Some people have been quick to dismiss Jermaine O'Neal as "washed up" even though he'll only be 30 years old entering the 2008-09 season. I guess four straight injury-plagued seasons and three straight seasons with significant decline in performance will lead to that kind of assessment.
So how are Raptors
fans supposed to look at this? Do we do our duty as good little optimists and expect he'll play in 70-plus games and return to the form that made him the best player on a 61-win team in 2003-04? (That team admittedly also featured Reggie Miller, Ron Artest and Primoz Brezec — Oh Primoz, we hardly knew ye!) Or should we guard our expectations and expect he'll probably only be available for half the season and will be Gimpy the Center for the other half? (Just to save you the math, that would work out to about a half-milli per game for JO.)
I recommend looking at it the way I look at it — as a roll of the dice. Bryan Colangelo looked at his roster and at T.J. Ford's trade value and determined that he was willing to risk coming up snake eyes for the possibility that O'Neal could provide that definitive post presence this team so desperately needed.
Whether you're a skeptic or a true believer, O'Neal will still be one of the five best players to ever put on a Raptors
uniform (well, one of the six best if we include Kornel David's brief but illustrious Raptor tour of duty) and he's the best of those five that the Raptors
have ever acquired in a trade. Oh sure, you could point out that they also traded for Olajuwon, but Hakeem wasn't just past his prime, he drove a motorized scooter on to the court during player intros.
The good news is that it shouldn't take long to determine what O'Neal has in the tank. If he's healthy (as the Raptors
medical staff claims he is) and motivated (which he naturally claims he is), his impact on defence and rebounding will be felt immediately in both personal stats and wins. As for the wait until we get to actually see him in a Raptors
uniform? Well, that already feels like eternity.