Jermaine O'Neal has endured some tough times with the Indiana Pacers over the past four years, but he's looking forward to an opportunity to hit the reset button with the Toronto Raptors
"Sometimes you need a fresh start," O'Neal told HOOPSWORLD after a hard workout at Joe Abunassar's Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, the elite training facility for NBA athletes during the offseason. "Obviously, we've been through a lot these last four years with the Indiana Pacers and things didn't pan out the way we wanted them to pan out. So I'm getting this opportunity to start over new. Not only start over new but with a good organization and a really good team, so I'm excited about that."
There's plenty for O'Neal to be excited about, as he joins an up-and-coming Raptors
roster that hopes to contend for an Eastern Conference title. Pairing with Chris Bosh
in the paint, O'Neal sounded thrilled and rejuvenated with an opportunity to form arguably the most formidable duo of big men in the league. "It can be scary," O'Neal said. "Teams haven't seen that in a while, where you can throw two guys on both boxes who can really set up and shoot the 15-foot jumpshot, post up, and put the ball on the floor. I don't really know who you can double off of because we have three-point shooting on the perimeter, so teams are really going to have to roll their sleeves up."
One of those perimeter players for the Raptors, Anthony Parker, was also putting his time into training at Impact Basketball on Saturday and echoed the same eager sentiment as O'Neal. "His addition to our team brings us what we were missing last year," Parker told HOOPSWORLD. "He brings toughness, a defensive presence in the paint, and he's a great rebounder. All of those things are things we struggled with last year. I'm very excited to have him on the team and the organization and the fans are just really excited for another season."
and O'Neal down low, Parker sees the opportunity for himself and others on the outside to really thrive. "Chris makes all of our lives so much easier and then you add another guy like Jermaine O'Neal who is the exact same kind of presence," he said. "He's going to open things up and you've got to honor him and maybe send two people at him, same way with Chris. And that opens things up for guys like me and Jason Kapono on the outside."
Injuries have hampered O'Neal over the past two seasons, but he admitted that the extent of his injury was never fully disclosed to the public. "I don't think people realize that I had played on a torn meniscus for a year and a half and didn't tell anybody," O'Neal told HOOPSWORLD. "We just told teams it was different injuries so they wouldn't know it was my knee and it just really took a toll on me physically and mentally and it turned out getting worse."
After taking the time off, O'Neal said he is rested and healthy enough to make a strong run next season with his new team. Using the summer to train hard, O'Neal feels that he'll be physically and mentally prepared to make a great run. "I knew that in order to get to the level people are used to seeing me play at, I had to take the time off," he said. "Have a great summer and go into the season with a different mental focus and a different physical focus."
His summer training with Impact Basketball has been integral in his eagerness to get physically healthy since he's now mentally healthy. "We're doing some things that I haven't done in my career," he said. "They've taken my blood type and figured out what diet you need to be on. The diet they have me on is a pretty severe diet as far as the things I like to eat – bread and dairy product and so on. These guys, they do everything. It's a full a facility with a lot of different players in the gym, great training, and they hand you off to the next guy. You come in and it's physical therapy, next guy's Joe on the court, and the next guy's JR in the weight room, and then I've got my physical therapist at home. So they've really put together a great team which really helps me and guarantees in my mind that I'm going to come back and come back in a major way next year."
With his future looking so strong, O'Neal was thankful for his past, acknowledging and appreciating the Pacers organization for the way they've treated him over the years. The Pacers saw the talent O'Neal had years ago when he was playing a nominal role with the Portland Trail Blazers, trading for him in the summer of 2000 and watching his career take off as a potential MVP candidate. "It's hard to explain what that organization has been through," O'Neal said. "I know there's a lot of other organizations that have been through some things off the court, but that team has really suffered and suffered in a major way. And that's why I compliment Larry Bird and the Simons, which are our owners, for the job that they did with trading me and also getting something for me and also putting me in a position where I can still compete and show what I can do."
The Pacers and O'Neal had talked about possibly moving him in the past, but both parties decided that it was better for the team to give it another go with him on the roster rather than look to rebuild. That changed this season, though. "It was better for them to make a move," O'Neal said. "Obviously, Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger had great years and it's the perfect time to make that transition with those two guys coming off the years that they had."
With that decision, O'Neal now has an opportunity to experience the kind of success he hasn't seen since the Pacers made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004. Although the Raptors
figure to be players in the East, O'Neal knows that triumph won't come easily for his new team. "We look good on paper but obviously we got to get that chemistry and we got to get that swagger about ourselves that we're one of the better teams in the league," he said. "As soon as we get that, I think we can be good but the work is still yet to be done."
Already putting in the work at Impact Basketball, O'Neal and Parker are doing their part to help the Toronto Raptors
get to the next level.
Reborn and ready to go, Jermaine O'Neal should return to form next season and provide the young Raptors
with the veteran presence needed to do just that.