According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Jermaine O’Neal, a 34-year-old center, would be “very open” to playing for the Blazers next season.
The question, of course, becomes, do the Blazers want to take a chance on an aging veteran in the midst of a youth movement? His production on the floor would be up in the air at this point, but there’s no denying fans would love to see him close out his career in the same place in began.
The Blazers drafted O’Neal 17th overall in the 1996 draft. Straight out of high school, the then-power forward was a young, up-and-coming prospect who simply couldn’t find the floor behind Rasheed Wallace and Brian Grant.
After four years with the team, O’Neal was sent to the Indiana Pacers in a trade that would bring Dale Davis to Portland. The Blazers needed a bigger body to stop Shaquille O’Neal, and Davis was supposed to be that body.
Following the trade, the once young prospect became an All-Star with the Pacers. Blazermaniacs have often wondered what this team would have become if O’Neal had been given a chance, and while his 20-point, 10-rebound days are far behind him, seeing him in a Blazers uniform would complete the circle of his NBA career.
According to Haynes, O’Neal has good memories about the city of Portland. He recalls the fans celebrating him despite his difficulties earning minutes, and the city is the place where he met his wife.
Needless to say, thoughts about a potential return bring up good feelings, as it’s never been more apparent that once you’re a Trail Blazer, you’re always a Trail Blazer.
Like many big men toward the end of their careers, O’Neal has seen his health begin to deteriorate. With the Boston Celtics, he played in just 49 games between 2010 and 2012, and even during the mid-to-late 2000s, he was never able to play the amount of games you’d want to see out of a starting center.
Luckily for Portland, he wouldn’t have to be a starting center – he’d just have to be a big body to clog the middle.
The Blazers were dead last in defending the paint in 2012-13. O’Neal has always been a good shot-blocker, as his timing and athleticism have formed a deadly combo throughout this career.
This past season, O’Neal saw improvements in both his production and health. According to Haynes, the big man visited a doctor in Germany who helped improve the health of both knees. His numbers boosted to 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 18.7 minutes per game, and as long as he can keep that production under the training staff of the Trail Blazers, that’s the kind of showing Portland could use in its second unit.
The Blazers have a promising young center in Meyers Leonard, and while he needs to develop a low-post offensive game, defense is what may make or break his career.
Luckily for Portland, if it brings on O’Neal in 2013, it will acquire a veteran who can help hammer defense into the young man’s mind.
O’Neal told Haynes following the season that he likes Meyers Leonard. “He’s an athletic talent that is going to get even better in this league,” O’Neal said. “But I think I can help him become a better defender, rebounder, shot blocker.”
No youth movement was ever successful without a veteran, and the Blazers need to recognize that during an incredibly important summer.
O’Neal recognizes that this team needs help off the bench, and he’s willing to provide that. He knows that the Blazers need help defending the rim, and he wants to help with that, too.
O’Neal is smart player who recognizes the potential of this group, which is why if the team is smart, it’ll welcome him home for the 2013-14 season.