Indiana. Even though from what I saw in the playoffs he was the only one playing with heart, the others will start to follow if he keeps
at it. Don't you think that Indiana is the best fit for him? (From Juan in Basin City, WA)

A. O’Neal’s comments about taking a hard look at the free agent market have had a disquieting effect among Pacers fans because he gave the impression his first priority is not necessarily to re-sign with the team that risked quite a bit to give him the opportunity to blossom, then built a roster around his talents. If he looks at the other two situations as objectively as you have, he should reach the same conclusion. In either place, he would likely have to play center, defensively. In San Antonio, that means dealing with Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and other top Western Conference centers on a regular basis. With the Pacers, Brad Miller was acquired specifically to handle the center position, defensively, allowing O’Neal to be a full-time power forward.

The Spurs did sign Rose to a reported 7-year, $42 million contract that runs through 2006-07, but that wouldn’t mitigate their interest in O’Neal, Miller or any other premier big man, for that matter. Rose is a nice player but is constantly battling mismatch problems, defensively, because he is relatively under-sized. Orlando has a quality young player in Gooden at power forward and desperately needs a center so, again, O’Neal doesn’t appear to be a natural fit. Both the Spurs (Duncan) and Magic (Tracy McGrady) are built around existing superstars. O’Neal would have to learn to play second fiddle, something he would not have to do with the Pacers. And we haven’t even mentioned the fact the Pacers can offer both a longer term (seven years as opposed to six) and substantially more money ($105 million as opposed to $82 million) than any other team.

So, while there are a plethora of valid reasons for O’Neal to re-sign with the Pacers, there are very few (other than climate) that could lead him to depart.