Big trade has O'Neal excited about Pacers' prospects
Jermaine O'Neal never expected the Pacers to make such a dramatic change to their roster. But Indiana's franchise player has a newfound hope following the recent trade with Golden State.
O'Neal now believes the Pacers have a chance.
He sees the Eastern Conference is wide open, and the Pacers needed to do something to be legitimate contenders. O'Neal said the eight-player deal to essentially acquire Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy for Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson is the answer.
O'Neal has that much faith in Dunleavy and Murphy, two players who were considered disappointments with the Warriors.
"I think they're really going to fit in because of their shooting and their ability to spread the defense," O'Neal said. "Almost every game we see zones because teams are trying to slow me down. Those guys will get ample shots from the outside. I'm really excited about the opportunity to play with these guys."
This is the second year in a row the Pacers have traded away a key member of their rotation. Last year, it was Ron Artest for Peja Stojakovic, but that trade was done to remove a headache more than anything else.
Getting Dunleavy and Murphy, in the Pacer's eyes, was about improving. O'Neal said the Pacers now have enough in place to compete with Miami, Detroit, Cleveland and the other pretenders in the weaker Eastern Conference.
O'Neal doesn't see any dominant team.
"It seems like every time a team gets hot, they hit a span where they struggle a little bit," O'Neal said. "It's fortunate for us because we're struggling, too. We're trying to find our way. ... Hopefully we can get ourselves together and come the second half of the season some of these other teams are going to have to play catch-up with us."
The Pacers still are going to struggle while Dunleavy and Murphy try to fit in. Coach Rick Carlisle knows there will be an adjustment period, and he said two weeks is the minimum for any player joining a new team.
A realistic expectation is the Pacers will start to play like a cohesive unit around the All-Star break in mid-February.
"This trade is going to redefine our team a little bit," Carlisle said. "We're going to look to do things as simply as we can moving forward. There are some things we're going to scrap because some of our key guys are gone.
"We have one of the best post players in the game. We needed to bolster our outside shooting. We think Murphy and Dunleavy both shoot the ball well. When you have a guy like Jermaine, you need to protect him with shooters."
One player who will benefit from the trade is second-year swingman Danny Granger. Harrington and Jackson were the Pacers' second and third scoring options behind O'Neal. The No. 2 role should belong to Granger now.
Dunleavy and Murphy are considered role players, and Dunleavy is the only one averaging double figures in points (11.4). Granger, as evidenced by his career-high 28 points in the Pacers' 104-101 loss against the Heat on Thursday night, is capable of scoring when called upon.
Carlisle said Granger is "ready to step it up" and become more involved in the offense.
"It's a big opportunity for me," Granger said. "It opens up a lot, and I'll try to take advantage of it to the best of my ability. I definitely look at it as they have a lot of trust in me. I don't really want to let them down."
Nearly every player in the Pacers locker room said they were shocked to hear of the trade. Harrington, in his second stint in Indiana, was well-liked by his teammates, as was Jackson.
But Granger and Jeff Foster said Jackson could use a change of scenery. Jackson had legal troubles in Indiana and was suspended for one game in December after making remarks to Carlisle following a substitution that the coach deemed "inappropriate and detrimental."
"I think that's good for him and probably good for us," Foster said of Jackson being traded. "Everybody here loves him, but he had a black cloud over him in Indiana. He gets a fresh start."
O'Neal also wanted to make it clear that his comments following a Jan. 4 game against the Mavericks did not spur the trade of Harrington, Jackson, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell for Dunleavy, Murphy, Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod.
O'Neal said his words were taken out of context.
"Everybody's trying to put my comments a couple of weeks ago on the trade, like I forced the trade," O'Neal said. "I didn't force a trade. That was me being frustrated with our team and our effort on the court. I wanted to motivate not only myself, but those guys. I wanted to make sure everybody was on board with it."
But now that the trade happened, O'Neal is excited about the possibilities. He said Dunleavy and Murphy are going to do well in the Eastern Conference.
They are going to turn the Pacers into contenders.
"Those guys are matchup problems, especially in the East," O'Neal said. "On the West Coast, they play small. I don't think those guys fit into that type of system out West. I think now they're going to benefit because they're going to come into a situation where they have a post player that demands double teams. If they double team me, they're going to get easy shots."