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Of Jermaine O’Neal and Boris Diaw, Some Early Trade Thoughts

Jermaine O'Neal - High risk, high reward for Colangelo and the Raptors?

Jermaine O'Neal - High risk, high reward for Colangelo and the Raptors?

Well for a while there it was pretty quiet.

Some years leading up to the draft, it seems like there’s a rumour a day concerning each team, especially in terms of draft-day trades.

This year though it was pretty quiet up until late last week.

Then suddenly Dwyane Wade was headed back to Chicago, Carmello Anthony was headed to Detroit, and TJ Ford was off to Phoenix in exchange for Boris Diaw.

While yes, at this point all of these and many more are stuck in the rumours and speculation stage, from a Raptors’ fans perspective, it’s worth taking a closer look at the Diaw idea…not to mention the latest rumour which popped up yesterday morning; Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto for TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and the 17th pick.

Reports now are saying that trade talks between Indiana and Toronto have broken down but it’s probably still worth taking a closer look at each deal…starting with Ford for Diaw.

For starters, this deal makes a lot of sense for both teams. Diaw is being under-used on Phoenix, no longer fits with the Suns’ style, and has a contract that could be described as slightly on the "generous" side.

For the Raptors, Ford needs to go, so getting anything in return, let alone a possible option to start at the 3, is a good deal.

But there are some major issues with such a transaction if you dig deeper.

First and foremost, how does Ford take to coming off the bench again, even if it is for a possible championship contending team and in a large role behind the aging Steve Nash?

Second, is Boris Diaw REALLY the answer at the 3 for the Raps? He’s not exactly the slashing, defensive-minded small forward that Toronto fans covet.

More than anything, this would be a case of two teams looking to exchange pieces that don’t fit, hoping that in their new environments, they suddenly become more palatable. And all of that’s fine, but taking on Diaw means an additional year of his $9 Million contract as TJ has a year less on his deal. So if Boris is a bust in Raptorland, that means fans have an additional year to watch him potentially toil on the bench.

The other thing that many people are forgetting is the reluctance the Suns have had to even SPEAK to the Raptors let alone make trades. Let’s not forget that Mike D’Antoni was forbidden to have any discussions with Toronto when he was looking elsewhere to coach. So would the Suns swallow their pride and negotiate with the Executive of the Year that they let get away? Hard to say at this point.

That’s why the Jermaine O’Neal idea is even more interesting.

First of all, regardless of the draft pick being included, Toronto would need to add some pieces to the mix to make the salaries match up. O’Neal is due over $21 Million next season meaning the Raptors would need to get within $100,000 of that under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement for the trade to go through. Ford and Rasho alone would only take the Raps to about $18 Million leaving them a couple Mill short. Perhaps someone like Kris Humphries will be tossed in or a combination of smaller salaries like Joey Graham and Maceo Baston. (In fact, how funny would it be if those two went considering that Baston already played for the Pacers and had a terrible experience, and Joey’s brother Stephen is on the squad?) That would clear up two of BC’s warts for sure however as Graham and Baston have done nothing worthwhile and could easily be replaced with cheaper options via Summer League or Free Agency. (Perhaps that’s something to consider based on the recent Free Agent Camp?)

Now, let’s keep going and assume the salaries do match up. Does the trade make basketball sense?

From a Pacers’ angle it makes a ton of sense. Coach O’Brien loves to play an up-tempo game and J.O. was simply slowing things down. In fact, the Pacers probably were a more effective and deadly squad last year with O’Neal out of the lineup. Also, Jamaal Tinsley has more than worn out his welcome and the quick strike ability of Ford would be a great fit in Indiana’s new run-and-gun system.

Going past Ford, taking on Rasho’s contract makes sense as it would give the Pacers a lot of cap room to work with as early as next summer. I don’t think Larry Bird’s fooling himself, this team is in rebuilding mode and with some solid pieces like Ford, Granger, Dunleavy Jr. and a few draft picks this year, they’re off to a good start. And by dealing O’Neal’s salary and only taking on Ford and a few others, the Pacers will have at least $10 Million in free agent money to play with to speed up the rebuilding process once Nesterovic’s contract is up.

And what about the Raps?

Well if this year proved anything it’s that having a bench (and 3/5’s of your starting line-up) filled with sixth and seventh quality men, doesn’t beat star power. Toronto simply didn’t have the talent to compete with the Bostons and Detroits of the league and this move would immediately pair two of the most dominant big men in the game when healthy.

Aaaah the caveat…"when healthy."

That’s the real sticking point isn’t it for us Raptor fans?

If JO wasn’t owed over $40 Million the next two seasons we could deal with risking getting re-injured. However if Rasho goes, and O’Neal gets badly hurt, that leaves a huge hole in the middle besides Chris Bosh.

Howland and I discussed this last night and agreed that if you make this deal, you do it realizing that you’re one serious O’Neal injury away from being right back in the lottery.

So if we were in BC’s shoes and the offer came through, would we do still pull the trigger?

The answer is a resounding yes and here’s why.

First of all, Bosh needs help, especially in terms of carrying the scoring load. He’s never been the defensive stopper in the middle that the team needs and with O’Neal on board, he won’t have to be. Jermaine is a better rebounder and shot blocker and has a better back to the basket game than Bosh. This means that the two could be a killer 1-2 punch on the blocks, one playing the high post and the other the low.

