Jermaine O’Neal is interested in returning to the Portland Trail Blazers, 13 years after he was traded for Dale Davis during the 2000 season (a blast from the past, I know). O’Neal has re-established himself as a decent player in Phoenix after fading out of 2 injury riddled seasons with the Boston Celtics. He will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and has formally discussed his interest in the Portland Trail Blazers:
“I’m very open to Portland. They’re definitely a team I’m looking forward to having talks with this summer. LaMarcus and Damian along with Batum are some great pieces to build around. All they need to do is shore up the bench and add a paint presence on defense and they’ll be right there. It’s hard to put that type of stress on your starting five and I know I can help ease some of that stress.”
It would appear he sees himself as help off the bench, which could work well for Portland depending on the direction they choose. If the Blazers pursue a new starting center via trade, or pursue one in free agency, O’Neal’s return becomes more unlikely. However, if Portland decides that current backup center, Meyers Leonard, has improved enough to start, Jermaine O’Neal could be a viable option off the bench. In this scenario, Meyers stands to benefit from Jermaine’s 17 seasons of experiential knowledge; something Jermaine hopes to share with the young center:
“I like Meyers. He’s an athletic talent that is going to get even better in this league. But I think I can help him become a better defender, rebounder, shot blocker. That’s part of the job, veterans helping out the younger players. I did that here in Phoenix and that is something I would do in Portland if signed there.”
If Portland elects to go all in on Meyers’ future, this could be a strong move for them. There has been a lot of buzz focused on Portland’s center situation. When/if J.J. Hickson leaves, will the Blazers hunt for a big man with a big name, like Jefferson or Pekovic, or will they look for a reasonable filler and spend their dollars bolstering the bench? This option splits the difference. Bringing in O’Neal as a bench center would show a lot of confidence in Meyers Leonard, which at this point may be a stretch. But who knows? Perhaps a summer of training with old man O’Neal would be enough to prepare him for the job.
Of course, the downside of O’Neal’s age is not to be overlooked. What good is added depth if it’s too worn to take the court? His clean bill of health has been great to see, but I’m not confident it will be long-lasting, based on his history. Still, if Portland wants him at a low price, the option is intriguing.
Jermaine O’Neal’s unsolicited interest signifies the dawn of a new age for the Blazers. Even if O’Neal ends up somewhere else, his desire to play here demonstrates Portland’s newfound free agent appeal. He said it himself; the Blazers have some great pieces to build around, and he won’t be the only free agent to notice. This could be the first time in a long time that our small market brings in great players without having to send any in return. O’Neal may not fall immediately into this category, but the one time Portland rookie’s eagerness to re-investigate the Blazers is a subtle endorsement that will not go unnoticed.
Source: Chris Haynes, CSNNW