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Evilmav2
06-30-2003, 06:43 AM
Show me the money
http://www.indystar.com/images/pics2/image-054391-1736.jpg
Pacers' first order of business is re-signing their top free agent, All-Star Jermaine O'Neal

By Mark Montieth
mark.montieth@indystar.com
June 30, 2003


It could be incredibly simple for the Indiana Pacers. They offer contracts to their three primary free agents, all of whom claim to prefer to stay with them, and it's over.

Or it could grow scarily complicated. It all seems to hinge on Jermaine O'Neal.

NBA teams can begin negotiating with free agents and discussing trades on Tuesday. They can begin executing transactions on July 16. The two-week interim figures to be a hyperactive period of teams recruiting players, negotiating with agents and discussing trades with one another.

For the Pacers, the first order of business will be to retain O'Neal, Reggie Miller and Brad Miller. All are current or former All-Stars whom they consider essential to their plan for rebuilding a contending team.

"We've committed to building a style of team and play that over the last three years has shown steady improvement," coach Isiah Thomas said. "It's important we continue to keep moving in that direction. When you develop players, when they become what they are, it's important that you keep them."

O'Neal will be the primary focus because of what he means to them and the interest he could generate from other teams. His decision also could be the key to retaining Brad Miller, who stated after the season that he wanted to see what O'Neal does before making a decision.

Reggie Miller figures to be easiest to keep, as he and team president Donnie Walsh want him to finish his career with the only team he has played for. The primary challenge figures to be how much salary to offer a guard who made $12 million last season, but is coming off ankle surgery and turns 38 in August.

O'Neal is likely to hit the $12 million mark next season, his eighth in the NBA. The 24-year-old has made the All-Star team and been voted third-team all-NBA the past two seasons, and he appeared to take another step forward when he averaged 22.8 points, 17.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the first-round playoff loss to Boston.

That proved to be a spring-loaded launching pad to free agency, but left him disappointed in some of his teammates, who he believes didn't compete as seriously as he did. O'Neal said the day after the season ended that his first choice was to re-sign with the Pacers, who rescued him from Portland's bench in an August 2000 trade, but he also planned to explore other options. He singled out San Antonio and Orlando as possibilities.

He hasn't been available for comment since, although he's maintained a presence around Conseco Fieldhouse and been in touch with team officials. It isn't known if he's changed his stance since season's end, but it's also unclear how many options he'll have.

Orlando cannot pay him his market value, and isn't showing interest in him or any of the other premier young big men who are free agents. It already owes Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill more than $60 million each over the next four seasons and can do no better than to offer anyone the mid-level exception (about $4.9 million) for next season. According to media reports in Orlando, the Magic's sights are set on guard Andre Miller and forward Juwan Howard.

San Antonio is reported to be focused primarily on O'Neal, Jason Kidd and Elton Brand, but will consider several options to fill David Robinson's place in the lineup and on the payroll.

Brand will be difficult to acquire because he's a restricted free agent and his team, the Los Angeles Clippers, can match any offers.

Kidd, who has stated he plans to visit the Spurs on July 6, might be a good fit, although the Spurs' current starting point guard, Tony Parker, is considered a rising star.

For O'Neal, the Spurs offer a chance to jump aboard a contender and play with one of the best big men in the league, Tim Duncan. The potential downside is whether he and Duncan could complement one another on the court. There's also the pressure brought by playing for the defending league champions.

How it adds up

The Pacers are prepared to pay O'Neal the maximum salary allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which is $11 million or 30 percent of the salary cap that's in effect the first year of the contract, whichever is greater. The 30 percent figure would likely fall between $12 million-$13 million.

The Pacers also can offer a seven-year deal that grows by 12.5 percent per season. Other teams can offer no more than a six-year deal with 10 percent raises per year. Ultimately that's a difference of about $30 million, although the Spurs will remind prospects that Texas doesn't have a state income tax.

Denver also has enough space under the salary cap to entice a premier free agent, and Utah will if it doesn't re-sign Karl Malone. Those teams, however, don't offer as much opportunity for immediate success as the Pacers, and O'Neal has made clear his desire to win.

The Pacers believe he can do it with them.

"We're very focused on making sure he re-signs and is the centerpiece of our team so that we can continue to compete for a championship," said David Morway, the senior vice president of basketball administration, speaking on behalf of the franchise in the absence of Walsh, who is in Denver because of a death in the family.

"Jermaine is a premier player. He's the best big man in the Eastern Conference, he's young, he's a leader, he's a man . . . he's the whole package."

Come Tuesday, the Pacers will begin to make their feelings known more directly to all three free agents. Thomas will call them, and Walsh and his staff will present their arguments for re-signing.

"We'll be taking an aggressive posture," Morway said. "We'll do some things privately that in a professional way will make them understand why they're important to this franchise and how close we feel we are to contending for a championship."

O'Neal explained his interest in playing for the Spurs and Magic because of the chance to play with established stars in Duncan and McGrady. Thomas, however, suggested it's time for O'Neal to recognize his status as a player others want to be with.

"He's become such a great player and a great leader so fast that now he has to recognize who he is and what he stands for," Thomas said. "Players want to follow him now."

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O'Neal can make $122,948,946
The collective bargaining agreement sets the maximum salary for players with seven or more years of NBA experience -- such as Jermaine O'Neal -- at $11 million or 30 percent of the salary cap that is in effect the first year of the contract, whichever is greater. Given salary cap projections, 30 percent should equal about $12 million next season.

O'Neal can sign a seven-year deal with 12.5 percent annual raises with the Pacers, or a six-year deal with 10 percent annual raises with another team. How the numbers can add up:

Pacers
First year: $12,000,000
Second year: $13,500,000
Third year: $15,187,500
Fourth year: $17,085,938
Fifth year: $19,221,680
Sixth year: $21,624,390
Seventh year: $24,327,439
Maximum possible contract.
Total value: $122,948,946

Other teams
First year: $12,000,000
Second year: $13,200,000
Third year: $14,520,000
Fourth year: $15,972,000
Fifth year: $17,569,200
Sixth year: $19,326,120
Maximum possible contract.
Total value: $92,587,320

Mandyahl
06-30-2003, 12:45 PM
it really looks like he will go back to indiana. maybe they will find a way to screw it up though.

u2sarajevo
06-30-2003, 12:51 PM
Originally posted by: Mandyahl
it really looks like he will go back to indiana. maybe they will find a way to screw it up though.

Unless he is coming to the Mavericks, I hope Indiana doesn't screw it up. If he makes his way to San Antonio, that will spell TROUBLE for the rest of the league (or at least the contenders).

Mandyahl
06-30-2003, 01:22 PM
yeah, it would be terrible for him to go to san antonio. worst thing that could happen this summer.