O’Neal signing gives Suns frontcourt depth

On the risk-reward meter, the Phoenix Suns’ latest reported acquisition does not represent a significant roll of the dice.

Jermaine O’Neal, a former NBA All-Star power forward, will hit town as a soon-to-be 34-year-old backup for center Marcin Gortat. Reduced to a supporting role by brittle knees and other ailments of a long career, O’Neal still could turn out be a real find.

Well, that’s the opinion registered by a personnel executive from another NBA team who watched O’Neal prepare for the coming season during a recent training session at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas.

“He looked pretty good,” said the executive, whose team also was interested in O’Neal. “He had some bounce and moved well laterally … at least a lot better than I’ve seen the last couple of years. Jermaine is a guy who knows how to play, and he’s always had some skill.”

And, with the team’s other additions in recent weeks, the Suns became a more viable option for a player capable of supplying Gortat with legitimate support at both ends of the floor.

“For what they (Suns) probably need him to do,” the executive said, “it’s not much of a gamble.”

According to published reports, O’Neal will earn $1.35 million this season; the Suns — taking advantage of an NBA rule that kicks in when applied to veterans of 10 seasons or more — will pay a bit less than $900,000 of the tab. And they’ll still have around $7 million in cap flexibility to lean on if the season goes well enough to inspire a later addition.

Although the Suns parted with backup center Robin Lopez in a three-team trade that brought Wesley Johnson from the Minnesota Timberwolves, they weren’t exactly desperate for someone like O’Neal. Channing Frye can play a few minutes at center, while newly acquired power forward Luis Scola has in-the-lane chops to play there in certain matchup situations.

Adding O’Neal, however, guarantees the Suns a legitimate post presence behind Gortat.
It should be noted that a wrist injury limited O’Neal to 25 games with the Boston Celtics last season, during which he averaged five points and 5.4 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game.

Before working his way toward NBA employment in Vegas, O’Neal went to Germany for the same Orthokine knee treatment dragged into the NBA spotlight by Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant.

Now working with the Suns’ training and conditioning staff, relief for those aching knees can be had by simply making a short walk from his dressing-room cubicle.