Asssessing Jermaine O’Neal’s Worth on the Open Market

Here’s a question for you. How many million dollars is Jermaine O’Neal costing himself with his postseason performance?

I’ll take a stab. I’ll boldly claim it to be over 8 figures. Yes, $10 million.

There were some predicting O’Neal, with his strong and unexpected regular season performance, could garner a multi-season contract with a starting salary of approximately $10 million. Seeing him play on a day-to-day basis, I always felt that was crazy. But he did shoot a career best 53% from the floor, and remains a significant interior shot blocking presence.

But the real Jermaine O’Neal has finally stood up. O’Neal’s playoff stat line is nothing short of ridiculous. In games 1, 2 and 3 he shot 3-14, 1-10 and 1-7 from the floor, respectively. That’s a mind-boggling 16%. Yes, he was matched up against perhaps the Eastern Conference’s second best low post defender. But 16%? His shooting has been awful. His rebounding not much better. And the sad truth is that he is an overrated defender. In my humble opinion, I see Jermaine as a strong shot-blocking help defender. But in one-on-one defense, he lacks the strength or desire to keep his man in front of him. He plainly gets dominated.

In the offseason, Jermaine will be looking for a championship contender, some place where he can sign a multi-year deal where he can finish out his career.

“I’m looking forward to it because basically it’s the stretch run for me,” O’Neal was quoted as saying a few weeks back. “I don’t plan on playing past the next four or five years. I definitely want to make a decision and put myself in the best position to compete for a championship.”

Now hitting the ripe age of 31 years old, O’Neal will get his first chance at becoming a free agent during his career. Can you see anyone handing him a four year contract?

There are data points working in his favor. Marcus Camby just got upwards of $21 million (with $5 more in incentives) from Portland at 35 years of age. And there are several N.B.A. clubs that can use an imposing (is that what he is?) big man with touch around the basket. I could see one stretching. But here’s how his last three performances have hurt him:

  • I never saw any team willing to offer him his desired four to five year contract. Three, however, was a possibility. That’s now two.
  • I never quite saw $10 million per season in his future, but I could have seen someone stretch to between $7 million and $8 million guaranteed. Now you can knock that down to the Mid-Level Exception (MLE).

I am currently projecting an MLE of approximately $5.8 million. That’s two years and $12 million. Or roughly $10 million less than three years and $21 – $24 million. Sounds about right to me.

Though not for the Heat. It’s too big a risk for Miami at those levels.

If O’Neal truly wants to win a championship, I would bring him back at no more than half that amount, as the starting center on a team that features Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Of course, based on current cap projections, that’d require big sacrifices from the latter three players. And he wouldn’t accept anyway.

Sacrificing O’Neal will be tough, if only because there simply aren’t any better options on the free agent market, certainly not at bargain prices. Which makes you think creatively. The Heat still owns his Bird rights. They could theoretically sign him to a one-year minimum salary contract, conserving cap space for this summer in the process, and then give him a huge boost in salary the following season to make up for it.

Great in theory, but not in practice. Negotiating two future contracts is a direct violation of league rules. It is considered by the league to be among the most serious violations a team can commit. It is punished severely when discovered. O’Neal would have to sign the first without any knowledge of the second. What he knew, and when, is hard to prove. But the contract values would speak for themselves.

O’Neal won’t be back next season.

1 Response

  1. TKO says:

    You called it. He ended up signing a 2-year deal with the Celtics for the mid-level exception in the 2010 offseason.

    Was he a good one-on-one defender during his prime with the Pacers? I was surprised that JO was not a good one-on-one defender with the Heat but I’m not sure if that’s because he was past his prime at this point or if he was overrated during his prime (i.e. his reputation from his All-NBA days was bigger than his actual abilities).

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