by Conrad Brunner
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
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QUESTION OF THE DAY|
Q. Is there any reason to believe that J.O. (Jermaine O'Neal) will stay with the Pacers and not leave to go to another team considering all the problems that the Pacers have had this year? (From Deb in Brownsburg, IN)
A. Actually, it's harder to find a reason why he would leave. Start with the financial issues. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is weighted heavily in favor of teams that want to re-sign their own free agents. First of all, you don't have to be under the salary cap to pay the maximum salary because of the "Larry Bird" rule. Secondly, the Pacers can offer both a longer term (seven years as opposed to six) and a slightly higher annual raise (12.5 percent as opposed to 10) than other teams. That means the maximum the Pacers can offer is a seven-year contract that totals slightly more than $105 million. The most another team could offer is a six-year, $82.5 million deal. And that's assuming another team would have at least $11 million available under the cap to fit O'Neal's first-year salary.
Beyond that, why would a man who believes so strongly in loyalty leave the franchise that gambled so heavily when trading a popular All-Star (Dale Davis) to acquire O'Neal when he was thoroughly unproven? Here, he has become a star of Olympic proportions. He is surrounded by young talent with a bright future, has several close friends in the locker room, a coach he respects and the roster has been built to suit his talents - namely, allowing him to play power forward full-time, rather than center. San Antonio has often been mentioned in national media reports as a possible destination, but think about that for a minute. Who would play center? Who would be the go-to guy? Who would be the star? And then there is the not-so-small matter of the $22.5 million the Pacers can offer that the Spurs - or any other team - cannot.
Also, do not forget Donnie Walsh's remarkable record when it comes to retaining his key free agents - particularly the younger ones. Does any of this assure O'Neal's return to the Pacers? Of course not. Ultimately, he will make the decision for his own reasons. But it does seem it will be very difficult to come up with valid reasons to do anything other than re-sign.