INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Jermaine O'Neal respects the Indiana Pacers too much to demand a trade, despite his frustrations over missing the playoffs for the first time in his seven seasons with the team.
O'Neal said in an interview Wednesday that he has spoken with Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh once since the season ended, but trade talk never entered the conversation. He said there is nothing to reports that he's pushing to be reunited with his old coach Isiah Thomas at the New York Knicks.
``That's just somebody that's putting out speculation,'' O'Neal told The Associated Press. ``That didn't come from the Pacers, and that didn't come from me.''
O'Neal, who underwent knee surgery two weeks ago, has been the subject of trade talk since the Pacers (35-47) missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
O'Neal averaged 19.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in one of the best seasons of his 11-year career, but he's the team's top commodity if it chooses to rebuild.
The Pacers have fired coach Rick Carlisle.
O'Neal was close to Thomas when he coached the Pacers, before he was fired four years ago in favor of Carlisle. O'Neal acknowledges that he could be traded but denied a Chicago Tribune report that he had made such a request.
``They gave me the opportunity to build my name and status in this league,'' O'Neal said of the Pacers. ``It's disrespectful to them to be commenting about it. I haven't made any demands or anything like that.
``There's not going to be anymore speculation,'' he said. ``It's all going to be false speculation. I'm going to let the process take its course.''
O'Neal grew frustrated with the Pacers struggles during the season. During the team's 11-game losing streak late in the season, the normally accommodating star stopped speaking to reporters.
The Pacers entered the season with high hopes. But after a mediocre start, they made an eight-player trade in January that included Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson going to the Golden State Warriors for Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy. The adjustment to new players and injuries to O'Neal, swingman Marquis Daniels and point guard Jamaal Tinsley took a toll, and Indiana went 15-29 after the trade.
Despite that, O'Neal said after the season that the Pacers ``will win'' if they put the right pieces around him in the offseason.
O'Neal said he's feeling good after having surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee that left him hobbled the last two months of the season.
``I'm doing great,'' he said. ``There's still some swelling from the operation, but it's gone down significantly. I'm ahead of schedule, and my strength is coming back to normal.''
O'Neal said he plans to start riding a stationary bike soon and expects his rehab to be complete in about a month. From there, he plans to swim to give the knee additional strength and improve his overall conditioning.
He wouldn't mind wearing a Pacers uniform after recovering, but he's ready to move on if he's traded.
``If it comes down to me being the piece they need to retool, so be it,'' he said. ``I stand behind Donnie. I'm going to let him determine the situation.''
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