It would have made sense for Phoenix Suns center Jermaine O’Neal to ask for a trade.
In his 17th NBA season, the 34-year-old has yet to win a championship and, well, the Suns are not exactly contenders to do so this season.
However, O’Neal did not ask to be traded, even though there surely was a market for his services. Why not?
“Obligation,” he said after practice Monday. “Obligation. This organization, more than anything. My brothers are on this team.
“I think sometimes in sports the concept of being loyal and being faithful to a job that you signed up for and you wholeheartedly commit to at the beginning of the season, sometimes that gets lost within the process of an 82-game season or whatever season it is.”
So O’Neal remained a Sun through the trade deadline, ready and wiling to continue lending his services to a team that is much closer to the bottom of the league than the top. The Suns are 18-39 and, as of Tuesday, had the third-worst record in the league.
But the center, who entered the NBA straight out of high school, said part of his job now is to help the younger players understand what it takes to be an NBA player and what it takes to win games.
“Obviously every player wants to go and win a championship, because I dream about it all the time,” he said. “I don’t look at the playoffs, I don’t look at the Finals because I want to see the emotions of people getting the trophy and looking at the confetti and stuff.
“If that’s meant for me, that’s what God has planned for me so it will happen at some point. I wanted to stay here and support the guys that supported me through the process of some of my tough personal times.”
O’Neal has missed time this season due to the death of his aunt as well as a heart ailment, though when he’s been on the court life has been good. The veteran is averaging 7.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, which are modest numbers, but numbers many felt he was incapable of putting up at this point in his career.
While O’Neal admits things have been tough, he said the worst thing he could have done would have been to abandon ship.
“I didn’t want to let these guys see that type of leadership; I don’t want to let them think that they’re not good enough so I’m going to go play with someone else that’s better,” he said.
Because, O’Neal said, “this means a lot more to me right now then going to find an easier route,” even though he said he knew that option was there for him.
“When you’re in a position where your team hasn’t done well teams are asking about a player,” he said. “My agent called me once, asked me, I told him I’d rather stay.
“He said he supports my decision, he thought it was a good decision because I told him exactly why I wanted to stay.”
O’Neal said no one from the team’s front office called him about a possible trade, but at some point he talked to them and voiced his desire to stick around.
“I called Lance (Blanks) and told him, talked to Lon (Babby), and said ‘hey listen, let’s go ahead and put all these rumors to bed about me going to New York or OKC or wherever it may be because I want to stay,'” he said. “They told me how they felt about that decision and we moved on.”
And they’ll be moving on together, with the veteran remaining in the Valley through at least the end of this season (he signed a one-year deal with the club last August) looking to help the team through one of the toughest stretches it has ever experienced.
“Why not stay and help people be better,” he said. “I’ve earned a great life, a great opportunity, I’ve done a lot of things in my career.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make it not about you; you’ve got to make it about another situation that can — you know, I’ll feel even better if these guys can go on and do other things on the court, off the court, then I’ll feel like my job is done. That’s the reason why I stayed.”