Nearly two decades into his NBA career, the 35-year-old O’Neal, playing in his first season with the Golden State Warriors, creates no illusions: This could be it.
“This could be it,” O’Neal told Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group. “So this is my last chance to try to win a championship. That’s how I view it right now, whether it is or not.”
To be sure, O’Neal isn’t saying he plans on retiring this summer. That said, he hasn’t ruled it out.
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The Warriors big man can envision a scenario this offseason in which he can’t get into the proper frame of mind to start training for another season. That’s a telling sign that an 18-year career that has seen stardom and 13 playoff appearances is near its end.
“It affects all the way to how you view your pregame meal to your nap to your bus ride to the arena. Those things are a little more intense than they would normally be.”
Now in his 18th season, the five-time All-Star (six selections) sees the end. It’s coming. Unlike some, here’s aware of it, not ignorant to his limitations.
But he’s also hungry, still searching for a title. And he has a real chance at landing one with the Warriors.
Golden State has been maddeningly inconsistent this season—especially against teams above .500—but it has the defensive chops necessary to successfully combat talented opponents in the playoffs. The Warriors’ offense, while streaky, is also incredibly scary, with so many shooters—most notably Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson—running around beyond the three-point line.
Their bench remains a concern, but the addition of Steve Blake has helped, as has O’Neal himself. When healthy, he’s averaging 13.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, respectable numbers for a veteran like himself.
Securing that title, however, isn’t going to be easy. The Western Conference is incredibly deep, and the Warriors are all but guaranteed to meet a top-three-seeded opponent in the first round. If that winds up being the Oklahoma City Thunder or seasoned San Antonio Spurs, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
None of this is to say the Warriors cannot win. If there was ever a dark horse contender, it’s them. Mark Jackson doesn’t receive enough credit for his ability to inspire, Curry has emerged as a top-10 superstar, Andre Iguodala is robust as ever and, despite what people may think of David Lee, the man’s a work horse.
O’Neal? Well he’s just along for the ride, pitching in 20-plus minutes per game when he’s able to, hoping that this season could be the season.
“Hopefully this year I can join the party,” O’Neal told Leung of winning a title.
In previous years, with the Pacers, that would’ve been up to O’Neal himself. This time around, aged by Father Time, O’Neal can only hope he attached himself to the right team.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com.