Golden State Warriors

Jermaine O’Neal wouldn’t mind returning to Warriors, but not necessarily as a player

Jermaine O'Neal Golden State Warriors

Jermaine O’Neal played for six franchises over a 17-year period before signing with the Golden State Warriors, and after just one season with the team he sounds like someone who’d like to stay a while.

“I appreciate what my teammates have done for me this year, injecting life back into my soul. I appreciate what our organization has done for me. I appreciate what the fanbase have done for me, giving me love for basketball again,” O’Neal said in the locker room after Game 7.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as re-upping with the Warriors for another season. After 18 seasons, 1,011 games (1,108 including the postseason) and several injuries over the last decade, his playing days might be over. I asked a very emotional O’Neal whether he’d have any interest in taking on a role in Golden State’s front office.

“I think that’d be fantastic. I think I’ve grown a great relationship with these guys and the city. It’s a tough decision, it really is. I know at some point you’ve got to let basketball go,” said O’Neal, who paused for several seconds before smiling in a way that signaled a mixture of sadness and pride more than pure happiness.

That was one of a few moments during O’Neal’s final media session of the season where it seemed like O’Neal had played his last NBA game, a game in which he logged just three minutes after Glen “Big Baby” Davis slammed into his knee in Game 6. But there are a few reasons why O’Neal might decide to come back and play.

1. The money isn’t bad. O’Neal has made $168,794,021 in his career according to Basketball Reference, but he wouldn’t make $2 million in less than a year’s time doing anything else. 

2. O’Neal mentioned how the Warriors injected life back into his soul; the Warriors also benefitted from adding a legitimate backup center who started in 13 regular season games and three times in the playoffs. Andrew Bogut can’t be counted on to play 35 minutes per game for a full season, Festus Ezeli didn’t play a minute in 2013-14, and Golden State doesn’t have a draft pick. They could try to use their mid-level exception to land another (preferably younger and faster) big, but easier said than done.

3. O’Neal had a handful of really good games, especially when Andrew Bogut and David Lee were both unavailable at the same time. Two examples: his 20-point, eight-rebound effort in the 122-120 win in Dallas, and a 23-point, 13-rebound performance in the home win over Brooklyn. O’Neal scored 15 or more in seven games, and the Warriors won all seven.

But money and basketball aren’t everything, and O’Neal told us he wouldn’t make the trip back to Oakland that night with the rest of the team, citing a need to “reflect” with his wife and teenage daughter, Asjia. He also planned to discuss his future with Jermaine Jr.

“Now it really is going to depend on my wife and my kids, especially my little boy. Being a kid that was raised with out his father, I know how hard these last few years have been for my son. I’m going to sit down and have another conversation with an eight-year-old, again, and see where his blessings are for me,” said O’Neal, who sees believes great things are in store for the Warriors.

“The organization is on pace,” he said. “The city has been nothing short of fantastic supporting us, not only in the gym but away from the gym. Unfortunately we weren’t able to give them what they want, but sometimes failing is succeeding.”

Jackson also had some words about Mark Jackson, and in hindsight it seems like O’Neal knew a parting of ways was inevitable.

O’Neal might not have it in him to come back and play, and we don’t know how his family feels. But after a year where he was a vocal leader, one who often spoke highly of everyone in the franchise from the owners to the behind-the-scenes people, it’s hard to see him walking away from the Golden State Warriors completely. While I got the feeling that O’Neal is ready for his next journey, he didn’t seem satisfied with how the 2013-14 chapter ended.

“It’s been a fantastic run, whatever it is. I never pictured … if it is your last game, not being able to be effective in Game 7. That’s a tough pill to swallow, to be quite honest.”

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