The Phoenix Suns medical staff is widely considered one of the best in the NBA. They've managed to extend the careers of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, who are both actually 73 years-old. But they've yet to face their biggest challenge: Jermaine O'Neal.
In the shadow cast by Superman's arrival in Los Angeles, the timing of Jermaine O'Neal's choice to commit to the Suns on Friday was unfortunate as an unrelated move.
Given the caliber of remaining NBA free-agent centers, O'Neal's commitment to sign a one-year, $1.35 million contract with Phoenix could be fortuitous if — and it's a huge if — O'Neal can be healthier than he has been for the later half of his 16-year career.
The Suns had only a backup center role and a one-year, veteran's minimum contract to offer with a franchise that is in transition. The Suns came away with a six-time All-Star who is still only 33 years old because he entered the NBA out of high school.
Imagine turning on a grill in 2009, throwing a steak on it, and then checking this past weekend to see how it was doing. What you'd find is Jermaine O'Neal's career. It was done a very long time ago, what you see now is nowhere near what it was when you first started, and expecting anything tangible out of it now is a pipe dream's pipe dream.
Still, O'Neal, who is actually 33 but whose body is a couple of weeks away from a "bodies" exhibit, is giving it a shot. I'm not sure what Phoenix expects out of him. The Suns are clearly in a re-building mode in the post-Nash era. So it's not like O'Neal is going to play a role the Celtics had hoped for him (aging big man who, in the right amount of minutes, can still be productive and contribute to a winner). Instead, he'll come off the bench and play low double-digit minutes per game and the everyone will be happy with whatever he contributes.
I don't care about the offseason anecdotes that purport a spryer looking Jermaine O'Neal. He is who he is: An injury waiting to happen, and an excuse (often recycled) machine. If the Phoenix medical staff can resurrect his career, then I'll immediately go searching for lost Dead Sea Scrolls because that couldn't be the only one they'd be involved in.
So congratulations, Phoenix Suns fans. You've gone from almost 39-year-old Steve Nash playing 10 years-younger and raising your entire team to a higher-than-expected level to 33-year-old Jermaine O'Neal playing 10 years-older and… well… this.
Hey, don't shoot the messenger. Blame this guy.