It's not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog can attest. Forty years later, Jermaine O'Neal is starting to learn that lesson for himself.
O'Neal signed a two-year contract with the Celtics back in July, agreeing to a $12 million deal to remain in Boston until the summer of 2012. He's now five months into his stint with the C's, and contractually, he's got 19 more to go.
J.O. is just getting started as a Celtic. He's got plenty of time to prove himself. But already, fans and media members in Boston are clamoring for the Celtics to give up on the O'Neal experiment. The word "bust" is already being thrown around, as O'Neal has played just seven games as a Celtic accumulating a total of 39 points and 25 rebounds (numbers Wilt Chamberlain would refer to as "just another day at the office").
O'Neal's injuries have been an ongoing storyline for the Celtics this season. He's had a sore hamstring, a sore wrist, back spasms, and now his knee is the most serious problem yet. O'Neal asked out of the second half of a game in Dallas, back on Nov. 8.; he sat out the rest of the team's road trip that week and hasn't played a lick since.
At practice on Nov. 15, Celtics coach Doc Rivers estimated his center would miss two to three weeks. It's now been three weeks exactly, and O'Neal isn't even close to playing again.
His return has been a slow one. Rivers reported a week ago that O'Neal was working out again, privately, and he hoped to get back onto a basketball court soon. O'Neal now says he's hoping to do on-court workouts this coming week, but non-contact without his teammates. As far as actually playing in a game? Don't mark your calendars just yet.
O'Neal has drawn plenty of criticism for not being a smash hit in Boston right away. Boston as a sports town is currently in immediate gratification mode — the Celtics just made the Finals a few short months ago, and their fans have come to expect success. Winning is expected, and "patience" isn't in the Hub's vocabulary.
But while their fans may not have expected O'Neal's slow start, there's a good chance the Celtics themselves did. There's no doubt that Danny Ainge took a close look at O'Neal's resume this summer, and when he did, he probably stumbled across his game totals for his career.
These are J.O.'s numbers of games played in each season since 2004, when he was 26 years old: 44, 51, 69, 42, 68, 70. He's averaging 57.3 games per season — in other words, he typically misses a month or two every year.
Why complain about something that was expected all along?
The Celtics knew what they were getting in Jermaine O'Neal. They were getting a solid, skilled, capable big man with a lot of mileage and a long history of injuries. They took the good with the bad — and in Shaquille O'Neal, they brought in a second All-Star big as an insurance policy.
So far, everything has gone according to plan both for O'Neal, and for the Celtics. They knew injuries would arise this season with a veteran team, and they're powering forward anyway. Eventually O'Neal will be back and ready to help the team — and until then, patience is a virtue.