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Jermaine O’Neal: Keep or Dump?

Rumors are swirling that Jermaine O'Neal might be cut under the new amnesty clause. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hit the showers, overpaid players!

Whether or not the NBA players union and owners get a deal done any time soon, what fans do know is that there will be a new amnesty clause coming before any team hits the hardwood. The clause will allow each NBA team to dump the contract of any one player they choose in order to help the team’s salary cap. The owners still have to pay that player, but it clears the way for teams to sign new players.

For many teams, the contracts they would dump are easy decisions. For the Boston Celtics, not so much.

The talk is that Jermaine O’Neal is going to be that Celtic, but should he be? He’s in the final year of a two-year deal and will make $6 million whenever this season happens – pretty much pocket change in comparison to a contract like Kevin Garnett‘s. Garnett made $18.8 million last season and is slated to make $21.2 next season.

J.O.’s $6 million contract doesn’t look so bad, especially when a player like Atlanta Hawk Joe Johnson will make close to $25 million a season in a few years. Rashard Lewis of the Washington Wizards is another strong case to be cut, with his salary being $22.1 million this year and $23.7 million next season. It’s hard to imagine the Hawks not dumping Johnson and the Wizards Lewis immediately.

Jermaine O’Neal’s $6 Million Question

O’Neal just turned 33 years old. That’s not too old, but he’s also been in the league 15 years so far. Those 15 seasons have really taken a toll on his body, most notably his knees.

Last season he averaged 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 24 games (10 starts) for the Celtics. He was better in the playoffs (barely), averaging 5.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and a mildly impressive 1.8 blocks per game. He also started all nine games he played in, averaging 21.9 minutes.

All the Celtics wanted him for was the playoffs, and he somewhat produced. He was a large body down in the post that actually got rebounds and blocks – things the Celtics lacked all season.

Losing O’Neal Won’t Fix the Celtics

Would dumping O’Neal and his salary benefit the Celtics? Not really. No matter what, the team is already atop the salary cap with no room to expand, so it’s not like Boston can add his $6 million to whatever they have left and get an impact player in return. Without O’Neal, the Celtics would need to go out and get a whole new center – they don’t have anyone else to play the position.

At $6 million a year, Boston is not going to get much better than O’Neal… if he plays a whole season, that is.

If the Celtics choose to keep O’Neal, not use the amnesty clause on anyone, and then O’Neal goes down with an injury, the Celtics are stuck.

It’s a tough gamble: the team could dump him for fear of another injury, or they could roll the dice and hope he plays a whole season. Odds are he is going to be hurt for an extended period, but with a full NBA season already impossible, the Celtics might only need a shortened season and the playoffs out of him.

So if the Celtics want to go for another championship now, keeping O’Neal is the best decision. Danny Ainge loves O’Neal and would like to keep him, so that helps J.O.’s cause as well.

O’Neal is a proven veteran who knows how to play down in the post. Even if he plays dirty sometimes, that isn’t the worst thing for the Celtics. When healthy, he brings toughness to the center position and is a good defensive presence. He’s not going to average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, but he will give the team a solid post player.

Garnett the Better Amnesty Candidate

Instead of using the clause on O’Neal, the best-case scenario would be to use it on Garnett and then resign him for less money but a couple more years. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have both taken lower salaries so that the team would have money to spend on other players. Garnett could do the same.

If it does come down to O’Neal being cut or not, the Celtics should keep him and go for the championship one more time.

Boston needs a proven center who knows the game. O’Neal is that person.

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