TORONTO - A day after the Raptors retooled their roster in a trade with the Indiana Pacers, nothing was as it appeared for Toronto on NBA draft night Thursday.
The Raptors agreed to a trade in principle on the eve of the draft, acquiring six-time all-star Jermaine O'Neal and Indiana's 41st pick in the in exchange for point guard T.J. Ford, centre Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston, and Toronto's 17th pick.
So when the Pacers selected Australian centre Nathan Jawai at No. 41, they did so on behalf of the Raptors.
Because the deal can't be announced until after July 9, the Raptors went through the motions when the No. 17 pick came up, selecting Georgetown centre Roy Hibbert, who will head to Indiana when the deal is finalized.
"There's been a lot of speculation about a trade, but I'm not in a position to comment on trade speculation," Raptors president and GM Bryan Colangelo said when he met with the media briefly.
The six-foot-10 Jawai, known as "Aussie Shaq", is touted as a bruising big man with a raw, unpolished game. His strengths are his soft touch, strength and explosiveness.
Jawai, who played for Cairns Taipans of the Australian league, can't officially be introduced as a Raptor until the trade is finalized.
While officials for both teams remained mum on the deal, O'Neal confirmed the trade Thursday, saying he was happy with the move to Toronto where he'll team up with fellow all-star Chris Bosh in a potentially powerful front court.
"I think playing alongside Chris Bosh gives us a different dynamic," O'Neal told The Associated Press. "You look at teams in the NBA, you look at their low-post players, and they always have one good player, and when that good player goes out, you can change your defence a little bit and load up on other areas. Even with us starting out the games together, one of us will always be on the floor. You won't get a chance to adjust your defence."
Bosh also had good things to say about O'Neal when the potential deal was posed to him earlier in the week during an interview on all-sports radio station The Fan 590.
"I think me and Jermaine can play well together," Bosh said. "I'm the type of unselfish person where I could play well with anybody, as long as they're willing to meet me halfway.
"Jermaine, he's that big body, a defensive presence, and he can rebound too so I think that would fix a lot of interior needs."
The 29-year-old O'Neal is a six-time all-star and averaged 13.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in 2007-08, but has been hampered by injuries the past two years, including a knee injury that kept him out of 40 games last season. O'Neal said he took his physical Wednesday.
"When I sat out all those games last year, it was a career move," he said. "I knew what the situation was. I knew what the significance of me staying away from the game, rehabbing the leg and getting the knee back to its normal usage was."
A healthy O'Neal is considered one of the best defensive players in the league, and will be able to take some of the wear and tear off Bosh, who's shouldered much of the frontcourt load.
Bosh was asked if O'Neal will play centre and he'll play power forward, Bosh said "Of course, I'm the finesse guy, he's the power guy."
While O'Neal's contract is hefty - he'll make US$44 million over the next two seasons - it will come off the books in two years, while Ford has three years and US$25 million left on his deal.
The move also solves the point guard problem that was once one of the team's biggest strengths, but had turned into its Achilles heel, Colangelo said. Ford wasn't pleased having to give up minutes to Jose Calderon, and the team made it clear at season's end that Calderon was the guard they wanted.
O'Neal believes the Raptors will be serious NBA contenders next season.
"You're talking about a team that's extremely athletic, extremely big at the wing positions, and they play defence," O'Neal said. "With my defensive mentality and ability to change the game and Chris's ability to block shots and change the game - it's exciting."
Earlier in the night Thursday, the Chicago Bulls took Memphis guard Derrick Rose with the No. 1 pick. Michael Beasley, a forward from Kansas State, went second to the Miami Heat, while Minnesota took USC guard O.J. Mayo third overall. 23:31ET 26-06-08