When Jermaine O’Neal signed a one year, two million dollar contract this past offseason, he was brought in to be the Golden State Warriors backup center while Festus Ezeli sat out with an injury and resort to being the third center and locker room leader once Ezeli returns.
But now in his 18th season of his NBA career, O’Neal has just played his best week of basketball in a long time. Last Tuesday against the New Orleans Pelicans, O’Neal scored 18 points and had 8 rebounds in 26 minutes of the Warriors win over the Pelicans. O’Neal played 17 minutes the very next night, played 23 minutes against the Thunder on Friday, played 21 minutes on Sunday against the Kings, all leading up to his stellar performance on Tuesday in the Warriors massive comeback against the Toronto Raptors.
Statistically O’Neal was very solid, but not spectacular. He finished the game with 11 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes of play, but O’Neal’s impact went way beyond the box score.
O’Neal played all but the last 17 seconds of the Warriors epic comeback against the Raptors, but the real impact of O’Neal was reportedly felt at halftime by his Warriors teammates.
“Jermaine O’Neal gave one of the realest halftime speeches I have ever heard,” Thompson said in the postgame interview for the television broadcast. “He said we’ll see what we’re made of in the second half.”
Head coach Mark Jackson went onto say that, “I didn’t say a word (at halftime),” he added that “I pretty much wrapped it up with ‘bring it in.’ Best speech I ever gave.”
O’Neal’s halftime speech rallied the troops and challenged the Warriors to show some resolve and heart. O’Neal will likely not make the kind of statistical impact that he has made in the past few games because according to ESPN, he has a torn ligament in his left wrist that will require surgery (O’Neal for the time being has chosen to put off the surgery), but his leadership will be felt all season long.
While the 2002 most improved player, the one time All-NBA second teamer in 2004, the All-NBA third teamer in 2002 and 2003, best playing days are almost a decade behind him, the leadership he showed Tuesday night is just one of the many reasons why his two million dollar deal is a bargain.
O’Neal provides the Warriors with a veteran leader that prior to this season the Warriors did not have. When the Warriors fell to the Spurs this past postseason, their immaturity and youth was shown, and adding O’Neal to the roster resulted in more maturity in the locker room and more postseason experience.