Lost amongst the reflection surrounding Shaq’s retirement and storied career last night was an important declaration made by a fellow Celtic. The news came courtesy of A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com who caught up with Jermaine O’Neal via phone. The veteran center passed along the crucial revelation that he will be back for the final year of his contract with the Boston Celtics, giving the team a full six players under contract entering next season. Here’s the latest from J.O:
“I have a lot I can still give to this team,” O’Neal told CSNNE.com in a phone interview.
O’Neal said wrist surgery would have sidelined him for at least four months. Even with a lockout pushing the start of the season back, he knew his conditioning would once again be an issue upon his return and in many ways, he would have the same problems that he experienced this past season.
While surgery on the wrist will have to be done “at some point in my life,” O’Neal said a battery of tests in recent weeks on the wrist have come back positive.
The instant connection he felt with veterans such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, O’Neal admits also played a factor in his decision to play one more season.
“I know how competitive those guys are, and I know they still believe they can win another championship,” O’Neal said. “I feel the same way.”
Now that he has a year in head coach Doc Rivers’ system behind him, he hopes to pick up where he left off.
“It takes time to get to know players, to trust players. I understand that,” O’Neal said. “I think these guys know me better, and now that I’m healthy again, they can trust that I can do a lot of the things they’ve seen me do over the years. I’m excited about the opportunity to come back and get after it again.”
CH’s Analysis: I spent about 1,500 words on this subject a couple weeks back, so I strongly encourage you to head back and check out that piece for the importance of this return. Shaq’s expected retirement made JO’s decision even more pivotal for a team lacking size and the resources to address the need sufficiently on the open market. Here’s a quick sample of the article above regarding the dilemma the C’s would face without O’Neal back:
With over 58 million dollars committed to just five members of the roster already (not including J.O.) for the 2011-12 season, Danny Ainge’s back is already against the wall as far as flexibility is concerned.
If O’Neal returns, that number jumps up to 64.2 million, but essentially will have no effect on how much money the team has to spend this offseason. The only money Ainge has to spend as things stand right now with the current CBA:
Mid-Level Exception: Roughly 5-6 million
Bi-Annual Exception: Around 2 million
Veteran’s Minimum Contracts
For a team that needs to fill potentially fill up to 10 spots on its roster, that’s not a lot of cash to make the sufficient changes this team needs. Get bigger and more athletic upfront. Improve the offense. Reduce minutes for the Big Three. There’s a lot that has to be done.
Boston has bird rights on Big Baby, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, meaning they don’t have to spend the above pool of money specifically on those guys. Even if all of those three are re-signed, (possible but not probable) it still leaves plenty of holes. Delonte West needs to get paid (he will make more than veteran’s minimum next year) and the team still has to address the offense and athleticism.
Without O’Neal in the picture however, the options still remain the same. It just adds another major hole to fill in the middle. It also gives the C’s free agents a bit of leverage in negotiating their deals, knowing the team’s situation I just described above.
If Boston wants to remain a contender and J.O. doesn’t come back, short of making a blockbuster deal Ainge is going to need to bring nearly everyone in the rotation. The agents will know this and try to squeeze every possible dollar out of Ainge. If O’Neal is back however, the C’s can probably let one of those free agents walk and still manage to get by.
And that’s exactly what will happen with J.O. make for one last go-around. It wasn’t a pretty ride the first time around (during the regular season) but hopefully one last stand in Green for O’Neal will end things off on a high note. For now, this is the first real domino to fall for the C’s this offseason and it could be just as important as any that comes during this summer.