Jermaine O’Neal might not fit the bill for some people who were looking for that 20 ppg scorer on the wings. But he can certainly score that much himself from in close. Of course that will require him returning to an earlier form: over the last couple of seasons he has looked like he has lost something with too many games lost to injury. He didn’t need to be double-teamed all that much anymore, and the offense of the Pacers often suffered considerably when he had the ball in the post. For the most part though, the guy was playing on one leg. So let’s hope he can show that he’s fully recovered from his meniscus injury, and ready to show that he does still need to be doubled down low.

But that’s not where we should be looking to find a rational for why this was the trade that worked best in Colangelo’s mind. We should look at what JO can bring to the defensive end. Even on one leg the guy was leading the league in blocked shots for a good deal of last season. That is the end of the floor where he tried to contribute the most, and he did manage to make an impact there. Again the bad wheel came into play, particularly when guarding guys like Bosh late in games. You could just see him fading near the end of third quarters. Playing on one leg will do that. And not having much help defensively will do that as well.

The Raptors need to make use of his defensive abilities to shore up the gains they made defensively last year, and further their efforts where they were still weak. Early offense off transition was something this team couldn’t stop last season. Once the defense was set they showed they could get stops. But they were too reliant on help and when it came to speedy guards penetrating right away, the help didn’t just react, it over-reacted, and easy baskets ensued. With a guy like JO in there, they ought to have a greater level of trust in their last line of defense. Bosh and JO together should not need the kind of help that we have seen in the past. And together those two should not need to over-extend themselves and be as prone to injuries as they have been of late while all on their own. They could form a solid presence that will bring a lot more hesitancy to opposing guards looking to create early off the dribble, and allow guys like Calderon, Moon and Kapono to confidently contain guys off of penetration and stop the ball as a unit in spite of lacking in defensive prowess as individuals. My greatest fears of the upcoming season was seeing a flurry of blow-bys, and too many comfortable threes coming from the guys wearing the wrong colored jerseys. Now with the last line of defense strengthened considerably, the weaker defenders on the perimeter can do a better job of working together without an eye to helping all the way inside at some point, and thereby over-reacting all too often.

I was watching Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai the other night (now that could make for a hell of a rotation – no?). The wise elder Samurai explained why he left an opening on one side of the fort they had built to protect villagers from marauding thugs by surmising that if they simply defend they will eventually lose, but if they let attackers enter singly before closing off the opening with a rush of spears, then the foes can be worn down one at a time until they are nothing. It worked well enough for Hollywood to turn it into a cowboy tale. And it can work for slow-footed dinosaurs as well. And some of those guys (Kapono certainly comes to mind) might be able to stay on the floor without being a liability, and score somewhere close to twenty points on quite a few occasions themselves.

So as long as they start with an emphasis on defense, and use O’Neal’s abilities to bring everyone else along that much further on that end, and build upon a mindset of scoring off of defense, and winning through strong defensive play, I can’t fault this move or Colangelo’s overall intent. It might even mark a watershed in Colangelo’s career, and with much thanks to Sam Mitchell’s influence, show that he realizes just what it takes to put a team together for bigtime success. And if it doesn’t pan out then it won’t be due to recklessness, and he gets another kick at the can when that big contract expires.

This article courtesy of •LX•.

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