Does Shaq Make The Celtics A Better Team?
After weeks of flirtation and rumors, Shaquille O'Neal has decided to join the Boston Celtics for the 2010-11 season.
Terms of the deal haven't been released yet, but word on the street is that it is a two-year contract for the veteran minimum ($1.4 million). The Celtics recently signed Jermaine O'Neal and, at age 38, Shaq is quickly approaching the end of his career, which begs the question: Will Shaq make Boston a better team?
At surface level, it appears he will.
Even with the recent signing of J.O., the Celtics need help in the front court. Kendrick Perkins, Boston's Luca Brasi-like hitman, will be out until at least February with an ACL injury, and Jermaine can't carry the low post load on his own.
Besides, even after 18 seasons in the league--and with over 41,000 minutes on his NBA odometer--Shaq's numbers and PER were on par with the 25-year-old Perkins' last season. Shaq averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds in 23 minutes per game last season and ended up with a PER of 17.9. Perkins: 10 points, 8 rebounds per game in 28 minutes with a PER of 15. I could go deeper, but suffice it to say the two were comparable in nearly every significant statistical category.
On top of that, Shaq, a three-time scoring champ, gives Boston the low post scoring threat they haven't had since Al Jefferson left town in the Kevin Garnett trade. Based on the amount of low percentage shots the Celtics took in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, they need help in that department.
All of which makes Shaq a perfect fit in Boston, right?
Not so fast.
Shaq brings a number of good qualities to the table, but he also comes with his share of hang-ups. More hang-ups, one could argue, than any other center on the market.
For one, he doesn't rotate well on defense.
Age and indifference have made Shaq's feet painfully slow on that end. Get him outside the low post and it's like an elephant trying to catch a Red Bull-soaked impala. It's awkward just watching him try.
This is bad news for the Celtics. Their defense is built around perfectly-timed switches and contested shots, and therefore doesn't accomodate poorly conditioned, monolithic centers. Doc Rivers may be able to help him along in terms of defensive philosophy, but there's no getting around Shaq's physical setbacks. He's a defensive liability no matter which way you slice it.
Second, he isn't a good fit with any front court player on the Celtics other than Kevin Garnett.
Garnett is more of a high post player. Shaq is more low post. They should be able to play together no problem. But Shaq isn't going to be the starter. Jermaine O'Neal is. Which means Shaq will likely see fewer minutes next to KG and more alongside Glen Davis, who is undersized and, like Shaq, a player who operates primarily in the low post.
Unless Big Baby returns to 2009 playoff form and starts hitting 15-foot jumpers like he's the Big Fundamental, there's going to be a redundancy problem when he and Shaq are on the court at the same time.
Third, what happens when Perkins is healthy?
I don't think he'll come back until late in the season, if not the beginning of the playoffs, but when he does it will create an issue for the Celtics.
Perkins is Rivers' guy, which means he's going to get his starter's role back as soon as he's capable of handling it. Presuming Perk is healthy enough to start again in the playoffs, Jermaine O'Neal becomes the primary backup and Shaq is relegated to what? Brian Scalabrine duty? There's no way he's going to be okay with that.
Why? Because he's Shaq and he wants attention!
Shaq is, and always has been, a talented player. But above all else he's a media whore. All of the nicknames. All of the feuds. All of that win a ring for the King stuff. It's all nonsense.
I'm sure Shaq wants to win another championship (who wouldn't?), but more than that I think he wants to be relevant, to be popular and to be a cultural icon.
This is a guy who battled Dwight Howard over a nickname for crying out loud. Do you really think he's going to ride the pine without bitching? No way. He has too much ego for that.
Which brings me to the final problem with signing Shaq: He looks good on paper, but he hasn't made either of his previous two teams better.
Shaq's recent track record speaks for itself. The Suns were a better team after he left and the Cavs were better when he wasn't on the court. That's all you need to know.
Shaq's individual numbers are good, especially for a player his age, but I don't see him making a positive impact on the Celtics. He's just too old, too slow on defense and too unwilling to recognize that he's no longer as relevant as he once was.
Ultimately, Shaq's time in Boston will be remembered not for his achievements or successes, but for his awesome new nickname: the Jolly Green Giant.
I don't think he'll have nearly the impact that people are expecting him to.
To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here.