Worst' season really bothers O'Neal
By Mike Wells
Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal, who has dealt with constant injuries the past three-plus seasons, told The Star that he may sit out the rest of the season to let his ailing left knee completely heal.
O'Neal is having his worst season since 2000-01, his first with the Pacers. O'Neal, who can opt out of the final two years of his contract at the end of the season, sat down with The Star after practice Sunday to discuss his frustrating season.
Q: How do you feel about your latest setback?
A: Over the last two years I've dealt with the knee situation. I tore the meniscus and last year I played, obviously, more than I should have. That took an effect.
Knowing I was going to have surgery over the summer made me feel better about the situation. The fact of the matter of it is, since the surgery I haven't recovered. I shouldn't have started camp when I started, which was the first day.
It was more that we have a new coach, a new style, (and) I wanted to be out there. Saying this, me coming back early, was nobody else's fault but mine. When you go through some of the tougher years that we've been through, you want to be out there and giving something.
My teammates feel like it's important for me to take the time necessary to see if I can get back to 100 percent.
Q: What would happen if you tried to continue to play on your knee?
A: If I continue to play, it can not only be detrimental to me getting back to the level I'm used to playing or beyond that. The four, five, six years I have left in my career, (it) could really affect that. . . . (Playing at) 60 percent may be causing me to shorten my career and beyond that.
It could have a major effect on my health. From all the painkillers, the injections, being able to walk. I walk with a limp now at 29 years old because the knee is so irritated in so many different areas.
It's something that we feel like, if I totally rehab, it can get better. Playing is something I obviously want to do, but it's not in the cards right now. It's frustrating.
Q: What have you done to help the problems with your knee?
A: I've come to the conclusion that I don't want any more injections. I don't want to take any more pain relievers every day anymore. Even if I wanted to play right now, I couldn't play because I wouldn't be cleared to play.
This has become more of an issue to me than just basketball and I understand it's such a tough predicament. I want to apologize to my teammates, coaching staff and the fans because I know it's important for me to be out there. In order for me to have a shot on getting back to a respectable level that I'm use to playing at, I have to take time off.
Q: How do you think this setback will affect your future with the team? Your name has been brought up in trade rumors in the past and will likely continue to be brought up.
A: This is a very difficult time, not only for myself, but for the team and organization because when you look at the future of a team. If they want to make a move to move me or make a move on bringing more pieces on the team with me.
Whatever it is as far as the future it affects everybody because if you don't know where I'm at health-wise, you can't go out and send me anywhere because nobody is going to take me.
I want the fans to understand, if I play again this year, (it would be ) absolutely great, but anything right now is based on my future.
Q: You can opt out the final two years of your contract at the end of your season. Have you thought about what you want to do?
A: I haven't thought about it. Conversations with doctors now is about what I need to do to have a really good finish to my career.
At 29, that's really hard to accept, talking about what you need to do to finish your career at a high level. It's not like I'm three, four years out of being an All-Star. This was just last year. To come in and have a very average, subpar year based off my ability to move and jump has been tough.
Q: How tough has it been on you that you're only a shade of your former self?
A: This is the most unenjoyable year that I've had ever in my life of playing basketball. When you know you can't move and cut and jump and do the things you normally do because you're in pain, that affects emotionally how you play in a game.
Taking the nine pain relievers a day has affected me in such a major way, to the point that I had to take a test to see how my liver is holding up. The pain I played with has been extraordinary.
Either way this organization decides to go in the future, what I'm doing now is necessary for my career, for my livelihood after basketball and for this team. I want to be able to play sports with my kids.
Q: What have your peers around the league told you?
A: Everybody is saying the same thing: Step away and do the things necessary to get better. I don't want to get to a situation where I have to stop playing early in my career because my knee is so banged up.
The doctors feel that I can get back. I just can't run and play because it's wearing the knee down.
People that know me know I want to play and play at a certain level.
I promise you, everybody I talked to said they watched me play this year and I just don't look the same. It's been emotionally, mentally, physically . . . a dog year.
Q: Has there been any talk about having surgery again?
A: That's the blessing of everything that has happened; I don't need any more surgery. The knee is just not strong enough to play.
Everything is about resting the knee and getting all the swelling out of the knee and then strengthening it to where it was before I actually tore the meniscus.