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Blazers Top 100: A Young Phenom Makes Portland Regret Trading Him

A look at the 100 players and personnel who have influenced the Trail Blazers’ 50-year history.

Jermaine O’Neal shoots Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.

No. 84 | Jermaine O’Neal

Games Played with Blazers: 211 Regular Season, 20 Postseason

*PTS: 3.9| REB: 3.1 | FG%: 47.2

*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland

Joined Club: 1996 NBA Draft, selected 17th overall

Departed Club: August 2000, traded to the Indiana Pacers with Joe Kleine for Dale Davis

Place in History: Jermaine O’Neal would make six All-Star teams and earn three All-NBA selections in his 18-year NBA career. None of those happened with the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead, the Blazers had the honor of selecting him 17th in the 1996 NBA Draft. That was the same draft that gave the league Kobe Bryant, a high-school draftee like O’Neal.

Jermaine did not excel immediately. Instead the 6’11 teenager made do with scraps of minutes on a roster that included Rasheed Wallace, Cliff Robinson, Arvydas Sabonis, Chris Dudley, and Gary Trent at the big positions. Brian Grant showing up the following season did not exactly clear traffic. But even at 10 minutes per game, O’Neal brought that, “What’s going to happen next?” factor that often heralds young superstars. He was long and springy. He alternated spectacular dunks and phenomenal blocks. Playing seldom, he averaged as many rebounds and blocked shots per minute as the league’s elite players.

Young O’Neal was not the classic big. He seldom operated with his back to the basket down low. He didn’t take time to develop shots. He was the next wave, a player trading on quickness and a near-unstoppable ability to get the ball over or around defenders. In 2004, teams would have been salivating over him. In the late 1990’s, with the fully-stocked Blazers looking to make a serious run in the playoffs, he was more of a curiosity than a weapon.

When Portland fell short to another O’Neal—Shaquille—in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, General Manager Bob Whitsitt pulled the trigger on a trade that would bring veteran All-Star Dale Davis into the fold. Davis’ experience was a blessing, but he couldn’t stop Shaq any more than his teammates. Portland would not reach the Conference Finals again until two decades later. Meanwhile, after a single year of adjusting to his starting role, O’Neal rattled off the aforementioned half-dozen All-Star appearances for the Indiana Pacers, obliterating Davis’ production and his defense in the process.

Moving O’Neal and Grant served as the trigger points for Portland’s descent into early 2000’s oblivion. Well through the 2010’s, Blazers fans quailed at the thought of trading any young player whose potential was not fully-explored (and discredited), lest the franchise face another Jermaine O’Neal situation. Of all the trades in Blazers history, O’Neal for Davis still provides the benchmark for regret. No player has carried more potential, yet had the chance to show less.

Invoking zeitgeist, schadenfreude, and a few other German German words we can’t reprint on a family-friendly site—taking into account his highlight reel and later accomplishments as well—we award the 84th spot in Portland’s Top 100 players and influencers to Jermaine O’Neal.

Discuss your thoughts and memories of J.O. below, and check back every day as we continue the countdown to No. 1.