Suns ‘just felt right’ for Jermaine O’Neal, who feels five years younger after offseason knee treatment


PHOENIX — It’s long been assumed that Grant Hill will have a role waiting for him in the Phoenix Suns’ organization upon retirement, yet even during a summer in which he departed for the Los Angeles Clippers he still aided the Suns’ recruitment of a free agent.

Back two and a half months ago when Hill was still a Suns free agent, he spent time in Germany with Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal getting the famed Orthokine treatment. One day Hill told O’Neal he really needs to consider Phoenix because of the training staff and how well it can take care of him.

At the time O’Neal was only concerned with the procedure and feeling healthy enough to come back for a 17th NBA season, but when he received a call from Phoenix later in the summer he immediately thought back to that conversation.

“I always knew that training staff was phenomenal,” O’Neal said Wednesday on a conference call after officially signing a one-year, $1.35 million minimum deal with the Suns. “The word around the league to most players is the training staff can really take the body and kind of put three, four years onto [their career] just by the things that they do to the body. That did have an impact on my decision as well. I wanted to be able to take what I did this summer and continue to build on it with the great training staff, and I felt like I was getting that with the Suns.

“Your health is everything. It doesn’t matter what you can do physically on the court if you don’t have that health and you don’t have people that can really address the health issues then it doesn’t really matter what you can do physically, and those are some of the things that [Hill] talked about.”

O’Neal, 33, needs to look no further than his Orthokine buddy Hill for proof of that, as Hill is set to play during his age 40 season following five seasons with the Suns’ training staff.

When the offseason started, O’Neal was not sure if he had any more seasons left in his body after struggling through a pair of injury-plagued campaigns in Boston. JO could only get through 24 games in 2010-11 and then 25 in 2011-12 before undergoing left wrist surgery in late March.

First, O’Neal wanted to see how his wrist would respond to the surgery, and once that healed he decided to head to Germany for Orthokine, which involves “centrifuging the patient’s blood and using the serum as an anti-inflammatory drug,” according to (click here for more on the treatment).

O’Neal said he felt better even after the first day of the five-day treatment, and now it has put him “in a fantastic position to be very successful physically for the Suns this year. It allowed me to go back and do some of the things I haven’t been able to do on the knee the last five or six years.”

By that he’s talking about track sprints, lunges and squats, and for the first in two years he feels comfortable with where he is at physically after a summer in which he improved by “leaps and bounds” in that department.

In fact, O’Neal said he feels five years younger, and the Suns would be ecstatic if they got anything close to the 13.6 points and 6.8 boards that a 29-year-old O’Neal produced five years ago just one season removed from being a 20-10 guy.

Based on how important health is to O’Neal after never staying on the floor in Boston, it seems obvious why he picked Phoenix, especially since other teams offered more money.

“When I met with the Suns it just felt right,” O’Neal said. “It felt like I could go there and be effective on and off the court, and I could go there and be happy playing basketball again. That was just one of the key things. It was just the feeling and the chemistry and really being wanted and being played in areas I feel comfortable being played in. I felt the Phoenix Suns’ organization represented everything I wanted going into my 17th year. I felt like this was perfect for me, and that’s the reason why I signed.”

Along with adding a veteran presence (only Bassy Telfair has played even half as many NBA seasons as O’Neal), JO plans to bring the kind of toughness that Suns teams have generally lacked.

His outside assessment of the franchise is that the Suns have always been considered “very nice,” whereas he feels he has an “aggressive personality” that could rub off on this new era of Phoenix basketball.

He also does not care whether he starts or comes off the bench despite primarily starting during his past 12 NBA seasons, but what else can he say with Gortat entrenched at the center spot and a slew of capable four men manning the power forward spot?

Furthermore, O’Neal said he does not want anything given to him, he wants to earn whatever role he grows into, which is encouraging since it’s possible he’s the odd man out of the big man rotation if his regression continues following the disappointing years in Boston in which he wasn’t that great even when he was on the court. At the same time, he said he hopes to be “impactful,” which would be difficult to do from the bench.

At first glance it may be unclear what O’Neal’s motivation was to work so hard this offseason on getting his body right for a comeback to play on a minimum contract for a likely non-contender with a superb starting center and a deep front court rotation.

O’Neal said his career has been about proving himself over and over again and getting back up after being knocked down.

Well, he was knocked down after his poor stint in Boston that some felt was the end for him, and now he wants to prove himself one last time.

But only to one person.

“To myself,” O’Neal said. “I’m only proving stuff to myself that I can do this and I still have a lot to give. It’s not about any critics, it’s not about any fans, it’s not about anything but to me personally. When I looked into the mirror I wasn’t quite happy with what I was seeing at that particular time this summer.

“Nothing’s given health-wise, nothing’s given on the court with what you can do as far as your output, but I look forward to this. Everything feels good right now. I’m looking forward to this opportunity, so we’ll see come Oct. 1.”

And 1

  • The Suns announced that they have waived Brad Miller and Jerome Dyson, the two players acquired from New Orleans in the Robin Lopez trade. This was more a formality than anything else, although trading Miller’s non-guaranteed contract could have proven advantageous as it already has in two deals this summer. The Suns will owe Miller his $848,000 of guaranteed money, and Dyson will be waived without a cap hit. The team’s roster now stands at 13, so it’s unlikely they make any more moves.
  • Babby on the signing: “We are very, very happy that he has selected the Suns over a number of very attractive alternatives. Jermaine O’Neal is a very, very accomplished NBA player who has had a very, very successful NBA career. He brings a pedigree to us that will help us not only on the court but in the locker room as we need that kind of veteran leadership with our younger group, so we are more than happy that Jermaine will be joining our group.”