Celtics "close" to signing Shaquille O'Neal

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If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. According to A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast SportsNet, the Celtics are “close” to signing free agent center Shaquille O’Neal to a contract.

Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the Cavs have not been talking to the Celtics about a sign-and-trade, so this deal is very likely to be for the veteran minimum of $1.4 million.

Yes, Shaq is old. Yes, Shaq is still ring-chasing. Yes, Shaq will be a big personality/ego on a team whose locker-room dynamics are fairly well-established. And yes, the Celtics made Shaq look as old and out-of-place as he ever has during least season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. This was not a risk-free signing for the Celtics by any stretch of the imagination. 
Even with all of that, this move could have some benefits for the Celtics. The Celtics need a big body because of Kendrick Perkins’ injury, and Shaq certainly provides that. If the Celtics meet the Lakers or the Magic in the playoffs, they will now have two players capable of guarding Bynum and Howard one-on-one. With Kevin Garnett’s dead-eye mid-range shooting in the starting lineup, the Celtics have much better front-line personnel to compliment Shaq than the Cavaliers did. Shaq is a smart enough player and a good enough passer to work with Rondo and the “Big Three” effectively. 
Also, remember that Shaq had a very strong two months before he broke his thumb in a regular-season game against the Celtics, and was signed to help the Cavaliers match up with the Magic. Just like the Jermaine O’Neal signing, one reason this move looks bad for the Celtics is that the Celtics themselves played an instrumental role in lowering Shaq’s value. Shaq couldn’t match up with the Celtics in last year’s playoffs, but that won’t be a problem for him next season. 
The real question is whether Shaq will accept his role as a situational player on the Celtics. Will he move to the bench after Kendrick Perkins’ rehab on his knee is complete? Will he accept the fact that both Jermaine O’Neal and Perkins will be better options than him against some teams? Can he accept that the Celtics’ locker room is run by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen? If anyone can manage these problems, it’s Doc Rivers, but it should still be a concern for Boston fans. 
Shaq can be a very good role player, and he may be joining a team that can use a very good role player. If Shaq can accept his limitations, this could be the shot in the arm the Celtics needed to be championship competitors this season. If not, the last ride of the “Big Three” could turn ugly. 

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.