Jermaine O'Neal plans to return next season


Jermaine O'Neal plans to return next season

By A.Sherrod Blakely

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 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 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, "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 Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn