Jermaine O'Neal confirms trade to Raptors

Jermaine O'Neal confirmed Thursday that Indiana is trading him to the Toronto Raptors for point guard T.J. Ford, centre Rasho Nesterovic, the 17th pick in the NBA draft and a player to be named.

His team won't confirm it, but Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal says he's heading to Toronto.

The six-time all-star said Thursday that Indiana is trading him to the Raptors for point guard T.J. Ford, centre Rasho Nesterovic, the 17th pick in the NBA draft and a player to be named.

O'Neal said he was pleased with the move by Pacers 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."

Pacers spokesman David Benner, who earlier Thursday said the deal reported by various media outlets was "all speculation," refused to provide confirmation even in the wake of O'Neal's comments.

"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 said 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.

"We're talking about a player in T.J. that is an asset, a starting point guard in the NBA," Colangelo said. "There has been a lot of interest, and teams that have called and inquired have not put deals on the table that have been insulting in any regard.

"In fact, it is pretty apparent that T.J.'s value is very high."

Raptors eye cap relief

Under the NBA's arcane trade rules, a deal can't be finalized until July 1, when Ford's base-year compensation tag comes off the books. Yahoo and ESPN both said O'Neal and Ford — two injury-prone players — must still pass physicals.

Colangelo threw in Nesterovic, who makes $14 million US, to offset O'Neal's mammoth contract — another requirement for NBA deals.

O'Neal, 29, is owed a whopping $44 million US over the next two seasons, but he would provide the Raptors with a powerful presence in the paint and significant salary-cap relief when his contract comes off the books in the summer of 2010.

O'Neal has averaged 14.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocked shots, 1.5 assists and 28.2 minutes a game in 724 NBA games (515 starts) since he was drafted 17th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1996.

Problems with his left knee limited him to 42 games last season, when he averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.1 blocks and 28.7 minutes.

Ford was diagnosed in 2001 with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the openings the spinal cord runs through, and missed the entire 2004-05 NBA season following neck surgery.

When he suffered a neck injury last Dec. 11, Jose Calderon played so brilliantly in his stead that Ford became expendable. Colangelo promised Ford at season's end that he would work out a trade and, last Friday, tendered a qualifying offer to Calderon to retain the right to match any offers for the coveted restricted free agent.

With files from the Associated Press