Skip to main content

"Kemp had a $125 million contract and weighed 325 pounds"-How Portland Trail Blazers blew a run with Jermaine O'Neal for Shawn Kemp

O'Neal was gradually improving, but things took a huge turnaround when the Blazers' front office green-lighted a move that would change the franchise’s future
How Blazers blew a run with Jermaine O'Neal for Shawn Kemp

Shawn Kemp

Before hitting his strides, Jermaine O'Neal was a youngster making his name in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers. A trade saw him joining the Indiana Pacers, where he blossomed into an All-Star. But while the Pacers faithful loved it, the Blazers organization viewed it as one of the biggest mistakes in the history of the franchise.

Portland saw Jermaine's potential

Taking a quick trip down memory lane, then-Blazers general manager Bob Whitsitt was also the man behind the discovery of Shawn Kemp. When Whitsitt was still an executive of the Seattle Supersonics, he banked on the potential of Kemp, and the rest is history. He saw the same thing with O'Neal, and that's why Portland drafted the then-teenager straight out of high school.

"When we drafted him [O'Neal], no one had even ever heard of him in Portland," Whitsitt recalled via Grantland. "There was zero expectation that this guy was going to come in and be the guy, so it was an easier way to develop and grow."

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

As far as being an understudy of his Blazers predecessors Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant, and Arvydas Sabonis goes, O'Neal was exceptional. He was gradually improving, but things took a huge turnaround when Whitsitt and the Blazers' front office green-lighted a move that would change the franchise's future.

A big but terrible move

After Portland lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in their epic 2000 Western Conference Finals duel, Whitsitt decided to launch a couple of trades. He traded O'Neal and Joe Kleine to the Pacers for an All-Star center Dale Davis, and also approved a three-way trade with Miami and Cleveland that saw Kemp reuniting with him in Portland.

As it turned out, acquiring Kemp was a terrible mistake. However, Whitsitt argued that he was left with no choice as he "made a commitment" to O'Neal that he would get his minutes, slightly blaming then-Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy Sr., who insisted that J.O.'s time is underway.

"When we traded him to Indiana, he was ready to play," Whitsitt said of O'Neal. "It was just that our coach didn't like to play young guys and I made a commitment to Jermaine. It doesn't do the team any good or the player any good if after a certain amount of time you've developed him and you won't even play him."

In his defense, Dunleavy Sr. said, "They basically said [O'Neal] wasn't getting enough playing time, the agent was unhappy, so let's do a trade. I was saying, 'I get why he's unhappy. He's a young kid. But two years from now, Sabonis will be retired. Jermaine will be getting 40 minutes a night.' Anyways, they still made the deal. We traded Brian Grant and Jermaine for Dale Davis and Shawn Kemp. Kemp had a $125 million contract and weighed 325 pounds. I couldn't believe it."

Indeed, Dunleavy Sr. was right. The out-of-shape Kemp was far from the All-Star power forward he was and only averaged 6.3 points per game in his two-year stint in Portland. On the other hand, O'Neal became the cornerstone of the Pacers and one of the most dominant big men in the league.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose

“Coming in, he was my comparison” - Ja Morant on how Derrick Rose paved the way for athletic point guards

The similarities between Ja and prime Rose's games are uncanny, but here's to hoping the Grizzlies star can have a healthy career.

Kobe Bryant

It's not even the championships" — Kobe Bryant on the quality that all great ones have

Kobe Bryant showed unconditional love for the game, especially after the Los Angeles Lakers' heartbreaking loss to the Boston Celtics in 2008

Isiah Thomas & Karl Malone

Isiah Thomas opens up about a surprising phone call he received from Karl Malone - "He almost started crying on the phone"

Isiah Thomas shares what happened when he got a surprising call from Karl Malone, who wanted to apologize for an incident that happened 30 years ago between the two legends

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson

"Then what happens? They’re gonna consider him a bust" — Vince Carter gave Zion Williamson helpful advice

Like Zion, Carter was also branded as primarily a dunker when he entered the league and everybody expected him to throw it down all the time.

Stone Cold Steve Austin celebrates with beer during WrestleMania in 2022 and LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009

"I've forgotten so many things but I remember that vividly" — Steve Austin on LeBron James taking photos of him via flip phone

Stone Cold didn't need to check his social media or the internet as he vividly remembers the King's support.

Michael Jordan in 2022 at the NBA 75th Anniversary Team induction ceremony

“You're a loser! You've always been a loser!” - how Michael Jordan trash-talked his teammate into retirement

When MJ said he doesn't care, he really meant it - even if his teammate once retired because of his cruel trash talk.