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The move was designed to bolster the team's chances in the playoffs against teams that were bigger and more physical.The 1998–99 season was initially disrupted for several months following an impasse in the collective bargaining negotiations.things changed when he grew five inches over the next year and a half, and he was inspired to develop into a defensive powerhouse like his idol, Bill Russell.Glymph built his team's defense around O'Neal, and Eau Claire featured one of the most imposing frontcourts around.At an ABCD summer basketball camp, he outplayed Tim Thomas, a rising star at that time.
Each summer, he would play for an AAU team, and impressed onlookers with his athleticism and his ability to handle the ball with both hands.
The rookie was surrounded by veterans and emerging stars who could show him the ropes in Portland; forming the frontcourt with him were Arvydas Sabonis, Rasheed Wallace and Clifford R. After missing the first 17 games with a bone contusion in his knee, O'Neal made his debut against the Denver Nuggets in December.
At 18 years, one month and 22 days, he became the youngest player to play in an NBA game (a mark that was later eclipsed by Andrew Bynum).
Thus, O'Neal was not given meaningful minutes in the early part of the campaign, although he showed glimpses of his potential with occasional double double performances when he returned from an early-season injury.
In the playoffs, Dunleavy opted to go with a more youthful lineup: before the trade deadline, he had acquired point guard Damon Stoudamire, as well as forwards Carlos Rogers and Walt Williams.