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O’Neal on D&H: ‘I couldn’t think of a better place to play’

07.15.10 at 2:30 pm ET
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Jermaine O'Neal could have waited for Bosh and James in Miami but chose the Celtics. (AP)

Jermaine O'Neal is targeting an NBA title as he arrives in Boston after leaving Miami. (AP)

The newest Celtic, Jermaine O’Neal called into the Dale & Holley show to field some questions on what it’s like to be a Celtic now, what happened to him in the playoffs last season, what he expects his new role to be and the impact of Doc Rivers and Ray Allen on him choosing Boston.

“That was something I was really interested in being involved with, that same nucleus they had last year and if they didn’t have it, then I don’t think they would have been as strong as they were last year,” O’Neal said.

“If [Doc] didn’t come back, it definitely wouldn’t even be an option. Ray coming back was the next question that I was asking Danny, were they going to try to re-sign him. They told me yes and I said, ‘OK, let’s try to get this deal done and let’s start preparing to get this deal done next year.’ ”

Below are highlights of the interview. To listen to the complete interview, click on the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

On coming to Boston:

Yeah, it’s going to be fun. I’m excited about it and my family is excited about it. I’m coming down the stretch run of my career and I can’t think of a better way of ending it than with a championship ring.

On why he chose the Celtics:

I told myself coming into the summer that it wasn’t going to be about any money situations. God has been good to me and my family and He’s blessed us in so many different ways. One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes as players we take for granted that winning is certain. Obviously over the past three, four, or five years, that hasn’t happened [for me].

That hasn’t happened and I’ve been spoiled early in my career with Indiana where we had those really good teams and it was a really sad thing that it was going to happen consistently over [the course of] my career and whatever reason things happened, the business changed, the teams change and injuries happen and sometimes you find yourself on the outside looking in. Looking at those championship celebrations with confetti and champagne and hats, that’s something I haven’t been able to experience in my career and I told myself, I talked with my family and my wife and kids, we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to win next year.

I could have gotten long term deals for much more money, but it was about playing with a team that is just that, a team. A team that plays together, plays hard, just has the passion. The organization has the passion obviously, the city has the passion. I couldn’t think of a better place to play.

On Rajon Rondo selling the Celtics to him:

It’s funny because I’m not really interested in [phone] numbers I don’t know, and I just happened to answer the number that particular day and we had an extensive conversation and he really sold it. I said as a competitor playing against the Celtics over the years, I’ve admired what they’ve put together. I admire what the fans brought to the gym every night. I like what they’ve put together and what he said really was what I was looking for and it was more of about what they expected to do this upcoming season, what they expect from me, what they would expect from an organizational standpoint.

It went from Boston being with Dallas and Denver, those were the top three teams that were heading the list, to being the top team on the list. I was basically told in that conversation about other things. Keep in mind that he doesn’t really talk a lot, but I couldn’t really tell by the conversation because he led the conversation and he was really passionate about their focus and their plan to win a championship this year.

On the big moves his former team, the Miami Heat, have made this offseason:

They were some big moves. They did something that you didn’t think they could happen in this era as far as salaries and personalities mixing. One thing I’ve learned over the years is basically a team is going to beat out a talent. The team that plays together and plays the hardest for the longest and is improving on a year to year basis. I really thought that the Boston Celtics really fits [with me]. It came down to style of play, how I fit with the team, how I fit with the coach and I felt like Boston was more of a better fit for me because they did have a group that is a veteran group that knew what it would take to win a championship, that knew what it would take to get to a championship and they play selfless.

I think that’s one of the biggest selling points for me and when I looked at Miami, I still had a chance to re-sign with Miami, but I still think that it’s going to be a process for those guys. They’re going to have a good year, obviously, because they have some of the best talent in the world, but still, you have to play the game. The personalities, the chemistry, everything, has to be in place. You’re basically taking two guys that played two totally different styles with their recent teams and put them into a situation where it was more of a slower tempo, half-court style of the game. I think it will be a great process for those guys, a great challenge, not only for them but also for the coaches.

On his injury hampering his playoff performance last season:

Right, I’m a young guy, but I’m an old school guy. I believe if you suited up and you tell your team you’re ready to go, no matter what is going on with you, you got to be ready to play. If you don’t play well, then you accept the criticism that comes with it and that’s what I was willing to do. Obviously, I didn’t tell a lot of people what was going on with me, but I had an ankle injury that was extremely swollen. I got kicked in the last week of the regular season and it became a bone bruise. I just couldn’t get any elevation and I couldn’t get that much movement on something that moves, but it was one of those things I was willing to do. I’m a competitor and I don’t believe in making excuses and when you step onto that court, you have obligations to your teammates, to the people that follow you and to your team to go out there and prove what you’re worth for the team. It just didn’t happen and I accepted it, but I got back at it this summer and I’m going to be ready to go next year.

On what Danny Ainge told him about his role was with the team involving Kendrick Perkins:

It was more Doc. Doc told me and I accepted it because as a player, you have to have respect for the game and this team has a proven record together. Maybe in another situation where it wasn’t proven, I probably would have had an issue. To me right now, it’s about coming in and doing my job and doing it at a high level [to] help these guys win a championship. When Kendrick gets back, if that’s what they want, I support it. I support it and I support him.

It reminds me a lot of my situation with Udonis Haslem. With my years in Indiana, me and him, we absolutely, positively went to war every single night we played against each other. Everyone wondered how we would get along [in Miami] and who was going to play how many minutes and who was going to play what, but we ended up being the best of friends. I’m sure that’s going to happen with Kendrick and no matter if I’m starting or coming off the bench, I’m going to come in and play as hard as I can possibly play.

On the retirement of Rasheed Wallace:

You know, I’m trying to get him to dinner tonight. I shot him a text. We talked for about 45 minutes to an hour about the Celtics and the organization and I wanted to get some clarity about what I was getting involved with and he spoke very highly of the organization and the team. I asked him about coming back and he said he wasn’t sure. He was leaning towards retirement, but once I signed and I thought about it, I shot him a text and said, “Come on bro, give us one more year,” because I can really feel like he can really help the team push for that championship. When I get with him tonight, because I think he’s still in town, or maybe he just got back into town, I’m going to push him to come back one more year.

On if Doc Rivers didn’t come back, would he have signed with the Celtics anyway:

No, I wouldn’t have [come here]. And if Ray [Allen] wouldn’t have come back, I wouldn’t have. That was something I was really interested in being involved with, that same nucleus they had last year and if they didn’t have it, then I don’t think they would have been as strong as they were last year. I think Doc has a presence with players. He’s an ex-player so he understands the day-to-day adjustments that guys go through and its demeanor. It’s definitely proven and guys understand it. So if he didn’t come back, it definitely wouldn’t even be an option. Ray coming back was the next question that I was asking Danny, were they going to try to re-sign him. They told me yes and I said, “OK, let’s try to get this deal done and let’s start preparing to get this deal done next year.”

On the Boston experience and the fans:

You know, it’s very intense. I’ve always said that’s one of the louder arenas that I’ve played in. The fans are really passionate about their teams here. They’re really loyal to their teams here. That’s one thing that I really respected. That’s something that as a player, you really look into and you really evaluate as you make a decision to go to a team. The team has great support and passionate people that are running the business part of it.

You really want to be involved with that and I think that the city feels like they still have something special with the team. I’m more than honored to be involved and for the Celtics to have me come in for the next two years and really push for that championship. I’m going to really do my best to help take the team to the next level and get them over the hump. They made it to the finals last year, so what’s the next move? The next move will be to win it and I’m going to do everything I can to help them do that.

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