On Friday, ESPN Boston reported that Shaquille O’Neal had been talking with Danny Ainge about becoming a Celtic. In the report Danny Ainge said that, “I don’t think that Shaquille is that much of a possibility”, but also said “That door hasn’t been completely slammed”. Since then Shaq has become a popular topic around the Celtic universe.
According to Mark Stein, Shaq wants more then the $5.8 million mid-level exception, and really why shouldn’t he? He’s an all time great. He’s one of the 15 best players ever with four titles and a few MVPs under his belt. While I’m sure Shaq wants another title, going from $20 million last season with the Cavilers down to $5.8 million seems a bit ridiculous. No doubt Shaq wants to win, but Shaq has a lot of pride too. This means that the only way that Shaq would be coming to Boston is in a sign and trade with the Cavilers. That would probably mean the Celtics would have to use the Rasheed Wallace contract, plus draft picks and maybe even a player like Glen Davis or Avery Bradley. Given the Celtic’s need for more players to fill out their bench it’s hard to see Danny giving up that much.
But what if Shaq can be had for the Wallace contract and maybe a first round pick or a few second round picks? Well that’s at least interesting right?
Looking over the free agents that are left on the market it seems like Shaq might be the best of the bunch, even after factoring in that he’ll be 38 years old next season. At 37 years old, The Big Aristotle was still a fairly useful player averaging 12 points, 6.7 rebounds 1.2 blocks, and 1.5 assists per game last season while playing 23.4 minutes a game. O’Neal’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) for last season was 17.9, so he is still an above average player.
I know most Celtics fans think that finding a backup wing should be the Danny’s top priority. Many also think it would be the best use of the Wallace contract, but with every player that signs elsewhere the Celtics are going to have a harder time finding a good match of team looking to shed money that also has the type of players that would help Boston. There is also still enough money out there to keep Matt Barnes, Tracey McGrady, and Josh Howard from taking the veteran minimum to play for Boston. Mark Stein says Jason Kapono and his $6.6 million dollar contract might be available. That really doesn’t do it for me. After exploring all the options for a wing, Danny might conclude he can’t get a better value then grabbing Shaq.
The positives with Shaq are pretty obvious. He’s still a productive player that can post a double-double from time to time. Offensively he still shoots a pretty good percentage, 56.6% last season, and he can still command a double team some nights. O’Neal still passes well for a big man, can grab a few offensive rebounds, draw some fouls, and I’m willing to wager he could set a pretty mean baseline screen for Ray Allen. On Defense, Shaq fills the lane, alters shots and for the most part stays out of foul trouble. Also, he’s another guy that defends Dwight Howard well.
The negatives with Shaq are also pretty obvious. He’s a terrible free throw shooter that always hovers right around 50%. He’s slow as anything and no longer defends or plays pick and roll all that well anymore. Shaq is rarely in shape and as the league has been moving towards more fast breaks and offenses that space the floor, there are many times when Shaq big slow offense and defense can be a liability [See the Boston/Cavs series]. Shaq has also been an injury risk over his whole career, playing in fewer then 68 games 11 times in his 18 year career and his advanced age probably won’t help that.
One argument against Shaq becoming a Celtic is there could be issues with playing time. Shaq wants minutes and while Perk is out I’m sure Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal could happily co-exist splitting time at center, but once Perk comes back there could be 3 guys fighting for playing time with someone getting left out in the cold and being unhappy about it. My argument against that is that what if Perkins does not come back or does come back but not as the beast we’ve all come to love? Jermaine O’Neal is not a bastion of health either. In a league where you need size to get past the Magic and Lakers do you really want to put all your faith in Jermaine O’Neal, staying healthy all year and Kendrick Perkins coming back strong?
Now, I’m not saying that Shaquille O’Neal is an ideal fit or the best move that Danny could make, but I’m not sure there is a better value out there right now.