At some point last season — maybe it was when he returned from injury, or when he started protecting the basket like it was his only daughter, or when I learned he swatted shots and grabbed rebounds all with a broken wrist — Jermaine O’Neal won his way into my heart. His body wasn’t built for this anymore, it wasn’t built for 82 game schedules and back-to-back games and bumping and grinding in the low post, but O’Neal proved himself to be tough, a winner, a player who would give until his body wouldn’t let him give anymore.
The body is still the issue, and it could keep him from playing further than this next season. In an interview with CSNNE, O’Neal admitted he will likely retire after the 2011-’12 season. (CSNNE)
Jermaine O’Neal told CSNNE.com that, barring an unexpected change of heart, which he says is unlikely, this will be his last season. …
“I’m going into my 16th year, so I know my time is near,” O’Neal said. “I know someday the ball is going to go flat; you have to plan for life after basketball and that’s what I have been doing.” …
“I have a 5-year-old son and a 12-year-old girl,” he said. “They want to spend a lot of time with Daddy. At this point in my career, it doesn’t make sense to go overseas and play for half-a-season. I want to be able to be ready and be fully prepared mentally and physically for what may be my last season.” …
“You never say never, but like I said earlier, my kids are getting older,” he said. “The only thing left that I want to do in this league is win a championship. That’s why I came to Boston last year, because I felt this was the best place for me to do that: Win a championship.”
O’Neal is not the first Celtic to be linked to possible retirement — Kevin Garnett said he can see the end of his career approaching, Ray Allen, 36 years old though aging quite slowly, likely won’t be around for too much longer, and Paul Pierce, though younger than Garnett and Allen, is already on the down slope of his Hall of Fame career. There will be an exodus of retirements within the next handful of years, and the Celtics will transform into the unrecognizable, a team devoid of the Big Three and reliant on Rajon Rondo — and hopefully another All-Star or two — to light the path into the future.
After admitting his plan to retire, O’Neal noted that only one goal remains unaccomplished on his career checklist: winning an NBA championship.
“For me now, it’s not about scoring or statistics,” O’Neal said. “I’ve proven that I can score in this league, do a lot of good things. For me now, it’s all about winning, being part of a winner. That’s my motivation.”
Perhaps he’s delusional to consider the Celtics championship contenders. They were smacked around by the Heat last season, they have just seven players on a roster that’s already over the salary cap, eight if you count E’Twaun Moore, whose contract is not guaranteed, and most significantly, the core that led Boston back to relevance, the core that won one championship and came minutes from another, is one year older. The NBA landscape is passing the Big Three Boston Celtics by; if they did not pass the Eastern Conference torch to the Miami Heat last season, Lebron James ripped it from their wrinkly fingers and battered them over the head with it.
But there’s always hope. What if Kevin Garnett returns just as mobile as he was last season? What if Ray Allen continues to stiff-arm the aging process? What if Paul Pierce holds his slow decline to a crawl? What if the Celtics re-sign Delonte West, fill out the rest of their bench with shooters, rebounders and knowledgeable defenders, and somehow, improbably, miraculously, arrive at the playoffs without a list of injuries longer than this column?
If everything goes right, if Danny Ainge makes the right moves, if the Big Three remain near the top of their games, if Jermaine O’Neal and the rest of his teammates somehow coax health out of bodies that aren’t necessarily built for this anymore, this 82 games of grinding and bumping and bruising and running and jumping, then the Celtics have a shot at winning a championship. Then O’Neal could retire on top, and the slew of retirements to follow in the coming years would be less painful.
If only everything goes right.