Jermaine O'Neal: "I would like to get a guy who can play defense"
Are you happy with your team’s season so far?
Jermaine O'Neal: No, what are we now, 18-13? You can’t be happy about that.
You had lot of distractions this season. Did they influence your team’s results at all?
JO: No, that’s how it is supposed to be. If you’ve got distractions, you’ve got to figure out the way around them. We had a lot of close games that we should’ve won. So, when you ask me if we’re happy right now, we cannot be happy with the average play. Especially if we want to compete for the championship… We are not playing like one of those five teams that were picked to win a championship.
Where do you think you are compared to that elite group?
JO: We’re not in their class right now. Because, simply put, this league is based on wins and losses and right now we don’t have an elite record. We are not playing at the level of San Antonio, Dallas, and Detroit, obviously. It’s not even five elite teams anymore. Miami was picked to be one, but they came up West and they’ve been drilled by New Orleans, they’ve been drilled by Phoenix… I’m pretty sure that Shaq, Dwyane and those guys are not happy about that either.
How do you feel about your chances until the end of the regular season?
JO: The season doesn’t end with the regular season. Two years ago, we tallied the best record in the league and we didn’t win a championship. Last year, we started the season well, but didn’t finish it that way. I’m sure that we will have a great finish of the season, but right now, I’m not happy how my team is playing.
What are your personal goals for this season?
JO: I’m just trying to put myself in the position to dominate the opponents. You can’t do that when you come up with pneumonia, but I’ll be back in the starting lineup and hopefully start my thing going again very soon.
Being here in Sacramento tonight and considering how many trade scenarios involved your team in the last month or so, does having Peja Stojakovic on your team make sense to you, either through a trade or next summer through free agency?
JO: That doesn’t make sense to us, because he doesn’t fit into what we are trying to do. We are a defense-oriented team. He’s more of an offensive player. He’s a great player, but style is everything, and we don’t go up-and-down as Sacramento does. We don’t pass the ball between our legs, we don’t do all that flashy stuff. We are more of a conservative, controlled offensive team. We really rest our hats on the defensive end. Sacramento isn’t really a defensive team. So I think that the style of play will be tougher for him to grasp. My preference is to get a guy who can play defense. You know, like Bonzi Wells or Al Harrington. Those guys really play on both ends of the floor. Stojakovic is great, one of the best offensive players in the league, but defensively, he doesn’t fit in what we’re doing.
Darko Milicic is having a very similar first few years in the league as you did. He’s not playing much, like you in Portland, and yet he was picked from a very high place in the draft. Is it only the change of environment that helped you show your true colors and become one of the premiere NBA players?
JO: Opportunity and right situation are everything in the NBA. I’m sure that if he keeps on doing what he’s doing right now and if somebody takes a chance on him, even if it’s not Detroit, as it was the case with me and Indiana. He just needs to keep getting better, keep working on his game, stay positive and believe in yourself more than anything else. Because everybody’s going to have an opinion about you. You know, sometimes I wonder what makes an analyst analyst… You can’t analyze a person’s heart and a person’s will. So my message to Darko will be: just keep on doing what got you here and keep getting better and that’s it. You know, there’s a reason why they took you as No. 2 in the draft.
Every situation isn’t good for you. I don’t think that Detroit is a good fit for Darko. Hopefully, he will come to the situation like here in Sacramento, on a team that goes up and down. He seems to have a nice touch with his jump shot and the ability to get up and down the floor. So, when his contract comes up, my advice for him is to go out and find the team that his game is well suited for and I think that he is going to really have a great chance if he keeps working, keep trying to get better and stay focused and believe in himself.
Did you have any contacts with Team USA about playing for the National Team in the next Olympic cycle?
JO: Yeah, we’ve talked. But, you know, my wife is having a baby around July 20th so I’m not allowed to play for the Team USA. I remember Indianapolis 2002, but, obviously, my family, my wife and my newborn are the number one on the list and if I get the opportunity to play in the Olympics, I will do it, but, as for the next summer, I can’t play because of that. I don’t want to miss my baby’s birth, I know that my wife wouldn’t appreciate that either. But, Jerry Colangelo had contact with my agent and then we talked. Hopefully, we can figure out the way for me to be involved with Team USA.
Are you looking forward to the All-Star weekend?
JO: I always appreciate being voted in by the fans. They make the game what it is. It’s always a pleasure being among the league’s best, and have an entire world looking at you, all at one stage at one time. It’s a great achievement, but I’m looking a little bit past that. I’m looking at the second half of the season and trying to put this thing together.
Nebojsa Petrovacki is the editor of Sportska Centrala, a sports news agency from Serbia
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