Jermaine O'Neal an affordable insurance policy as backup center

Jermaine O'Neal has decided to take his talents to Phoenix for a minimum contract.

Jermaine O’Neal has decided to take his talents to Phoenix after agreeing to a minimum contract.

One of the jokes making the rounds yesterday was that both the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers added centers with marquee names to their roster, but while the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard the Suns merely signed an aging Jermaine O’Neal.

While sadly exemplifying the differences between where the two franchises are today, this move should not be seen as anything further than this: The Suns needed a backup center and they signed the most experienced one on the market to a minimum contract.

O’Neal, who will turn 34 before the season tips off, immediately becomes the oldest Sun on the roster and possesses twice as much NBA experience as Sebastian Telfair, previously the longest-tenured Sun with eight years in the league.

O’Neal has seen just about everything the NBA has to offer in those 16 seasons in which he has gone from a raw high school player riding the pine to a six-time All-Star to a player past his prime still on a max deal. In between he has played for contenders, lottery teams and has even been prominently involved in perhaps the ugliest event in NBA history.

Although it’s always possible that the Kobe treatment he had performed on both his knees this summer in Germany will revitalize him and make him something of a factor this season, in essence O’Neal is just a cheap insurance policy signed to fill out the roster.

Even after bringing on JO, I think the Suns should run with Channing Frye as Marcin Gortat’s backup at the center spot and then let Luis Scola and Markieff Morris share the power forward position. It would be a shame if the soon-to-be 34-year-old O’Neal took any developmental time away from the soon-to-be 23-year-old Morris with the Suns in the midst of a youth movement.

Yet O’Neal will most certainly be called upon with Frye expected to miss the beginning of the season and since some of those big men will inevitably miss some time due to injury.

It would also be difficult to complain about the price the Suns paid to acquire a player of O’Neal’s pedigree.

O’Neal will earn $1,352,181 being that he is a veteran with 10-plus years of experience, but due to a rule aimed to incentivize teams to sign veterans to minimum contracts rather than young players the team will only pay him the two-year veteran minimum salary of $854,389, with the league picking up the difference. The latter number is also what O’Neal will count against the Suns’ cap.

As Ryan Weisert wrote earlier in the week, the Suns did not have many solid options to choose from in selecting a backup center, and O’Neal was by far the most established option albeit a player who very well may be done.

Jared Dudley, for one, does not think so. JD spent some time with JO this summer at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas and came away impressed.

After news of the agreement hit Twitter, Dudley tweeted that O’Neal will bring a “great veteran presence” to the Suns.

Although in the past I have supported Kyrylo Fesenko for this roster spot due to the enormous size he brings that the other Suns big men lack, O’Neal is not a bad choice either so long as you realize the expectations should be kept low.

The Suns won’t need O’Neal to play at all when the rest of their bigs are healthy since it will be difficult enough to find time for their four regular big men, so really anything he provides is a bonus.

If the Suns’ training staff and the Kobe treatment revitalize O’Neal, then the Suns could perhaps possess five big men worthy of playing time, which is not a terrible problem to have.

O’Neal could also develop some minimal trade value, and he would be easy to deal to a contender due to the “minimum salary trade exception” that, as Larry Coon describes, “allows teams to acquire minimum-salary players without regard to salary matching under the Traded Player exception. When a team acquires multiple players in the same trade, it essentially ignores the incoming salary for all minimum-salary players, since they fall under the Minimum Salary exception.”

So basically once he’s eligible to be traded, the Suns could deal JO to a team over the cap for a draft pick without having to take back any players.

Unless an unexpected deal comes up, the Suns have now finished their work for the summer of 2012 since they are expected to stay at the roster minimum of 13.

By my salary calculations, I have the Suns at just under $51 million in salary for their 13 players, leaving about $7 mil to make moves during the season. Such a deal could involve taking on additional salary in a lopsided trade for a quality player or helping a team dump salary to stay below the tax for a package of draft picks.

The Suns also have Brad Miller’s contract to play with because so far as I have seen on the league’s transaction log, the Suns have yet to waive him. Miller has a $5.1 million cap number but only $848,000 is guaranteed, so acquiring his contract could provide a team with a good deal of immediate salary relief if they send the Suns an expiring contract and a pick in the transaction.

The Suns’ enviable cap situation will allow for lots of flexibility this season when most teams have at least hit the salary cap and in future years now that they have filled out their roster with a cheap veteran who will provide leadership while serving as an insurance policy for the Suns’ bigs so long as he can stay healthy himself.

Tags: Jermaine O'neal

  • Stephen

    This is a great veteran pick up, and gives us a good solid defensive centre off the bench. He will be a good deterrent if we go big with Gortat, O’neal, Keef/Beasley/Scola. Good write up Michael.

  • Scott

    I would have picked a young center who might have potential in the future with the Suns, but if the Suns are thinking of “borrowing” JO for a few months and then dealing him for a pick once Frye is back, I guess that works too.

    One thing to keep in mind with picks though: they’re not always better than the guys you can find hanging around the fringes of the league.

