It’s a tried and true ritual of every NBA season: longtime veterans—bodies on the brink of full-blown betrayal—wondering whether they might’ve just emptied an NBA locker for the last time.
Add Jermaine O’Neal, the Golden State Warriors’ steady backup center, to the ranks of possible retirees-to-be.
This is the most classic of considerations, of course: the weighing of family and finances, fitness and fatigue.
Indeed, according to Rusty Simmons of SFGate.com, O’Neal only decided to return to the Warriors this season after receiving some indispensable consultation:
[O’Neal] said he'll also talk to his 8-year-old son, who granted him one final season with Golden State during a conversation last year. He'll listen to his family, and the decision about his future will become clear during the rest of the postseason.
Despite having just completed his 18th season, however, O’Neal’s production—particularly in relief of an injury-prone Andrew Bogut—was as steady as it was indispensable.
With O’Neal’s contract set to expire, the Warriors would have to ink their backup big to a fresh tender, presumably at or below the $2 million he collected this year.
While that seems like a reasonable price tag, the cash-strapped Warriors have plenty of reason to be cautious: With Bogut and second-year man Festus Ezeli—who missed the entire season with a knee injury—on the books through the 2017 season, O’Neal’s rotational niche is as health-dependent as it gets.
At the same time, if O’Neal thinks Golden State has a legitimate shot at contention, why not make one last run—or two—at that ever-elusive title?
That might seem a faint fantasy, especially in a Western Conference poised only to improve. At the same time, let’s not forget the Warriors were but one win away from advancing to the conference semifinals—without their starting center, mind you.
Then again, Golden State might, in a roundabout way, end up making O’Neal’s decision for him, as some expect the team to fire head coach Mark Jackson—whom O’Neal supported—sooner than later.