O'Neal Likely to Leave Indiana...but Where?

In an interview with Sporting News Radio's Tim Montemayor, Jermaine O'Neal left little doubt that he wants to be traded and that he expects to be traded to "a team that has a chance to winning a championship."

Without identifying which team he expects to play for next year, the six-time All-Star said he and team management have talked about moving on if the Pacers are rebuilding.

"I dont know what my situation is going to be like as far as next year or the next six or seven years," said O'Neal who turns 30 in October. "I told my agent to do the business."

"I really believe that if it comes to they're totally into rebuilding, I believe that they will move me, if theyre going to rebuild. That's pretty much the consistent thought that i got from the ownership and from management before I left Indianapolis.

"So I don't think its going to come down to a sitaution where we're going to to go back and forth, back and forth for me to be moved on because they just totally just rehauled the team," said O'Neal.

"I think if they going to rehaul the team, then they're will move me and not only move me in with another team, but with another team that has chance to winning a championship. That was the one thing that was said to me and really pleased me before I left Indianapolis."

He told Montemayor, "Me and (Pacer GM) Larry (Bird) talked about it right before I left Indianapolis. We're supposed to meet after the draft. if thats the case (that the team is rebuilding), I would prefer not to go through rebuilding."

While agreeing his contract--"two huge years" and $44.3 million--would be hard to move, he made the case that he is recovered from a knee injury, whose severity was never fully revealed, and that "Once I address these issues with my knee this summer, I am going to be right back at all star level."

O'Neal can opt out of his contract on June 30, a week after the draft, and twice suggested that he believes he can play another "six or seven years". (That could indicate he is willing to opt out and accept a longer term contract with a lower initial salary than he's owed next year.)

O'Neal said he would not pressure the Pacers into a deal, out of loyalty to team owner Herb Simon and the rest of the ownership in Indiana. "I feel loyal to these guys. I'm not going to get into a pissing battle...You see so many situations in different sports, even in basketball, where a player makes a situation really bad just before they even get out of a situation."

But O'Neal left little doubt that while he has loyalty to the ownership--and said Donnie Walsh, now the Knick GM, "has been great to me", there is no love lost between he and Bird. "Me and Larry haven't had the best of relationships with each other. So that's kind've been a little bit of an issue to me."

He was particularly displeased with the way the team handled his knee injury, which he said was his only injury the last two and a half years. He said he and the team used reports of other injuries to mask the severity of his torn meniscus.

"And to tell you the truth, over the last two and a half years, it's only been my knee situation," he told Montemayor. "I didn't want to tell anybody, we didn't want to go public with it, so we kind of put it off on saying 'okay it was a sprained ankle or something else was hurting' just so I didn't have to tell people I tore my meniscus. I tore my menisus and just kept playing on it and eventually it got worse. And its all been downhill from there the last two years."

Team "management", he hinted, let him hang out to dry.

"I was little disappointed that the team didnt step up, knowing what they knew. They knew the entire time what the situation was, that I tore my meniscus, that I chose not to have the surgery, that I chose to go against what the doctors say...for the team and be there for the team. I was disappointed by that."

O'Neal also took a less than veiled swipe at management's choice of players.

"The environment has gotten so bad because of all the off court incidents, its all about what happens off the court, not necessarily what happens on the court," he said, obviously referring to the Pacers' problems with nightclub fights, shootings, harboring fugitives and marijuana possession...and of course the Malace at the Palace.

"It's been tough pill to swallow," he said, noting how far the Pacers have fallen and admitting it's all had an effect on his game. "The off-the-court situations and my knee injury has taken the fire out of me...but I decided when I sat out the last 43 games that I was going to get health. I wasn't going to play at 30 or 40% anymore. I was just going to let people know what was really wrong with me, with my knee and really just redefine myself...get that fire burning inside of me and get in the gym...going back to stage one, totally evaluating my entire body, my entire game, making sure I can dominate again."

So what's the bottom line?

"Control what you can control, which is the basketball court...getting my body right, getting my mind right, getting ready for next year, whether I'm an Indiana Pacer or playing somewhere else."

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