In the history of the NBA, there have been only a couple of players who were completely unstoppable in the post.
George Mikan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O'Neal.
If all six of these guys played together in their primes, it’s not ridiculous to think that the "Big Aristotle" would have been the top dog in the bunch.
And when I say together, I don’t mean taking their talents to South Beach.
So, it’s almost August, and Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t have a team. Many prognosticators are running around, screaming at teams to sign him. It’s hard to think of any other decade seeing one of its best players go unclaimed for so long.
Imagine if the Wizards, and no one else, took Michael Jordan at the end of his career. ESPN would have looked like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.
However, O’Neal is a bit of a unique situation. Like many stars in the fading times of their careers, there are a handful of obstacles that the "Daddy" must overcome to stay in the league.
What are they, you might ask? Let me enlighten you.
Before I go on to analyze Shaq’s numbers, let me just say that on the whole, it’s nearly impossible to disparage a guy who puts up 24 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks per game over his career.
It’s also nearly impossible to disparage a man his size without getting severely beaten.
But the 38-year-old has a lot of ‘splaining to do regarding his stats in the past couple of seasons. In Cleveland, his minutes and field goal percentage were well down from even the previous season, which explains why all of his other stats decreased as well.
This poses a major risk for any suitors for his services. If his minutes drop by seven again, will his points drop by six? That means you are paying serious money for a guy to average six points a game and possibly just four rebounds.
And unless you are the Timberwolves paying Darko Milicic, that’s not a sound investment.
As an 18-year veteran, the Shaq-tus has done it all.
He's a four-time NBA Champion, a three-time Finals MVP, has made 15 All-Star Games, and is an eight-time All-NBA First Team member.
His mantle must be getting crowded.
Sadly, there’s a downside to all that success. O’Neal has become extremely accustomed to playing a lot of minutes and being a go-to option on offense.
Even in Cleveland, he wanted the ball to work down low. He may have said that he came to bring a ring for the king (nice try), but he still wanted plenty of say. As a former dominating force, he remembers what he can bring to the table.
The key word is “remembers.”
O’Neal, along with many other great players, can’t accept a bench or supporting role due to his success in the past.
It’s a very harsh reality to face, but if he realizes he’s best served backing up a younger center, he can become a much more attractive commodity.
Back in the day, Shaq would have ended this sequence with a punch to Brad Miller’s noggin.
Now, that punch would look like Kimbo Slice’s after Round Five.
Slow and weak.
Just like any other older athlete, his frame and athletic ability are deteriorating.
He may be able to guard people in the post, but the new breed of 'quick' big men in the NBA have him at a loss.
His stats reflect his struggle. His minutes were at a career low last year, and he has only played more than 70 games just twice since 2001.
He’s been hit with small injuries quite frequently. A thumb injury on his shooting hand kept him out for part of last year.
It’s hard to put a lot of stock in someone with these kinds of issues for the role that he wants. All signs indicate that he won’t take a bench role, and a starter needs to be a bit more reliable than Shaq has been lately.
He may still be more productive than many centers in the NBA, but any team would hate to be the one that gives him a multi-year deal at the exact time he falls apart for good.
In this picture, Shaq comes down on the green and on Kendrick Perkins’ facial hair.
In real life, Shaq’s career comes down to the green.
The main reason no one outside of the Atlanta Hawks has even considered putting Shaq on their roster is due to money.
He has said that he will not play for the veteran’s minimum, and expects somewhere near $5 million per year.
That price is too high for damaged goods.
Look at all the options that open if he goes down to $2 million. Now, teams with a little cap space can afford him, and he can go to a real contender, possibly even the Miami Heat, his former stomping ground.
Sorry, Atlanta, you’re not a real contender until you quit putting up zeros in the second round.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Shaq can still play, and retirement is by no means his best option.
He’s still more useful than many centers in the league, but he just can’t expect to get paid more than many of them.
Unless he goes to Minnesota.
He’s got plenty of money, so why does this matter to him? It comes down to pride again.
He feels he has earned that money, and does not want to accept the slide of his career.
A big payday would validate his value in the NBA, and he’d feel proud.
Too bad it just can’t happen on his terms. He’s got to give up the cash for another shot at bling.
But can he do it?