O'Neal Expects to Rebound in Phoenix

O'Neal has been an All-Star six times in his career.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)
By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: August 16, 2012

Everyone always knew that Jermaine O’Neal could play the game of basketball. As a six-time All-Star, that was never in doubt.

The question was: could he still play?

Plagued by injuries the last few seasons, the Suns signed the 16-year veteran to a one-year deal because they know he can.

“I wanted to make sure that I got the body physically together this summer,” O’Neal said. “I really tested the body to prepare for the upcoming season and once I got to the point where I could really feel like I could do it another year - not only physically, but mentally - I wanted to find a place that felt good."

With Suns power forward/center Channing Frye presumably shelved for the beginning of the season due to shoulder surgery, O’Neal saw an opportunity in Phoenix for playing time. That, along with Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry’s college-recruiting-like home visit and the propensity of the Suns’ training staff to breathe new life into injured veteran players, O’Neal decided to ink a contract with the Suns.

The training staff has already been credited with rejuvenating the bodies of Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Redd, Amar’e Stoudemire and Antonio McDyess.

“I always knew that the training staff was phenomenal,” the new Suns center said. “That’s the word around the league amongst players.”

In the past two seasons, O’Neal has been sidelined with wrist and knee injuries, appearing in only 49 games over that span. However, has made medical progress, shoring up his wrist issues with the Celtics at the end of last season and flying to Germany to undergo the Orthokine procedure on his knees.

The Orthokine procedure is a process that involves centrifuging a patient’s blood and using a serum for anti-inflammatory purposes. It is the procedure that became popularized by the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who O’Neal talked to before heading to Germany.

“(When I) saw the impact as far as minutes played and the impact Kobe had this year, it was impressive,” O’Neal said. “I said to myself, ‘What do I have to lose?’ If it doesn’t pan out, then I feel good about the 16 years I played and I’ll go off into the business world.”

Besides the procedure, the new Suns center also detoxed his body for 14 days, went on a strict blood-type diet and trimmed his body down by undergoing rigorous workouts. O’Neal, who trained in Las Vegas this offseason with many NBA players, received high praise from Suns swingman Jared Dudley.

Dudley, who saw O’Neal after the procedure, tweeted about his new teammate, “Just finished my workout with @CJ Watson and A.Wright and now watching @Jermaine O'Neal workout!! This man looking 5 yrs younger!!! Wow!!!”

O’Neal did confirm that he's now able to make certain moves that he hasn't been able to do in the past five seasons. But he also doesn’t want to get carried away.

“I don’t want to jump the gun,” O’Neal said. “Obviously, I’ve been around a long time so I understand the effect of the things that you say, but I feel absolutely five years younger.

“I have a different kind of lift right now and a different kind of quickness. A lot of people may say it’s the procedure, but I think it’s the work I put into it.”

For his career, O’Neal has averaged 13.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game on 47-percent shooting. His best season came in 2004-05, where he averaged 24.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a night.

However, just as recent as the 2009-10 season, O’Neal averaged 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a night for the Heat in 70 games. If O’Neal’s offseason work can bring him back to that form on the court, the Suns would be more than pleased with their latest acquisition.

At the very least, the 6-11 center will bring a veteran presence in the locker room that’s always necessary for a club to thrive.

“Jermaine is a very accomplished NBA player,” Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said. “He brings a pedigree to us not only on the court, but in the locker room and we need that type of leadership with our younger group. We are more than happy that Jermaine will be joining our group.”

In the meantime, Suns fans will be eagerly awaiting to see if the former All-NBA player can follow in the footsteps of other Suns players that have found life in the desert. O’Neal, who speaks in the humblest of tones, feels confident that he will.

“Physically, I really believe that people will be awfully surprised of where I am at now,” O’Neal said.

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