In interview, he says, 'Ron doesn't matter'
Jermaine O'Neal is tired of the entire Ron Artest situation and has laid down the gauntlet: trade Artest or trade him.
During an interview with NUVO last week to promote his new nightclub, 7, O'Neal said that the Artest situation has been simmering for quite some time and that the public only knows "10 percent" of all that's gone down.
"This has been going on for quite some time," he said. "You guys only see what's printed. I think the organization and our team are doing a great job of standing our ground and not letting certain things bother us. It wears on you after a while, but at some point, you have to wash your hands of it."
Asked whether he could play on the same team as Artest, he said, "It's over. Ron doesn't matter."
He added, "We won almost 50 games without me, Ron or Jack last year. People have to relax. Basketball isn't like football. We don't play one game a week. We play multiple games a week and there's going to be ups and downs. You don't have time to concentrate on the game plan. It just keeps coming, no matter what. No matter what we go through as a team, non-basketball-wise, we don't have the luxury to take six or seven days to get it right. We have to concentrate on the next game and keep it going and I think our team is doing an extraordinary job."
Asked if he was concerned that the public turmoil is taking its toll on the Pacers, O'Neal said, "I'm not concerned. I was more concerned when there were other issues going on. But the team is addressing it. My business relationship is over with Ron. Absolutely. When you come with these independent press conferences and doing all these interviews in the streets and talking about the team, you don't do that."
Well, O'Neal was asked, is it possible that maybe Artest was just venting steam, that maybe he was misunderstood?
"How could you misunderstand what he said? I didn't understand any of it, when he was leading the team in shot attempts per game. I don't understand that. I don't understand when he said Coach [Rick Carlisle] doesn't run plays for him. Who have the plays been run for? That's just a way for somebody to try and cover their ass.
"People have been there for him, been involved with him, people have lost a lot of money for him. I hate that. And if he's not traded, one of us has to go. That's for sure."
Keeping focus hasn't been a problem, O'Neal said.
"You just have to keep your eyes on the prize. The prize is getting to the championship. To be a champion, you have to go through trials and tribulations. We know that. That's the nature of the game. Teams that excel are teams that can go through these things. There's going to be a lot of rough times, but when you get through that rough time, that character is built. You're going to do well. And I feel like when we get everybody healthy, we're going to really be rolling. We haven't had all our guys in uniform at any one time this year. We've always had two or three guys out and we've learned how to play with other guys filling in."
Asked about newspaper articles and Internet posts suggesting the Pacers' hopes for a title are over, O'Neal said, "If people think our championship hopes are gone, then they probably shouldn't be our fans. You're not a fan when things are going good. You're a fan when things are going bad, also. That's very disappointing to hear that [some fans think that].
"Listen, we lost games with Ron. Ron was a good player, but he's not the X factor that the franchise is going to roll over and die. Ron doesn't matter. Ron wants to be somewhere else, let him be somewhere else. I can almost guarantee that we'd bring someone else in a trade who's gonna help our team. People should be calm and let the organization do what they're supposed to do. We're going to continue to try and win games and, come March and April, I guarantee we'll be rolling."
O'Neal said he's comfortable in his role as the leader of the Pacers.
"I take all of the blame on my shoulders," he said. "I'm not a coward, by any means. I'll take on certain situations, certain people. I'm a teammate. I'm a good teammate. I've never called anybody out in the papers; I've always said it's my fault. I would never call anybody out. I think it's a very disrespectful thing to do to players who come and practice hard and give effort every day. I think that anytime someone talks more about themselves than they do the team, then they're not good for our team or any other team.
"This is not golf or tennis. It's not an individual sport. This is a team sport. And if we don't win a championship, it's a total loss. I'm not talking about getting to the championship and losing. I feel like we still have enough talent to win.
"Take Detroit. They have five players. Are you going to say if they lose one player, their season is over? We have a lot more talent; we just physically haven't been there. Guys have been hurt so much already this season that we haven't been able to put together a team. And the most surprising thing is that this city doesn't recognize it. We've had guys out for multiple games. The teams who have done well have had all their guys."
Going into Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Pacers were 13-8 and 3-1 since Artest made his trade demands public in an interview with Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star.
For an in-depth look at O'Neal's new nightclub venture, 7, see next week's NUVO.