O’Neal deal: Shot in arm or foot?

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If the Indiana Pacers pull the trigger on a deal to send Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto for guard T.J. Ford, center Rasho Nesterovic and possibly the No. 17 pick in this year’s NBA draft, several NBA insiders think they’d be shooting themselves in the foot.

Pacers officials have been mum on the possible trade, and that may be because there isn’t much to say, suggested one league source.

“This story has been out there a while, and it’s mostly coming out of Toronto,” said ESPN senior writer Pat Forde. “The Pacers can do a lot better.”

Forde said T.J. Ford’s physical condition is a big question mark, adding that his career is one hard foul from being over. Ford missed the entire 2004-05 season with a neck injury. He missed 10 games during the 2005-06 season and seven in 2006-07. Last year he was benched for 31 games due to injury. Ford is a major gamble given the Pacers’ history with oft injured point guard Jamal Tinsley.

Besides, ESPN’s Forde pointed out, the team has its eyes set on drafting a point guard, Texas’ D.J. Augustin, who has solid basketball skills, and just as importantly for a team plagued by a number of off-court issues in the last few years, is a solid citizen. The NBA draft is Thursday.

It’s true that there’s an insurance policy in place that would pay a large chunk of Ford’s remaining contract if he is injured to the point where his career is ended, but that still could leave the team in a hole at point guard. If Ford is injured enough to miss games, but not call an end to his career, the Pacers are stuck in an even more difficult situation.

The biggest upside to the trade is unburdening the team of O’Neal’s contract, which pays $21.3 million this coming year and $22.9 million in 2009-10. But ESPN’s Forde said that’s not big enough reason to jump at just any deal. “O’Neal is still an all-star,” he said.

What do you think the Pacers should do?

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