  • bk

    Even if you waive Brad Miller to pay him only the guarantee part of his salary. I think he is a still $5M in the Suns salary cap book. That’s the difference of amnesty and waive (off and on the salary cap calculation).

  • B. Cray Z.

    Tony, I’m sorry to hear that.

    As an ex-New Yorker, I like it when someone speaks their mind.

    Even agree with you about management ruining this team. Only I take it a step further & call Babby on his lies. How do you know when he is telling lies? When his lips move. Lies are meant to hide his motive which is not to help the team win but to make the owner more dependent on him, when the Suns lose. Free agent signing that would be a steal right now is to bring back The Brazilian Blur. Only comment on the last thread was on this point and was mine. For your benefit and the benefit of those others who may not have seen it, I’m reprinting it here.

    ? Coro: Jermaine O’Neal signs, fills need for Phoenix SunsJermaine O’Neal an affordable insurance policy as backup center ?
    1B. Cray Z. // Today at 4:24 pm (4 hours ago)

    No shame in losing to the U.S., who is likely on its way to their 2nd consecutive Olympic gold.

    Same goes for Brazil, which lost to Argentina in the quarter-final game, losing to a team that has won both gold & bronze medals in the last two Olympics & is possibly on its way to another bronze this time.

    Barbosa has been a key reason that Brazil has been so competitive in international play. Free agent still, he could be signed by the Suns at little cost, possibly to a 2-year deal with a team option for the 2nd year. This would greatly enhance the Suns’ competitiveness this year, without sacrificing cap flexibility for next year. Much better choice for the #2 guard than Brown or Johnson, as the Brazilian Blur shot 42% from behind the arc last year (even better than Nash) & he is still full of energy & speed & is an unheralded, athletic shot blocker at 29 years old.

    MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • Michael Schwartz

    @bk You are right in a normal situation, but only $848K of Miller’s contract is guaranteed, so the Suns will only have an $848K cap hit when they waive him. That’s why his contract is so valuable, because for trade purposes he counts $5.1 mil, but you can wipe all but the $848K off immediately.

    Just so you all know, nobody is being censored. Somebody has been impersonating Tony to rile everybody up, so I have taken the liberty to delete those comments as I find them. I’m able to tell because the email address/IP does not match the real Tony.

  • aro

    This is a great moves for SUNS !!! BUT I WONT TO KNOW? jerome dysone play in suns in this season nba?

  • Scott

    @aro -

    Probably Dyson is being kept on the roster at this moment just in case a trade is made involving either Telfair or where a player that can be cut with little to no penalty is required.

    For instance, if the Suns wanted Kyle O’Quinn, whom Orlando might want to cut but maybe can’t since he has a fully guaranteed 1 yr contract, the Suns could trade Dyson for O’Quinn, and then Orlando could cut Dyson and be under the roster cap.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s possible the Suns are looking to deal Gortat, in which case O’Neal may end up being the starting center this year.

  • Ty-Sun

    O’Neal was really just the one inexpensive option to backup Gortat that might actually contribute more than a large body and six fouls. Perhaps if O’Neal proves himself both durable and productive before the trade deadline he might actually start instead of Gortat but I doubt the Suns would seriously consider trading Gortat until then and only if another team were to send back a young 5 with potential or at least an unprotected 1st round pick.

    To completely change the subject, I’m wondering how the Suns will be defensively this year. It seems as though most posters here focus on this team’s offensive potential but I think they could be a very much improved defensive team. The Suns have many players who can play multiple positions and a stronger bench than last year which should encourage the coaches to press the team to play more aggressive defense. The shock value of the Suns actually playing aggressive D against some teams could be worth a couple of early wins. ;)

  • bk

    @MS. I disagree that the Miller contract is valuable. You will have to waive Miller before a date or trade him before the date. And I believe that that date should be somewhere in the beginning of the season. It means that you cannot really get a pick from him at Feb time.

    • Michael Schwartz

      I would argue that the Miller’s contract has already proven to be valuable twice in facilitating deals for cap purposes this offseason. Obviously it’s not a ton of value and obviously the deal would need to be made soon, but the right team might be looking for such cap flexibility.

  • Ty-Sun

    @bk – Miller’s contract is potentially valuable but only for a while as you stated. Miller has already retired but still under contract for $5 mil. If the Suns can’t find a way to use that in a trade before that deadline then they will buy out his contract at under $1mil and only the buyout portion of his contract will count against the salary cap. Until the time comes that the Suns have to make the buyout, the contract IS a potentially valuable trade chip because some other team might want to shed some salary before then and the Suns could possibly pick up a fairly good bench player in exchange for it. Probably not but Miller’s contract is still worth holding on to until the last minute just in case.

  • Tony


    You make a good point about Gortat’s future with the Suns. In my own opinion, because the Suns voluntarily choose to go into rebuilding mode, it would have been more prudent of them to keep Lopez, who is only 24, and traded Gortat during the draft to acquire a better draft pick. Gortat is simply not young enough to rebuild around and by the time this Suns franchise has any chance of being relevant again, he’ll be way past his prime. Now generally speaking, bigs have a longer peaking period because of their size and strength, but Gortat is of the more modern era mobile bigs, who relies on his athleticism and quickness. Unfortunately, as I know all too well even for myself, the first things to go with age are speed and athletic ability. I can’t see Gortat being effective without having his athleticism.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Suns FO look to trade Gortat during this season, especially if they play as poorly as they are expected.

