30 NBA players that got better after leaving their first team

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Jermaine O’Neal
Jermaine O’Neal (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

30 NBA players who got better after leaving their first team: 4. Jermaine O’Neal

NBA fans may forget that Jermaine O’Neal did not get his start with the Indiana Pacers, where he was part of a contending team. Coming straight out of high school, O’Neal was taken 17th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1996 draft. Over four seasons in Portland, he only saw limited minutes, stuck behind veterans and stars at his position. During that stretch, he averaged 3.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in just 11.5 minutes per game. He requested a trade out of frustration with the direction of his career. The Blazers granted his request, shipping him to an Indiana Pacers team coming off an NBA Finals appearance.

O’Neal was a starter from day one for the Pacers and thrived, averaging 12.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. He took another leap the following season and won Most Improved Player, averaging 19.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In eight seasons in Indiana O’Neal made six All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams. The Pacers remained a contender for much of his time in Indiana until the infamous night at the Palace of Auburn Hills changed everything for the team. O’Neal was one of a number of Pacers that fought with fans as a brawl broke out in the arena.

Jermaine O’Neal was suspended for 25 games due to the incident, Stephen Jackson got 30 games and Ron Artest was gone for the rest of the season. He would deal with injuries during the rest of his tenure and while he continued to compile individual accolades, the winning was over on that night. Given the journeyman nature of the last few seasons of his career, why does O’Neal rank so high? Like the next man on this list, the journey at the beginning made the time in Indiana that much more special.