O'Neal stays focused

FRANK ZICARELLISUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Jermaine O'Neal doesn't know what the future has in store.

More than any Raptor, O'Neal understands the business of basketball.

That is why O'Neal's focus remains on the present.

Whenever he hears criticism or talk of some impending trade, O'Neal remembers the skeptics when he decided to skip college and enter the NBA in 1996 straight out of high school.

"There were scouts who thought I wouldn't last three years,'' O'Neal said. "I've never been a player who was given anything. I've had to earn everything and I'll make my way back."

O'Neal had his finest moment as a Raptor against the Sacramento Kings, tonight's opponent, on the road on Boxing Day when he poured in a game-high 36 points.

He was in sync, drawing double teams and serving as the perfect complement to Chris Bosh.

A freak injury to his right knee forced O'Neal out of the lineup. He came back last Friday in Indianapolis, but looked like someone who was inactive for close to a month.

In his second game back two nights ago, O'Neal had more lift to his game and was a presence in the post, at least from a defensive perspective.

"My conditioning feels a lot better,'' O'Neal said.

The irony of O'Neal's words can't be ignored.

The better he looks on the floor and the better he feels, the more likely O'Neal will be traded.

The leading candidate remains the Miami Heat in a deal for small forward Shawn Marion and seldom-used point guard Marcus Banks.

Marion sat out last night with a strained left groin. He played only eight minutes in Miami's previous game.

O'Neal has been traded twice before.

In each case, O'Neal requested a trade.

The emergence of Andrea Bargnani and the need to upgrade at other areas have forced the Raptors to showcase O'Neal as trade bait.


Videos

Photos