When Jermaine O’Neal became a free agent this summer, he talked about only wanting to be part of a championship contender if he was going to return for a 17th NBA season.

Meetings with the Suns and talks with Grant Hill about the Suns athletic training staff changed his perspective and O’Neal signed with Phoenix to embrace leading a young team through transition and having his knees and repaired wrist benefit from the medical staff.

O’Neal is having his best season in years, benefitting from finally being placed in the reserve center role that suits him better in his 30s and being healthier than he has been in years outside occassional back spams and an irregular heartbeat diagnosis. It still has not been easy for the 34-year-old center to go through playing for the worst team he has ever been on but that does not make being traded to a contender by Thursday a shoo-in for him, especially with his mind elsewhere.

After addressing his own heart issue, O’Neal now has his 13-year-old daughter’s heart to worry about. O’Neal has known for a long time about her heart’s leaky valve but he learned Tuesday that it needs surgery.

“I have a tough situation coming up with my daughter,” O’Neal said. “She’s having heart surgery in Boston on March 5. She has a leaky valve that has to be corrected because her body is having to work too hard. She is having chest pains.

“For me, it’s one thing after another. I haven’t even had a chance to think about that (trade possibilities). Every time I think about basketball, real life tends to talk to me a little bit. My focus is to finish my job and what I signed up to do. If they want to do something to help the team, I’m for it.”

O’Neal said he would like “to stay and fight with the boys” but did not dismiss the thought of joining a contender for the stretch run. He would be an upgrade at backup center in Oklahoma City and closer to his family in Dallas. The Lakers would benefit from him but the Suns could not afford to help the Lakers and risk the chance of losing a second lottery pick because they own the Lakers’ first-round pick without protection from the Steve Nash sign-and-trade deal.

O’Neal is entrenched in several business endeavors that make it seem like he is ready to retire at times. He is not so sure any longer.