7 Players the Portland Trail Blazers gave up on too soon

Marcus Camby (C), Patty Mills (R), Portland Trail Blazers. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Marcus Camby (C), Patty Mills (R), Portland Trail Blazers. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images /
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Portland Trail Blazers
Jermaine O’Neal, Indiana Pacers. Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images /

1. The Trail Blazers gave up too soon on Jermaine O’Neal

Jermaine O’Neal was drafted seventeenth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1996, and he joined a really good team stacked with great big men. Arvydas Sabonis, Chris Dudley and Rasheed Wallace took nearly all of the minutes at the big man positions, leaving very little room for O’Neal to find playing time.

That continued throughout the first four seasons of his career, with Sabonis and Wallace starting ahead of him and leaving very few minutes behind them. He never averaged more than 4.5 points per game in those four seasons, nor more than 13.5 minutes per game. That lack of track record is why the Blazers were comfortable trading O’Neal to the Indiana Pacers for a late-career Dale Davis.

Freed from the confines of the loaded Portland roster, O’Neal showed what he had to offer very quickly. He averaged 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in his first season in Indiana, and then started a streak of six-straight All-Star seasons the next year by averaging 19 points and 10.5 rebounds. He would average 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds overall while with the Pacers.

O’Neal’s contract extended from there, with cameo stints in Miami, Boston, Phoenix and Golden State. His career started slowly and ended gracefully, and in between, he was a beast inside as a scorer and rebounder.

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The Blazers could have used a franchise center during that period of time as their contending stars aged out, but instead, they shipped O’Neal out of town. He is the most painful example of the many times that Portland gave up on a player too soon.