Signs that you know Shaquille O’Neal and his team are still in the honeymoon phase:
- He actually shows on screens when the coaching staff asks him to. (Well actually…)
- He hasn’t completely ripped the team’s star player. (If you think he won’t one day rip LeBron, you weren’t paying attention when he left Phoenix. If Steve Nash isn’t spared from Shaq’s wrath, I don’t know who would be.)
- He’s actually working to stay in shape.
That last one’s pretty important. Injuries have never really been Shaq’s problem, but working to recover from them while staying in shape has been. He’s notorious for his slow recovery periods, and when he left a Cavs game with a broken thumb, I won’t pretend it didn’t create some parallels to his infamous toe injuries.
I expected Shaq to return in time for the playoffs, but out of shape and perhaps unable to resume play at his previous level.
I was wrong. At least according to this piece of anecdotal evidence by Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
During the first quarter while his teammates were out playing the
Pistons, Shaquille O’Neal was in the weight room at The Q working out
and doing some light rehab with his thumb, which is out of a cast and
now in a small splint. He wasn’t on a scale, but to the naked eye he appears to have lost
weight since he went down with the injury just about a month ago.
When he left to go to Florida after the surgery he was telling
teammates that he’d not just be back before the end of the regular
season, but that he’d be in better shape when he comes back than went
he left. Nothing can prepare anyone for playing in real games and it will
probably take a while for him to get some rhythm when he does return.
But if there were any concerns about O’Neal letting himself go because
he’s not playing, take it from me — it appears to have been quite the
Shaq is pretty essential for the Cleveland’s playoff run, and to know that O’Neal isn’t treating his time off the court like a vacation has to bring a few sighs of relief from Cavs fans. There will still be some adjustment to work out how O’Neal and Antawn Jamison play alongside each other upon Shaq’s return, but the two are fairly complementary. It should only be a matter of time before battle station Cavaliers is fully operational, and if that doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of men, I don’t know what could.