While the rest of the league is guessing what the Indiana Pacers will net in their ongoing attempts to trade Ron Artest, team captain and All-Star Jermaine O'Neal has made two suggestions -- one surprising, the other not -- to franchise president Donnie Walsh and GM Larry Bird.
"I think the two guys who can really come in and help us right away are Bonzi Wells and Al Harrington," says O'Neal.
Harrington is an obvious choice. He spent his initial six years with Indiana before requesting a trade that sent him to Atlanta in July 2004 for Stephen Jackson. O'Neal thinks he would be ready to come back. "I've talked to Al," says O'Neal. "He's probably the closest friend in the league that I have. He's almost like a brother to me. We talk all the time.
"As a player you don't want to talk too much about it. We understand that he's a very loyal guy, that he's a Hawk right now and his state of mind is to improve the Hawks. But he does understand that if a trade does come up and he does have to come back, that it would be a good situation for him. It's more a fairy tale until it actually happens."
But O'Neal maintains that factors more than friendship are behind his suggestion. "He's familiar with the program, he knows what we like to do," says O'Neal. "I told Larry and Donnie I really would like to get Al because he is a 6-foot-9 'four' (power forward), who's very strong, very quick, plays multiple positions. He's almost a version of Ron: not as good individually defensively, but offensively, he can put up bigger numbers immediately. He's shown that. It would be a very adjustable situation, and a situation he could pick up quickly on."
O'Neal believes that Wells could also adjust quickly. "He can play the three, has a big body, fits into what we're doing, thinks defense, can score on anybody offensively," says O'Neal. "It's really those two guys."
What makes Wells especially interesting is that most insiders have predicted that Indiana would prefer Wells' Sacramento teammate, Peja Stojakovic.
"If Peja was brought to this team, we'd do what we can do to help him get into our style of play," says O'Neal. "Western Conference basketball is much different than Eastern Conference basketball. It's more of a slowdown pace. We don't run around, we don't do the fancy passes, we don't do any of that stuff. We don't have the space, especially with me being on the team. It gets real crowded, and guys help a lot against our team.
"He's a big time shooter, but I think there would have to be an adjustment period for him defensively with our style of play."
No matter what direction the Pacers move toward, O'Neal is clearly ready to move on.