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Original Issue

Inside The NBA

Moving Man?

After another first-round flameout, Jermaine O'Neal may leave

Because Jermaine O'Neal has blossomed into an All-Star power
forward since coming to Indiana from Portland in August 2000,
many G.M.'s assume that he'll re-sign with the Pacers as a free
agent this summer. But last Thursday, an hour after his
third-seeded team lost to the No. 6 Celtics in the first round,
O'Neal sounded intrigued by the prospect of playing elsewhere. "I
want to be in the best winning situation," the 24-year-old O'Neal
said. "I don't want to be around anybody who's just interested in
playing out the season and then going home for the summer."

It has also long been assumed that the Spurs will use their
salary-cap space to make a run at Nets point guard Jason Kidd,
but O'Neal may be a better fit. San Antonio already has a
promising playmaker in 20-year-old Tony Parker, who recovered
from a horrid playoff start to average 18.0 points in the last
four games of the Spurs' six-game, first-round victory over the
Suns. O'Neal is not only six years younger than Kidd but would
also fill the role of the retiring David Robinson and discourage
the double teams that have hindered 7-foot Tim Duncan in the

A more immediate attraction for O'Neal is that the Spurs already
have a championship-caliber team. The young and promising Pacers
had the East's best record (34-15) at the All-Star break, but
they lost 23 of their last 36 games, including four of six in the
playoffs. Despite averaging 22.8 points and 17.5 rebounds against
the Celtics, O'Neal failed to advance past the first round for
his third straight year in Indiana.

O'Neal made it clear that there are plenty of reasons for him to
remain with the Pacers. He doesn't want to uproot his mother, his
brother, his three-year-old daughter and her mother, all of whom
live in Indianapolis. He would also have to swap a leading role
for a complementary one if he signed with the Spurs. While both
teams could pay him an estimated $11 million next season--barring
a sign-and-trade, the only other potential suitors with that much
cap room aren't nearly as competitive as San Antonio--Indiana
could increase his salary by 12.5% annually over the next six
years, while the Spurs could offer raises of only 10%. That
difference would be mitigated by the absence of a state income
tax in Texas.

Pacers president Donnie Walsh has vowed to re-sign O'Neal, center
Brad Miller and 37-year-old Reggie Miller while avoiding the
luxury tax--a clear sign that Walsh is planning one or more
trades to clear cap room. That would help streamline the rotation
for coach Isiah Thomas, who has been asked to develop a
half-dozen young players while turning the team into a contender.
O'Neal has made it clear that he wants Indiana to retain Thomas,
who is entering the final season of his four-year contract.

Reggie Miller endured his worst postseason, averaging 9.2 points
on 28.3% shooting. He took responsibility for the Pacers'
flameout, but O'Neal wasn't buying that. "If my team isn't
motivated, it's my fault," he said. "I can't consider myself the
best of the best until my team is able to get out of the first

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN (O'NEAL) Looking for a winner with a lot of cap room, O'Neal will have the Spurs on his short list.


scout's Take

On Georgia Tech's 6'10", 210-pound freshman Chris Bosh, who is
expected to enter the draft:

"Everyone knows that the top picks are going to be LeBron James,
Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony. I think the fourth pick is
Bosh. It's rare for a player to fail when he's 6'10" and he runs,
rebounds and blocks shots the way Bosh does, though it's hard to
compare him with anybody in the league now. He's more
offensive-minded than Keon Clark was coming out of college, but
he's not as hard-nosed as Brian Grant. I don't think he's as
talented as Tyson Chandler, but he'll be better than Kwame Brown
has been. When he develops, I think he'll be one of the league's
top 10 power forwards, a 240-pounder who can score inside and