AP Photo Tony Dejak: Shaq is bringing his talents to Beantown.
So the NBA’s version of Muhammad Ali is coming to Boston, and at a decent price for both sides. The Celtics signed Shaquille O’Neal to a two-year deal worth $2.8 million on Wednesday, bringing in the colorful future Hall of Famer to fill the void left by the injured Kendrick Perkins.
Now, coincidentally, the Celtics have the market cornered on big men named O’Neal. A few weeks ago the Celtics used their mid-level exception on Jermaine O’Neal, hoping that he would be able to fill Perk’s large shoes. Since Perk is out until possibly February because of the knee injury that he suffered during the NBA Finals, the Celtics felt the need to bring in a second center. The second signing also makes up for the loss of the expected-to-retire Rasheed Wallace.
Clearly, Shaq will be seen as the starter until Perk comes back, with the younger O’Neal getting significant minutes spelling him, and possibly Kevin Garnett when the Celtics want to play big. While this sounds nice on paper, there are underlying issues, both near and long-term, that the Celtics will need to resolve.
For one, the Celtics now have the second oldest team in the league and have a whopping six players over the age of 30 on their roster. We knew that they were coming into this season with an old club, and that this year was going to be viewed like a “one last hurrah” type of deal, but this is getting a bit ridiculous. The Celtics now have a Big Three that Doc will admittedly try to rest as much as possible, and now a center who typically likes to wait until the postseason to kick it in gear. Throw in the fact that Jermaine O’Neal isn’t exactly fresh as a daisy, and one of their younger players, Perkins, is coming off of serious injury, and this team is going to be interesting to watch throughout the course of the year. Doc is going to have to juggle the roster properly so that everyone gets their minutes, there is a good flow to each game (and the season overall) and so that everyone stays fresh through (presumably) the Finals. That was a tall task last year, and will be a more difficult one this season.
The much smaller issue is how the Celtics figure to blend Shaq in with the rest of the roster, and with their system. He’s not a defensive superstar, and he may actually be less athletic and slower than Kendrick Perkins, which is saying something. Perk overshadowed his offensive weaknesses with his solid D. Will Shaq be able to do the same? Will the Celtics feel forced to work him into the offensive flow so that he stays happy and continues to want to contribute on the defensive end? Will he allow the coaching staff to use him as a roaming, picking center like Perkins? Or will he command implementation of his traditional style, which allowed him to receive the ball in the post and hold the ball until he could find a guard cutting to the hoop?
The Celtics are clearly going for broke, and kudos to Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers for going out with guns blazing. However, don’t be surprised if this doesn’t turn out as beautifully as the Celtics envision. Shaq won’t be an instant help, and by the time he starts to get himself acclimated (both physically and with the Cs), who knows where the Celtics will be record-wise.
Oh, and one last thing. Shaq had no idea what his plans were going to be this season, as he remained unsigned for some time. Obviously the Celtics met with him and worked him out, but it’s not a stretch to think that he may currently be more out of shape than he normally is around this time of year.
Just a thought. Good luck, Doc.
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