This would also impact the rest of the club as now, Jason Kapono could take over at the 3 as his defensive deficiencies would be somewhat masked by the gruesome twosome waiting in the paint for slashing wings. And on offense, teams would be keyed in on the two bigs allowing Kapono and Anthony Parker, and Jose Calderon for that matter, lots of room to bomb away. Jamario Moon would be brought in off the bench, which he’s better suited for, thus giving him the opportunity to continue to develop his offense game, instead of being forced into a scoring role in the starting line-up.

Oh, and what about Il Mago? Well this trade, and the mere fact that it’s being floated around, better serve as a wake-up call to "the Magician." It seems like we’re starting to understand the level of disappointment Bryan Colangelo has in his top pick and if Bargs doesn’t at least get his scoring back to where it was in year one, forget sticking with the team, he’ll be lucky to stick in the league!

For the record I haven’t given up on Andrea yet but let’s just say that my past week in the inner sanctum of Raptors’ world did little to inject much optimism in his future development. I heard whispers of poor work ethic, inability to adjust to instruction (he’s apparently quite stubborn and set in his ways) and overall mental frailty. I’m not sure what this says about the vaunted "Calipre" test but we’ll get into this a bit more in our interview with’s Jonathan Givony.

So with JO on board, Toronto would be free to bring him off the bench to back up any of the front-court positions and the hope would be that down the road, Toronto could even play Andrea at the 3 giving them an enormous size advantage over most teams. Perhaps BC is hoping that with a legit second scoring option and big man on the roster, the reduced pressure on Bargnani will help him get back on track. Or perhaps BC has realized that Andrea is simply not the player he thought he was taking with the first overall pick in 2006. From a fans’ standpoint, we’re hoping it’s not the latter…

Now there is of course some question as to whether or not O’Neal would be ok with playing the 5 as like Bosh, he’s always seen himself purely as a 4. My response to this is that I hope he took a good look at the Celtics this year. A little sacrifice on issues like this can go a long way and frankly I think that Bosh and O’Neal will be happy enough to be playing together that they’ll care less about who is technically the "5" each night.

Of course all of this sounds nice and merry but what if O’Neal gets hurt? I mean, we’re talking about a player who has failed to play 70 games since the 2003-2004 season!

From our perspective here, the worst case scenario is that he suffers another huge injury and plays little to no games over those final two years, thus leaving Toronto devoid of a major talent and being tied-up salary-wise for an extra year. (Rasho’s contract of course expires at the end of this coming season.) This is where BC and his crew earn their keep of course, simply trying to forecast this guy’s health. But even if this worst case scenario does occur, the bottom line is that TJ needs to go and if you can get anything in return (I mean many of us were willing to settle for Malik Rose at one point) then I think you do it.

For me the real issue I have with a potential trade like this isn’t so much the "what if O’Neal never plays," but the "who else can you afford to add to the team?" question. After all, let’s say Toronto brought in Jermaine, that would likely mean that after re-signing Jose, the Raps would have approximately $44 Million tied up in three players; Bosh, O’Neal and Calderon. That’s a good chunk of the team’s salary cap and if Toronto needs to send more than one player to Indiana to make such a deal work, all of a sudden we’re talking about the team potentially having to replace six or seven players next year.

-Garbs is gone
-Martin was waived last year
-There’s no guarantee Delfino will be back
-Brezec is done

And via this trade now,

-Ford, Rasho and at least one other, perhaps two other players need to go to make the Indiana trade work financially.

Considering that O’Neal is the only player coming back to Toronto in the currently rumoured deal, that means replacing six, possibly seven players.

Can the Raptors afford to keep Delfino if they pull off a blockbuster deal like this?

Can the Raptors afford to keep Delfino if they pull off a blockbuster deal like this?

That’s why if a trade like this goes down, I’m hoping that BC can either convince Indiana to let Toronto keep the 17th pick, or the Raptors somehow find a way to grab another one later in the first or early second round. Besides the mid-level exception, Toronto after a deal like this, is simply not going to have the cap space to fill out the roster. Therefore cheap talent like draft picks, and possibly players from the free agent camp, may be critical to completing the squad.

So whether or not the talks between Indiana and Toronto have really broken down, you can see that in any trade scenario, Bryan Colangelo is going to have to decide whether or not to jeopardize his original 3 year plan by taking on more salary. He’s also going to have to suddenly address the back-up point guard situation (who knows how ready Roko is) and if a "big" like JO is the eventual trade target, does that afford him some time in terms of upgrading the 3 spot?

At present you have to think that a frontcourt of a healthy Bosh and O’Neal would be a serious problem for teams in the East, especially surrounded by dead-eye gunners like Kapono, Parker and Calderon. Add in some development from Bargnani, another step by Jamario Moon, and some luck via the draft and free agency and suddenly I think we’re talking about a team that could really give other clubs some problems in the playoffs.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, over the next three days I’m sure that BC will have a lot of other offers to mull through and he’ll be closely scrutinizing each scenario.

The important thing here regardless of which trades do or do not occur, is that it’s quite evident BC is seriously looking at upgrading this club’s talent, something that bodes well for a Raptor club next year facing ever-improving divisional and conference rivals.


PS – A couple quick notes. First off, we’ll be having our annual NBA draft party here in Toronto as usual at Harbour Sports Grille, located at 10 Yonge Street. Second, we still don’t have our audio issues resolved concerning our pre-draft and free agent camp workouts but will post a note as soon as things are fixed.