by Conrad Brunner
May 5, 2003
After cleaning out his locker Friday, Jermaine O'Neal met with media representatives for an extended question-and-answer session on topics ranging from the reasons for the team's post-All-Star-break collapse to coach Isiah Thomas' status to the priorities that will factor into his free-agent decision this summer. What follows is a full transcript of that session.
(On his mindset)
It's my future now. Obviously, I'm still pretty sick about it. There isn't anything more I can do but wonder and think about, 'What if?' In this lifetime, what-if doesn't do much for people anymore. I'll sit back and think about what's best for my future and what's best for my family.
(On his future)
I want to be in the best position to compete for a championship, not only compete myself but for 13, 15 teammates, whatever there is on the roster, to want to win a championship. Collectively, I just don't think that was the case this year. That's the reason I think we came up short.
(On his gut feeling)
I don't have a gut feeling. I'm going to make sure my family's happy, if it's not this city, then whatever city I'm going to be in next year. I want to be in the best position. I want to make sure people that I play with from one to 13 wants to win and wants to have an opportunity to compete for a championship. The season's too long to play 82 games and look at the rest of the playoffs. I'm too competitive. Personally, I'm competitive and extremely hurt about losing. I feel like not only we let ourselves down, we let the city down and all the people that follow the Indiana Pacers. We let so many people down. I'm not sure us losing is really hurting everybody right now on this team. I'm not sure everybody is sick right now. The only way this team can excel is if everybody has that nasty gut feeling that I have right now, and that I think Reggie Miller has right now, that Isiah Thomas has right now. There's a lot of guys in the locker room that are upset but I don't think, collectively, everybody's upset about losing last night. That's why they (the Celtics) are playing in the second round right now. They had people that wanted to excel and wanted to continue our season. I don't think we had that full effort. I don't think everybody is truly ready to compete. It's easy to say, 'The season's over, we make the playoffs, great, we don't, fine but either way we get paid.' It takes a real player to want to compete every single night. It's so hard to play these 82 games and play for a purpose. I think right now some people don't really understand what it takes to be a champion. It takes hard work, it takes dedication, not only when times are agreeable but when times are bad. It's never too late to change things around. When I looked at the game last night when I got home, I don't think we really had a sense of urgency. Even though we were on the road, Boston really set the tone. Those guys came out and they refused to lose. That's the same type effort we have to have to really be good in this league.
(On Isiah Thomas)
He's done a great job with the people he has. He's raised a lot of guys. He's really been really good to this team. When you don't have players that really want to win, that's what happens.
(On if he conveyed this message to the team)
I didn't talk to anybody. I'm going to talk Monday and then I'm going to cut out of town. It's still kind of like a hangover. It's still a bad effect on me right now. I didn't have anything to say in the team meeting. It's all personal now. Everybody has to take a look in the mirror and figure out what they didn't do, including myself, one through 15. We've got to make sure that if we're going to be back with the same team next year that we're focused and focused for only one reason. Everybody can talk about winning, but it takes a real player to really want to win and go through all the tough times and do all the hard work. Hopefully we can get that effort next year.
(On the possibility of changes)
I think changes will come. What changes, I don't know whether it'll be free agency or bringing some different players in, some more experienced players or what it may be. I think it will change. This team probably will have a new look next year. Even if it doesn't everybody will go home and, hopefully watching these playoffs sends them into a different world as far as working on their bodies, working on their minds and just trying to get focused. I'm not going to stand here and totally try to tear my team apart because they're still my teammates. I just don't think the effort was totally there. I don't know if it was because (they were) burned out or whatever it may be; it just wasn't there. We didn't have the same effort we had in the first half of the season, and that's the reason we cleaned out our lockers today.
(On his free agency)
Money isn't the issue. It's going to be there for me, regardless. It was a very painful thing sitting in that locker room last night, not wanting to take off that jersey because you're not quite sure you're going to put that jersey back on. That's a painful thing. That's probably the most painful thing I'm dealing with. You understand it's a business and I want to make the best decision. Seven years is a long time to be with a team. If you're going to be there, you want to definitely know you're going to have the opportunity to win.
(On his loyalty to the Pacers organization)
I can't necessarily say it's a sure-shot thing I'll be back. I really like these fans and I like this organization. If I had to pick a top three, they'd be number one but I understand it's a business and I'm going to take looks at other teams, I'm going to go travel to see other teams and see some of the different things they do in their organization and some of the things we should do in ours -- not only to sign me but to sign other future free agents. I don't think this team has signed any type of free agents in a long time. I want to make sure if I'm going to be here this team is going to be in a position where when guys' contracts come up, they say, 'I want to go down to Indiana and take a look at these guys. They have a good team and they have a first-class organization.' I think people don't really realize that because it is in Indiana, a small market. You don't hear very much about Indiana signing big-time free agents. You hear about Dallas, Sacramento and some of the top teams guys look forward to playing with. I definitely want to look at different scenarios and see what I can bring back to this team and let Donnie know what I think we should do to attract certain players when their contract comes up. I think Donnie Walsh is the best president. Bottom line, when it comes down to it, I'm very loyal to the people that's loyal to me. It'd be hard -- it'd be hard -- to turn my back on this team. Extremely hard. The only way I do is if something changes for the worse as far as certain players being brought in that I don't think I'd be compatible with and things like that.
(On his options)
I'll look at San Antonio with Tim Duncan, I'll look at Orlando with Tracy McGrady and I'll look at Indiana with Reggie Miller. That's three great players. When you get into a situation like that, you've got to look at the supporting cast and the type players that they have. The last team standing is the team that has the best supporting cast. I want to have the best opportunity. I understand Reggie is coming to the end of his career and I want to know that, once he leaves, this team is still in good hands as far has having two, three, four more punches. That's really my biggest concern.
(On the team's future)
I want Donnie to determine who he wants to be on this team. By me knowing him, I know he's going to put the best players on the court. I'm going to talk to him on Monday to kind of give him my feeling about the team and my future and kind of let him do his job, whatever it may be.
(On Isiah Thomas)
Everybody talks about Isiah and a coaching change. I don't care if you brought Phil Jackson in here. Unless you have 12 players who really want to win, you're not going to win.
(On his emotions compared to last year)
I felt more positive leaving the last two summers than this summer and that's a huge, huge disappointment. I want to play for a purpose. I want to make sure whatever jersey I pull on next year -- and I sincerely hope it's the Indiana Pacers -- that we have a real chance to win a championship. No more first-round-and-out.
(On loyalty to the Pacers)
You want to be loyal to the city that's been loyal to you but in the end it's a business that's about one thing -- winning.
(On his family's role in the decision)
My family will have a big say in what I do. And one thing is Indiana has a tough winter that my family really hates.