Jermaine O'Neal plans to return next season

191544.jpg

Jermaine O'Neal plans to return next season

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

Following the Boston Celtics' Game 5 loss at Miami last month, Jermaine O'Neal was down, dejected and all but ready to call it a career.

But after a few weeks away from the game, O'Neal said that passion and drive to win a championship is still there.

In fact, considering how injury-riddled he was last season, the desire to win a title is even greater now.

"I have a lot I can still give to this team," O'Neal told CSNNE.com in a phone interview.

And he'll get that opportunity next season, with O'Neal informing the C's that he does in fact plan to return for the final year of the two-year, 12 million contract he signed last summer.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, confirmed to CSNNE.com on Wednesday that O'Neal has in fact informed him of his desire to return.

"Jermaine gave us a great lift near the end of the season, especially defensively," Ainge said. "And we need him. I think he has a lot more to offer us."

The need for O'Neal is even greater with the Celtics' other O'Neal -- Shaquille -- announcing his retirement on Wednesday.

"We did it," O'Neal said via video on the website, Tout.com. "Nineteen years, baby. I thank you very much. That's why I'm telling you first. I'm about to retire. Love you. Talk to you soon."

Jermaine O'Neal was on the road traveling when a reporter told him about Shaq retiring, an announcement that had nothing to do with his decision to return to Boston.

When the season ended, all indications were that O'Neal would have to have surgery on his left wrist after suffering a spill in Game 1 of the New York Knicks series.

O'Neal said surgery would have sidelined him for at least four months. Even with a lockout pushing the start of the season back, he knew his conditioning would once again be an issue upon his return and in many ways, he would have the same problems that he experienced this past season.

While surgery on the wrist will have to be done "at some point in my life," O'Neal said a battery of tests in recent weeks on the wrist have come back positive.

The instant connection he felt with veterans such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, O'Neal admits also played a factor in his decision to play one more season.

"I know how competitive those guys are, and I know they still believe they can win another championship," O'Neal said. "I feel the same way."

In his first season with the Celtics, O'Neal averaged 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds -- numbers he had registered since he was an end-of-the-bench youngster in Portland during the late 1990s.

But after returning from mid-season surgery on his left knee, O'Neal showed flashes of being able to provide more than just a presence defensively.

Now that he has a year in head coach Doc Rivers' system behind him, he hopes to pick up where he left off.

"It takes time to get to know players, to trust players. I understand that," O'Neal said. "I think these guys know me better, and now that I'm healthy again, they can trust that I can do a lot of the things they've seen me do over the years. I'm excited about the opportunity to come back and get after it again."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!