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    You could even make the “Nash argument” about Gortat, in that he’s getting a bit old to be on a rebuilding team, and shouldn’t the Suns get him to a contender?

    Not that he’s as advanced in years as Nash, but if he’s looking at starting probably the 5 best years of his career about now, he should be with a contending team rather than a rebuilding one.

    I wouldn’t want to offer Gortat in a fire sale. He has value, and it doesn’t hurt to keep him till the right offer arises.

    While I don’t see any obvious trading opportunities right now, probably a few teams are going to juggle their rosters a bit between now and the trade deadline. Most likely someone will come calling.

  • HarbingerOfMonotony

    I really don’t get why anyone has a problem with this move. We’re talking about the 13th roster spot. And that player is a former star who is only 33 and looking to rebuild value following knee injuries.

    I don’t remember people having a problem with the similar Michael Redd acquisition last season…

  • Joe


    The Suns aren’t in rebuilding mode in the same sense as say, the Magic or the Rockets. IMO, if Beasley is able to avg. 18pts at a decent percentage and 8 reb this first year, then the Suns are a Tyreke Evans or James Harden away from being a contender.
    So, I don’t get why they would want to trade Gortat? Am I being too optimistic?

    I am all for the Suns signing a promising young Center now. If he works out and O’Neal outplays Gortat into the starting line up, then I could see Gortat being traded because he becomes expendable. But I wouldn’t trade him otherwise.

  • Tony


    if you believe this team is just a James Harden or Tyreke Evans away from being a contender, then yes, you are being way too optimistic. Firstly, there’s no reason to believe that Beasley is suddenly going to turn his career around, or Wesley Johnson either for that matter. I mean, if both guys couldn’t develop their games under Rick Adelman, who happens to be an excellent offensive coach, then why is it even foreseeable that Beasley will average 18 ppg shooting a good fg percentage?


    I agree with your sentiments completely. At this point, I’m not advocating the Suns trade Gortat, especially because the most prudent time for them to do so has passed, that of this year’s draft. Furthermore, I don’t want to see him traded for a bag of peanuts either. While Gortat is not an all star caliber center, he’s still a solid starting center. Finding legitimate bigs as mobile as him are also very difficult to find.

    With that being said, assuming the Suns stay true to most predictions and are 13th in the western conference, I expect the FO to seriously entertain the idea of trading him. I can’t imagine Gortat even being happy to play on a rebuilding team that will limit his exposure for his next and probably last “big” contract of his career.

  • Joe

    @ Tony:

    If there really is no reason to believe that Beasley will turn his career around, then why did the Suns sign him?
    They must see something in him.

  • Joe

    From what I’ve read, the Suns believe Beasley will turn his career around because his attitude and work ethic have improved under the mentorship of Norm Nixon.

  • Scott

    @Joe -

    I’m doubtful that Beasley will turn into a franchise player with the Suns. If that’s what was intended, I think it was a bad call on the part of Blanks which was then compounded by the Suns signing Scola, which means Beasley would move to SF, a spot from which he’s underperformed in the NBA so far.

    If Beasley can pull it off, more power to both him and Lance Blanks. But if you see the series A, B, C, D … you might predict E is next. And if that seems reasonable, then by similar logic Beasley won’t become a Suns franchise player, especially if he’s playing at SF, because his defense and scoring are historically worse from that spot.

    IMO, Beasley is a placeholder till the Suns find something better, not much different from Brown at SG or Scola at PF.

    The only players I see as definite keepers on this team are Dragic and Marshall. Everyone else can be changed around, and even Dragic would be expendable in a few years if Marshall comes on strong.

    Hopefully the Suns will win games and be watchable this year. But they are unlikely contenders as presently composed, and I believe the Suns have years to go (and will probably have another GM) before the rebuild is done.

  • Joe

    @ Scott:

    Your points seem reasonable if we get the same old Beasley. But if his work ethic and attitude really have improved and he takes better advantage of his talents and becomes a much improved player, I think he could become a franchise player or a close second, like Shawn Marion.
    Which brings me to my next point. Shawn Marion was also better as a power forward than a small, but he was still a great small forward. It’s better for the current team for Beasley to play at the sf position, so that he doesn’t cut into Morris’ minutes. But if he’s terrible there the Suns can start him at pf and bring Scola off the bench.
    Anyway, both you and Tony are correct in that, if Beasley doesn’t turn it around the Suns are going to be a pretty bad team.

  • Luka

    The thing that will surprise a lot people about this Suns team is going to be their speed & athleticism. Those are qualities the Suns had lost the past 2 years.

    Dragic is so quick you’ll see some legitimate fast breaks for a change. Beasley and Brown are going to be the recipients of those run outs.

    To complement their speedy backcourt you’ve got two dirtworkers in the paint in Gortat and Scola. That traditional pick and roll will return with Scola which means better spacing and looks for everyone else.

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