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Bird, O’Brien weigh in on O’Neal

07.09.10 at 10:41 am ET
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ORLANDO –Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird and head coach Jim O’Brien were each asked by WEEI.com to weigh in on the Celtics signing of free agent Jermaine O’Neal. The 31-year-old forward/center played for the Pacers from 2000-08. Bird was hired as president by the Pacers in 2003 and O’Brien coached O’Neal is in his final season in Indiana.

When Bird was told by WEEI.com on Thursday that O’Neal had reached an agreement with the Celtics he expressed some surprise, but quickly added that the 31-year-old is “younger than you think. He can rebound block shots and get down the floor. He can help a team win.”

But Bird told WEEI.com that he hadn’t seen O’Neal play in “a couple of years.”

O’Brien, who coached the Celtics from 2000-04, was even more to the point. He told WEEI.com that he “has nothing to say about that or him” when asked about O’Neal.

Bird and O’Neal had a messy divorce in 2008, with the Celtics legend telling the Indianapolis Star in September of that year, “Just because you make the most money doesn’t mean you’re the leader,” Bird said two months after dealing O’Neal to the Raptors. “A lot of guys didn’t want to step on toes. Not only here, but other places I’ve been at. They’d say, the guy makes the most money, that means he’s the leader. That’s not the case. The leader comes from the guy doing the right thing, the guy that’s going to be there every day at practice, the guy that plays through pain without complaining. They do the necessary things to prepare themselves.

“I think the situation you have here, you had one guy making a lot of money and everybody just took it as he’s going to be leading us, and in some instances that was true. But I think more now that since it has opened you’ll see a number of guys stepping up.”

O’Neal told ESPN.com in 2007, “Larry Bird is a hard man to deal with. He tries to make unfair trades.”

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