The Blazers have pitched Jermaine O’Neal on the idea of playing in Portland, but the Mavs remain the front-runners for him, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.com. O’Neal still hasn’t decided whether to play at all this season, though he has a strong connection to the Portland area, according to Stein.
O’Neal lives in greater Dallas and he’s long held aspirations of playing close to home, as Stein wrote last month when he identified the Mavs as the favorites to land O’Neal, a position bolstered when the team traded for Rajon Rondo. The Warriors, Cavs and Clippers also appeared to be in the hunt as of last month, though Stein leaves Golden State out of his latest dispatch.
The 36-year-old center, who played for the Warriors last season, has made it clear that his family will play a key role in his decision-making, which seemingly confirms the Mavs’ status as favorites should he decide to play. O’Neal revealed this week that he’s traveled to Germany to undergo treatments on his knees, seemingly a signal that he’s preparing to make his way back to the court. Dallas president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said last month that he was confident his team would land either O’Neal or Josh Smith, and shortly thereafter Smith signed with the Rockets.
The Blazers are missing starting center Robin Lopez, who’s likely out for the rest of the month with a broken right hand, and backup big man Joel Freeland is out for at least two weeks with a bruised right shoulder. The team has a full 15-man roster, so it would have to clear a space to sign O’Neal. Portland made O’Neal the 17th overall pick back in 1996, and he played the first four of his 18 NBA seasons with the Blazers.