CAMP COUNTDOWN: POWER FORWARD
Injury Could Prove Blessing
in Disguise for O'Neal, Pacers
By Conrad Brunner | Sept. 30, 2004
The U.S. Olympic team's loss could be the Pacers' gain.
The hyperextended knee that Jermaine O'Neal suffered during the Eastern Conference Finals kept him from completing his tour of duty with USA Basketball. But after three consecutive summers competing in international events (the 2001 Goodwill Games, the 2002 World Basketball Championship and the 2003 Tournament of the Americas), O'Neal frankly needed the break.
Not only has the time off given him the ability to fully recuperate, it should mean he'll bring fresh legs to camp for the first time since 2000.
"On the one hand, we were all disappointed for the U.S. team that Jermaine was unable to play because of injury," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "Yet, on the other hand, all of us with the Pacers franchise knew that Jermaine needed a summer where he could allow his body to recover from really what has been three straight grinding years of international play.
"Weíre all, in a way, thankful he was able to do that this summer. And we felt it was essential, in order for him to be able to perform at his highest level. You canít do what heís done over the last three years and expect to bring the same kind of energy on the first of November every year and play at the level heís grown accustomed to playing at. Itís just very, very difficult. "
As consistently productive as he has become -- O'Neal has averaged 20.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.39 blocked shots in the past three seasons combined -- it is intriguing to consider the possibility that his game could climb to an even higher level. Fresher legs and improved depth at center could prove the catalysts.
The primary issue at the position entering camp is the backup rotation. Jonathan Bender, now 7-1 and 240 pounds, appears physically capable of spending some time in the post. Austin Croshere, 6-10 and 242 pounds, is a veteran who has proven an effective scorer at the four, although he struggles, defensively, against power players.
"Thatís why you have training camp, so the players can decide those things," Carlisle said. "Iím really even more steadfast in the belief that the coach doesnít determine the minutes, the players do. Iím eager to let those guys fight it out and see whoís the best and who deserves it.
"Weíve got some guys that are proven players. Croshere is a guy that has been very consistent over the years playing the backup four, going back to the 2000 NBA Finals. I know Bender is going to be effective. And when we find out how David Harrison can play at center, thereís the possibility we could play very big and keep Jermaine at the four spot."
Harrison, a 7-foot, 280-pound first-round pick, could strengthen the entire front-line rotation if he proves capable of contributing at center.