O'Neal's days as a Raptor may be at an end

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

For all intents and purposes, Jermaine O'Neal played his final game as a Raptor last night.

After all, there is no purpose in keeping O'Neal around in Raptorland any longer.

The team's intent, ever since word leaked a month ago today out of South Beach that O'Neal was being shopped around, was to find a suitable suitor for the veteran.

O'Neal is a good guy who has been placed in a bad situation, a natural power forward who has been asked to play centre.

There is always a chance O'Neal will survive next Thursday's trade deadline, but those chances appear to be slim and none, or roughly the same odds of the Raptors seeing the post-season.

With so much work to be done in remaking these Raptors, O'Neal represents one of the few assets that can actually be parlayed into additional pieces, both in the short term and long term.

Following last night's dizzying 91-89 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs, the Raptors don't play until next Wednesday.

By then, O'Neal will either be moved or be asked to sit for LeBron James' visit to the ACC with some injury, real or imagined.

That's how business gets conducted when a deal in principle is agreed upon on a night when a player involved in said transaction is scheduled to play.

At least that's the scenario many envision, one that makes a lot of sense on many fronts.

The only questions remain the most obvious: Where and for whom?

Miami has been linked with O'Neal for the longest time, or at least from the day a Heat official conveniently leaked the possibility of a deal.

Any team would welcome a veteran post presence who can play at both ends.

The Raptors were thought to be that team when they acquired O'Neal and his checkered medical history from the Indiana Pacers in an off-season deal once viewed as positive.

It hasn't worked out for O'Neal and the Raptors and now all that stands in the way of his departure is to work out a trade.

There were times this season when O'Neal and Chris Bosh played well off each other, times when they would take turns in dominating games.

It now seems like a long time ago.

For whatever reason, there doesn't seem to exist any chemistry between O'Neal and Bosh, even as Bosh sits to rest his gimpy knee.

The Raptors have tried and O'Neal even tried by coming off the bench in the wake of Andrea Bargnani's emergence as a starter.

There were even times when the Raptors went big with a frontcourt of O'Neal, Bosh and Bargnani.

For those to dismiss O'Neal's skills would be foolish. The guy can play, but O'Neal's health continues to haunt him.

A six-time all-star in Indiana, everyone in the NBA knew O'Neal was incapable of playing an entire season given the knee issues he faced as a Pacer.

But there was always the hope in Toronto, a sentiment shared by O'Neal when he referred to his trade as a rebirth, that things would change.

Clearly, they haven't.

O'Neal wanted to prove himself all over again to the NBA and the Raptors wanted a proven second option and post presence to complement Bosh.

In theory, it all looked good.

In practice, it all went awry, much like the Raptors themselves.

When you watch O'Neal go elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip with Tim Duncan, you see a guy who wants to compete.

O'Neal's presence altered heaves by Manu Ginoboli and Tony Parker.

It's just too bad that O'Neal's body can't respond in kind.

But he's serviceable and any team with aspirations of going deep into the playoffs can use O'Neal.

GM Bryan Colangelo will be in Phoenix this weekend for the NBA's all-star festivities.

He'll be looking to acquire an expiring contract for this summer and a perimeter piece in any package involving O'Neal.

It'll be the first time Colangelo will be able to deal face to face with his league brethren.

The seeds, if they haven't been planted already, will now take root.

So long J.O.

It was nice knowing you.


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