Raptors get their centre

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:54 AM ET

Bryan Colangelo used the words "legitimate", "simmering" and "negotiating" to describe the five potential deals he was juggling for T.J. Ford on the eve of the NBA draft.

Turns out he could have saved himself a lot of time by just using the word "done."

Respected NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports let the cat out of the bag late yesterday afternoon, reporting the deal had been completed in principle. Pending physicals, it will send Ford, centre Rasho Nesterovic, the Raptors' pick in tonight's draft (17th overall) and another warm body to Indiana (to make the financials work) in exchange for 29-year-old centre Jermaine O'Neal.

Because of Ford's base-year deal, the trade will not be announced officially until at least July 9, at the conclusion of the NBA's mandated moratorium period.

Colangelo wasn't going to spill this one himself yesterday when he sat down with the local media to go over the various draft scenarios, but he hinted at it strongly.

"Right now we have the 17th pick," Colangelo said. "There are a few scenarios we have explored that would include (that pick) in a deal where it would mean we would possibly be selecting for someone else."

In effect, the Raptors still make their selection at 17 but they will be picking a player the Pacers want and then holding on to him until the deal is announced officially.

The Pacers now have their own pick, 11th overall, in addition to the Raptors' pick at 17, the same spot O'Neal was selected in by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1996 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.

Word of this deal first leaked out Monday, but both teams wanted to get a better look at the injury risks they were taking on with O'Neal and Ford respectively.

Knee problems have kept O'Neal to an average of 51 games a year for the past four seasons while Ford's spinal stenosis condition limited him to just 51 games last season.

In O'Neal, the Raptors pick up another potential franchise player to pair with Chris Bosh, assuming O'Neal's knee problems are a thing of the past.

O'Neal, who is working out this summer in Las Vegas, seems to be of that belief.

In a post-2008 season interview with Slam's Michael Tillery in April, O'Neal addressed his knee problems specifically.

"Now my knee is healed," O'Neal said. "It's the best my knee has felt in two years. It's all about getting my cardio and my rhythm back, trying to be effective and learning how to punish guys all over again in the low post."

In the interview O'Neal said the 21/2-month layoff last year helped him not just physically but has motivated him to get back to the 20-10 guy he was before his knee problems.

"I'm taking it all back to the drawing stage," he said. "I've put together a great staff that's going to put my honour all back together. I'm not far from it. The knee is just about 100% strength. The healing part is already done. I'm really excited and very much looking forward to getting back on the court next year."

O'Neal has two years and about $44 million US left on his deal. When his salary does come off the books, it's going to free up plenty of money for the Raptors at a time when the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Bosh can become free agents.

Colangelo hinted yesterday that even if he moved the No. 17 pick, he still might wind up getting the guy he wanted.

"Assuming we move 17 we might try to acquire a later pick which there are a few available, or at least what I would call liquid right now," he said. "That would acquire a player that we might even have considered at 17 that might fall. Again it's all because this draft is such an unknown."

Presently, the Raptors do not have a second-round pick in the draft.


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