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.