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Jermaine O'Neal Has the Last Say

At least for today. Pacers.com has posted a Q & A with J.O. that includes lengthy, thoughtful, and in some cases impassioned responses to once and for all explain his where he thinks he stands with the Pacers. It all sounds good and I'd love to see this team roll with a healthy J.O. So enjoy this beauty because J.O. can't have many more words to offer on the subject.

My favorite answer has to do with O'B. I've been waiting all summer to hear what J.O. thinks about the coaching change and he addresses the topic thoroughly.

Q. Not to disparage Rick in any way but often when a team changes a coach, can't that by itself have a significant impact on a team?

A. Fans live it through the media but we live it in our environment. When so much negative stuff happens, it wears on you. Sometimes you think, 'Is it better in another situation?' You're human. You have those thoughts. Is the grass greener elsewhere? But when Coach O'Brien was hired he sat me down and we had a great conversation for maybe an hour, hour-and-a-half and he let me know he really wanted me to be here, that he was a fan of what I can do as a player. That alone helps you rejuvenate your thought process. Any time you get a staff that has that much confidence in you, it means a lot to a player. To us, it's a new year.

What we want is for the fans to forget about what happened last year. We had a bad year but there's nothing we can do about that. We'd like the support of our fans because we have a great fan base. We have a lot of new guys and we want to be able to go out and put on a show and win as many games as possible.

So, J.O. adds his name to the list of players that are excited to begin the O'B era with the Pacers. Man, there are so many other great answers in this piece, your have to read the whole thing. I have to pull in the concluding answer, though, because if you are a Pacer fan it just might pump you up.

Q. You've said for the past few years, when the discussion has turned to running more, that there's a perception that style would not fit you well. But haven't you always welcomed the idea because it would allow you to better exploit your athleticism?

A. The biggest misconception about me running is that we have played in a very structured system over the last four years. When we take the ball out, the first thing we do is look over to the sideline for the play. You cannot run and there's no need to run if they're calling every play. And I was always designated to take the ball out. So when I get downcourt, everybody's already there. Those are two significant things. If we run more, the defense can't set up on me. If we walk the ball down and run set plays, it's easier to guard me, it's easier to beat up on me, to double- and triple-team me. I don't want to be in that position. I want to be in the position where we can get easy transition points. Our fast-break points were so low last year it was unbelievable. If we can get 18 to 20 points a game off transition, that'd be great. That'd be big for us.

And then you look at a situation like Jamaal Tinsley's. As a point guard, he hasn't been given the reins to call the plays and that's one thing that has disappointed him a lot. He's a point guard that can really push it up and get guys the ball. We all know he can really pass the ball. But it really affects his game when he has to walk it down. He's never, ever been given the reins to just come out and call the play. We've talked about it but it just hasn't been that way.

I would definitely say to fans, there is a reason to be optimistic about this year. There's a big reason to be optimistic about this year. Everybody's into a new situation. We're out of a situation, and I'm not saying it was terrible, where it became predictable. All in all, I know people want to know whether I want to be here. Absolutely - especially after losing last year. That was the first time in my career I had to watch the entire postseason and you sit there and you think about that. It's like putting salt on a wound. You feel like you've failed and to a point you have failed. I have no problem taking the criticism. If you're the leader of the team and your team doesn't make it to the postseason, you deserve to take the criticism. No problem. But I'm going to go out and work harder.

The only thing I've asked of my organization is to keep putting pieces together. We would still like to add another big guy. Jeff Foster will run through a wall for us. We've got to have him. David Harrison is still working hard, rehabbing. But we still need one other guy. If we can get a group of three or four of us, I have no problem playing the four spot, especially if we're getting up and down because that's going to force teams to go smaller. But when we get into situations where we have to play halfcourt sets and I'm playing more minutes at the five than the four, then I'd rather have another big guy in there that can absorb those blows. I took a lot of charges last year, I blocked a lot of shots, I led the team in rebounding and I had to score a lot. That takes a toll.

But all in all I'm healthy, finally. Do I think I'm going to get hurt this year? No. I've never walked into the season with the goal of playing 82 games the last three years because I knew what I was dealing with and I knew it was going to be a process of me getting my body together. A couple of times I walked into camp and I was still rehabbing. But this year, it's totally different. I've stayed around here - quietly - every single day. I only leave on the weekends. I'm here, I'm focused and I'm ready. For the critics out there, I appreciate them. I hear what they say. I criticize myself, too. Even though the last six or seven years I've been one of the most consistent 20-nine (points-rebounds) guys in the league, maybe in the top five. To me, that's not good enough. I take it personally when I hear other people being talked about on that elite level and all of a sudden I'm being pushed out of it. That is a major issue to me. This year, I'll be back. So bear with us, support us. Even if you don't want to support me, support the team because the team needs it. Everybody wants support from their friends and family. When you've got that support, the sky's the limit. When you come out and root loudly for us, that's really going to push us to the next level.

J.O. has the talk down to a science. If he does remain with the Pacers, this is a key time in his career as he heads into the prime years where physical gifts perfectly mesh with veteran savvy and know how. Part of that mix is enhanced leadership ability brought about by experience and maturity. The events of the past few days just may have been the tipping point that propels J.O.'s game and leadership to another level.