After a pair of relatively unproductive years in Boston, Jermaine O'Neal bounced back this past season with the Suns, averaging 8.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and a 16.7 PER in 55 games. O'Neal will be a free agent again this summer, and the Trail Blazers are one team he'll definitely be considering, as he tells Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com.
"I'm very open to Portland. They're definitely a team I'm looking forward to having talks with this summer," O'Neal said. "LaMarcus [Aldridge] and Damian [Lillard] along with [Nicolas] Batum are some great pieces to build around. All they need to do is shore up the bench and add a paint presence on defense and they'll be right there. It's hard to put that type of stress on your starting five and I know I can help ease some of that stress."
It was Portland that drafted O'Neal in the first round of the 1996 draft, taking him as an 18-year-old out of high school. The veteran big man hasn't played for the Blazers since the 1999/2000 season, but he hasn't forgotten the opportunity the franchise gave him.
"That city has always been in my heart because one: Mr. [Paul] Allen gave me my opportunity, and two: that city took me in as their second child," O'Neal said. "I didn't play for two or three years but you couldn't tell. The organization and the fans really allowed me to grow at my own pace. It's a special place to me. I met my wife in Portland. At this point for me, it's all about competing and winning and the Blazers are doing those things."
The Blazers figure to have a decent chunk of cap space to use in free agency this summer, and GM Neil Olshey has talked about trying to sign two or three bench pieces using that room. One area of need for the team is in the middle, so it wouldn't be a surprise if O'Neal's interest in Portland was reciprocated this offseason.