It’s the end of July, and the league’s oldest player, Shaquille O’Neal remains unsigned. Teams like Atlanta, San Antonio, and Miami have all been mentioned as potential suitors, but there’s still no offer on the table. Now, coming toward the end of the offseason, rumors are now starting to pick up that the Diesel might make his way to Beantown for one more ride with the Boston Celtics.
The first obstacle to signing Shaq, of course, is overcoming his demand for a high salary. After signing Jermaine O’Neal and others, the Celtics don’t have the cap room to offer him anything more than the veteran’s minimum in a straight-up deal. So either Ainge needs to work his magic to convince Shaq to take the money in exchange for a very good shot at another championship or he needs to devise a sign-and-trade deal with Cleveland. The issue with that? Any player signed and traded must have a contract of three or more years, which is a very long commitment to make to O’Neal. That said, the team has the cooperation of the retiring Rasheed Wallace to use his midlevel deal as a trade chip if they so choose.
Let’s say they overcome the issues and the Big Cactus joins the Green for one more campaign. Would the experiment work? Despite Shaq’s dwindling numbers compared to those of his prime, he has still been very effective on the court over the past few seasons in limited minutes. In fact, last year in Cleveland, Shaq’s per-40-minute averages were: 20.5 points, 11.3 boards, 2 blocks — and he still shot 57 percent. Furthermore, he’s still a force on defense who can match up with the Dwight Howards of the league. And his deficiencies guarding the pick and roll can be covered up by Jermaine, Kevin Garnett, and, when he comes back, Kendrick Perkins.
And Perk’s injury is another key factor for the Shaq signing. In Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers showed how crucial Perkins is to the Celtics, and he’ll still be out for quite some time. They did bring on Jermaine O’Neal, but after his addition (which effectively fills ‘Sheed’s void), they’re still down one rotation big man from the four they had last year so long as Perkins is out. Shaq completes that frontcourt with a skillset that’s pretty similar to Perkins, but Shaq is better on offense.
What about when Perkins comes back, though? Will Doc Rivers be able to get all of these guys minutes with Glen Davis in the picture, too? That remains to be seen. You know Garnett won’t mind giving up a few minutes here or there if it means the team will win, but the same can’t necessarily be said for the O’Neal pair. Shaq comes with plenty of baggage on the side, and his ego could be a problem. Even in Cleveland he started, so he’ll have to learn to give that up if he wants to play in Boston. Also, he likely won’t get as many touches as he did with LeBron — which was probably too many anyway. But considering the age of KG and the O’Neals, having an insurance policy in case of injury isn’t a bad idea.
This signing could be a difference-maker for the Celtics. They’ve just got to get the money straightened out with the Diesel, and he might be playing ball in New England come October.