Now healthy, winning the priority for O’Neal
|07.14.10 at 5:57 pm ET|
WALTHAM – Jermaine O’Neal came clean on why he struggled so mightily against the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs this past season. The new C’s center said he was kicked in the left ankle in a March 11 contest against the Knicks, which led to it being “extremely swollen.” He tried toughing it out in the playoffs, but the results weren’t pretty, as he average just 4.2 points and 5.6 rebounds and saw the Heat fall in five games.
“You go out there, you’re telling your team, you’re telling your followers that you’re ready to play, and whatever excuse you have should be kept in the locker room, so I chose not to talk about it because it didn’t really matter,” O’Neal said. “I still felt like I could go out there and help the team. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it. It was just one of those things.”
Both he and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said that he is healthy, and O’Neal now looks forward to embracing a new environment in Boston as he enters his 15th season in the league.
“One thing I admired about the Boston Celtics team was the coaching and also the way the players played together, it was very selfless on the court,” O’Neal said. “They compete at a very high level on both ends of the floor. They don’t really care who gets the credit for scoring or rebounding or whatever it may be, they just kind of play together and play to win.”
O’Neal said he looked at the way Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett united in Boston for a chance at a first ring, and that his decision was strongly based on their line of thinking, saying, “I thought those guys [were] at a position in their career where I’m kind of at that same position.”
With starting center Kendrick Perkins out for the time being with torn MCL and PCL ligaments, the popular line of thinking has been that O’Neal will be the starting center until whenever Perkins returns (sometime in early 2011, whether it be January of February) and that he will then spell both Perkins and Garnett in a reserve role with Glen Davis.
Given what O’Neal has been able to accomplish in his career statistically, it might be hard to imagine a six-time All-Star turning down other offers for a potential job off the bench. Still, despite coming close to averaging a double-double from 2000 to 2007, O’Neal is extremely content with his new role.
“It’s not about options, it’s about winning,” O’Neal said. “That’s what it really boils down to. I’m not at a point in my career where I need to worry about that. I’ve been on an Olympic team, I’ve had Nike campaigns, I’ve had All-Star games, All-NBA’s and I don’t have an NBA finals appearance, which is the most important thing to me and that’s what I really value the most right now.
“Sometimes as players we kind of take for granted that it’s going to keep happening. All those great years in Indiana, you couldn’t have told me that I would go five straight years of basically talking about – going into camp – talking about just making the playoffs. It’s a big difference when you come into camp talking about a championship run and talking about trying to make the first round.”
There could be a string of factors that could make the road bumpier than some would hope, whether it be keeping everyone happy, fighting off injuries, or dealing with O’Neal’s old team, now fully equipped with Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, but it’s quite clear the center is all smiles and glad to be in Boston.