“Jermaine is a very accomplished NBA player who has a successful NBA career,” explained Suns President of basketball operations Lon Babby while introducing O”Neal to the Phoenix media on Wednesday. “He brings a pedigree which will help us on the court but also in the locker room as we need the veteran leadership with the younger group.”
For O’Neal it has been a tough go of it over the last few seasons, most recently while with Boston, as he has battled injuries and struggled to find roles with teams. Now coming to Phoenix, O’Neal hopes to re-gain the happiness he once had for the game of basketball.
“I met with Lance (Blanks) and the rest of the team it just felt right,” said O’Neal on Wednesday. “Felt like I could be effective on and off the court and be happy playing the game again.”
O’Neal called the last couple seasons of his career a “blur” despite having nothing but good things to say about the Celtics organization. He just was not having fun playing the game.
“Sometimes mentally when you go, physically you go as well,” O’Neal added about his time in Boston.
Despite the struggles of late, O’Neal has had a fantastic NBA career. The 6-11 255-pound center has averaged 13.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in a career that has seen him in a Trailblazer, Pacer, Raptor, Heat and Celtics uniform since being drafted out of high school 17th overall in the 1996 draft. In that span, O’Neal also has six All-Star selections and has made the postseason in 14 of his 16 seasons.
So for O’Neal, why Phoenix at this point in his career?
“The organization represented everything I wanted going into my 17th season,” O’Neal mentioned. “The city has a great following with the team, they seem to be very excited even with the new team coming in. I felt like it was perfect for me and so that is why I signed.”
One of the new faces on the Suns is a familiar face to O’Neal. He was teammates with new Suns forward Michael Beasley while they both were in Miami. Beasley is someone O’Neal says he knows very well.
“He is a fantastic person, obviously he is a fantastic talent as well,” said O’Neal. “We have our up’s and down’s, we go through that maturity and I think he has gotten that maturity.”
After having season-ending wrist surgery last season, and also traveled to Germany to have a procedure done on his knee, O’Neal believes he is back and as healthy as ever eyeing an “impactfull” role with the Suns for the upcoming season. A hard-working off-season has O’Neal feeling more like his older self.
“I feel absolutely five years younger,” explained O’Neal. “I have a different type of life right now, I have a different type of quickness right now. A lot of people may say it’s the procedure, but I say it’s the work I put into it.”
O’Neal also noted that while he was in Germany for this knee procedure, it was former Suns forward Grant Hill, who was out there as well, who told him to look into Phoenix. It was a coincidence that Phoenix reached out to him in the process.
In addition to signing Jermaine O’Neal, the Suns also waived Brad Miller and Jerome Dyson who were part of the deal that brought Wes Johnson to Phoenix and sent Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick to New Orleans.
O’Neal becomes the seventh new-comer to the Suns current thirteen man roster in what has been a total make-over this off-season.