WALTHAM - The thought of retiring after 15 seasons crossed Jermaine O’Neal’s mind after a year in which knee surgery cost him 58 games and a fractured wrist nagged him during the playoffs. But he said he’s pain-free as the Celtics open camp today.
“I want to give myself the best chance to finish on my own terms,’’ O’Neal said. “Whether it’s this year or next year, I don’t want to leave basketball limping out of basketball. At the end of the day, we’re all men and we all look at ourselves every morning and you have to ask yourself, ‘Did I leave the way I wanted? Did I do everything I possibly could do to leave the way I want?’ And only you can answer that.’’
O’Neal called last season a “failing year,’’ and struggled to fit in (5.4 points per game). He is currently the only center on the roster, and his goal is to wash away last season’s shortcomings.
“I know [coach] Doc [Rivers] was in a tough position last year and I was almost no help on the offensive end last year,’’ O’Neal said. “And that’s what I want to do. I want to be able to dominate on the defensive end and give Doc an opportunity to, when Kevin [Garnett] gets tired in that low post, give him the opportunity to give it to me and help this team out.’’
O’Neal opted against having surgery on his fractured left wrist, which he played through during the postseason. The recovery from surgery, he said, would have taken six months, essentially ending his career.
“I’d have been done,’’ he said.
During the offseason he weighed spending more time with his family or concentrating more on his businesses. But he ultimately committed to working out.
He trained with Tim Grover in Chicago, Tracy McGrady in Houston, and a collection of NBA faces in Las Vegas.
“I believe that conditioning-wise, I can go a lot further,’’ O’Neal said. “We can’t control injuries and we can’t control things like that. But physically, when it comes down to pure strength, quads, legs, core, upper body, I’m a whole lot stronger.’’
There were back spasms, he said, but the knee that required surgery last January felt pain-free.
O’Neal is staring at a 66-game regular season, knowing he will need to be in shape to survive the year.
He can feel the end of his career approaching, but wants to reach the NBA Finals once before it does.
“A lot of us are looking at that window,’’ he said. “You want to enjoy that and you want the opportunity to try to win. I think that’s the only thing that’s bringing me back. I haven’t had the opportunity to play in that Finals game.”
Celtics deal for Dooling
The Celtics will announce the acquisition of veteran point guard Keyon Dooling from the Bucks today, the first day of training camp and the day trades can become official, according to a league source.
The deal is expected to include a second-round draft pick headed to Milwaukee, and gives the Celtics a veteran backup behind Rajon Rondo. Second-year point guard Avery Bradley is also on the roster.
Dooling, who will earn $2.1 million this season, averaged 7.1 points and 3 assists in 80 games with the Bucks last season. He was the 10th pick in the 2001 draft out of Missouri and played four years with the Clippers, one with Miami, three with the Magic, and two with the Nets before signing with Milwaukee in 2010.
Invitations sent out
The Celtics are looking for young big men to bolster their thin roster, and have invited four free agents to training camp.
In addition to Gilbert Brown, the Celtics have invited center Michael Sweetney, Sioux Falls (NBDL) big man Greg Stiemsma, and NBA journeyman Jamal Sampson, according to a club source.
Sweetney is a former lottery pick from Georgetown whose career has been derailed by injuries and weight issues. He participated in Celtics’ camp two years ago and was told that he was an NBA-caliber player that needed to get into better shape. Sweetney could have a shot at a roster spot depending on his condition.
Stiemsma, at 6 feet 11 inches, 260 pounds, is averaging 9 points and 10.8 rebounds in four games for the SkyForce. He played in Turkey and South Korea before returning to the SkyForce this season.
Sampson, 28, has played in 72 NBA games but has been out of the league since 2007. He is averaging 14 points and 15 rebounds in two games with the Texas Legends of the NBDL. He was the 47th overall pick by the Jazz in the 2002 draft.