So according to just about every credible news source who follows the Celtics; CSN, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, so on and so forth, Shaquille O’Neal will be joining the Celtics this upcoming season. It seems the deal will be for the veteran minimum and will have a player’s option for the second year.
While Shaq does fill the Celtics desperate need for a big man I have to be honest I’m not a fan of this move at all. Shaq has clearly been on the decline the past few years, which can be expected of a thirty-eight year old player. However the problem is Shaq doesn’t seem ready to accept the fact that he’s on the decline. It took Shaq so long to find a team because he continued to hold out believing he deserved around the mid-level exception.
Shaq’s numbers last year weren’t actually that bad. He averaged 12 points a game while pulling down about 7 rebounds and shooting 56% from the field. Shaq’s numbers went down in the playoffs where he averaged 11.5 points a game and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 51% from the field. Shaq also had a PER, a measure of per minute production, of 17.92 during the regular season which tied him for 14th best among centers with his new teammate Jermaine O’Neal.
While his numbers weren’t all that bad the truth is that Shaq often bogged down the Cavaliers offense. His presence in the middle made it hard for Lebron James, Mo Williams, and the rest of the Cavs to find lanes to the basket. Shaq also had a really hard time getting up and down the court in the fast break.
Where Shaq offers the Celtics the biggest help is on the defensive end. He can clog up the middle blocking some shots and overall giving any guard that drives a hard time. Shaq also provides a very big body who can bang around down low with the likes of Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh.
Another positive of adding Shaq is that it leaves the Celtics Rasheed’s expiring deal to still offer up in trades. Getting Shaq for the veteran’s minimum fills the void in the front court and leaves the door open for the Celtics to still pursue a trade for Rudy Fernandez or another wing player who can help with the scoring load.
Now the biggest problem that comes with Shaq, as I see it at least, is his larger than life personality and attitude. Shaq is one of the greatest centers to ever play the game but he is far from his prime. It is hard for a great player like Shaq to accept a diminished role and that is what he will have to do in Boston.
With KG, Big Baby, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaq, and Perk, when he finally is healthy, the Celtics front court is certainly going to be crowded. Doc is going to have to shuffle minutes between the aging veterans and the young guys to find a balance that works. It is safe to assume that none of the five, all use to playing regularly, will be volunteering to spend long stretches on the bench.
Shaq didn’t cause any problems in Cleveland but he was the starting center there and none of the other front court players really challenged him for minutes. Now competing with other established players it will be interesting to see how Shaq reacts if a few games go by where his playing time is cut and players like Big Baby and Perk are getting the majority of the minutes.
All in all the Celtics are getting Shaq for a really cheap price. While his skills have diminished the Celtics don’t need him to be a superstar. The Celtics simply need Shaq to be a defensive presence inside, to score around the rim occasionally, and to crash the glass hard. If Shaq can manage to provide all those things without causing any locker room problems he could turn out to be the steal of free agency and just the right piece to get the Celtics back in the thick of the title picture.