Thanks to Ajay for sending us this article. Again, if you guys see anything Lakers related that you think deserves to be put up, just e-mail us at The mini-drama of Jermaine O’Neal’s non-trade demand has evaporated, but his future with the Pacers remains the team’s most crucial long-term issue.

Will he stay or will he go? And who makes the call?

O’Neal will have enormous impact on the franchise over the next few seasons by how he plays and what he decides. The upside for the Pacers is that he can help them both by staying and leaving. The downside is that he also could become a $20 million albatross that likely prevents significant roster moves.

O’Neal reportedly has had a productive summer. He’s stayed in Indianapolis for the second consecutive year, working out at Conseco Fieldhouse most days. Since rehabilitating his knee, which was surgically repaired after last season, he has hired a skills coach and worked with the Pacers’ staff.

He says he’s swam, boxed, worked on his ballhandling and jump shot, and improved his diet _ all for the purpose of regaining the status he held after finishing third in the MVP voting after the 2003-04 season, his first after signing his current contract.

That high point disguised the start of their downfall, however. O’Neal suffered cartilage damage to his knee that night. While he had some big games later in the season, his play dropped off, particularly at the defensive end.

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