Shaquille O'Neal: Could Shaq Be The Boston Celtics' New Enforcer?

Teddy MitrosilisAnalyst IAugust 3, 2010

BOSTON - MAY 13:  Kendrick Perkins #43 of the Boston Celtics and Shaquille O'Neal #33 of the Cleveland Cavaliers fight for the ball during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA playoffs at TD Garden on May 13, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Cavaliers 94-85.  NOTE TO USER: User Expressly Acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The 2010-2011 NBA season is set to kick off Oct. 26 with two marquee match-ups, one involving LeBron James’ new squad, the Miami Heat. Expect Chris Bosh to be taught a lesson in physicality in that game.

A source told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Miami Heat will take on the Boston Celtics in the opening game of the new season with the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets following in the nightcap.

The source sought anonymity because the league planned to announce its kick-off games during a special on NBA TV later in the day.

OK, Heat, Celtics, Bosh, what gives?

Comcast Sports New England reported Tuesday that the Boston Celtics are closing in on reaching an agreement with free-agent center Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq said Tuesday that he believes he will play in the NBA next season, but he would only play if a contending team made him an offer. It that didn’t happen, Shaq said he would retire. Playing overseas won’t be considered.

“I know I will play in the NBA next season,” O’Neal said. “The good thing about me and my career is that I came in, did it my way, did more than expected. For every athlete or every great person, there’s a time when it has to end.”

Shaq appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday evening and said that he would like to play for two more seasons.

Despite what Shaq says, he isn’t the most dominant big man in the game and isn’t clearly the force that he used to be. Shaq isn’t the same man that broke in with the Orlando Magic nor the guy that won three rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s not even the guy that won a fourth ring with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in 2006.

But Shaq can still be a valuable player and makes some sense for the Boston Celtics. Is he a perfect fit in Boston? No. I’m not sure O’Neal, at this stage in his career, is a perfect fit anywhere, especially given that the Celtics need to make a concentrated effort to get younger in coming years.

Most people thought the window had closed on the Celtics last season when they played seemingly disinterested until springtime. Of course, you know they turned it on and ended up taking the Los Angeles Lakers to Game 7 in the NBA Finals, a game that they could have won.

With the emergence of Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins, in addition to sustained play from veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, perhaps Celtics GM Danny Ainge believes he can squeak out a few more championship-caliber years while Pierce and Garnett are still around.

That’s where Shaq could come into play. At best, Shaq offers insurance on Perkins, who tore ligaments in his right knee in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, and solid play in limited minutes. At worst, well, Shaq offers six fouls, a wealth of knowledge for Davis and Perkins, and a presence only few other NBA personalities can rival.

By adding Shaq, the Celtics also help close the gap on the advantage the Lakers held on them in June: size. If you’ve watched the league in recent years, you know that great point guard play and size in the middle are two integral ingredients for successful teams.

The Celtics have an elite point guard in Rondo and some size. The Lakers didn’t have a great point guard last season but Kobe Bryant handled the ball when it mattered. What the Lakers did have were two seven-footers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and a 6'10" Lamar Odom coming off the bench.

But if Boston wants to get back to the Finals, they have to get by the Heat and Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference. The Heat pose problems for everybody because of the trio led by James and Wade, but the Celtics size would eliminate Bosh from the equation. Then it becomes James-Wade versus four Celtics. If that’s indeed how it plays out, I like Boston.

Orlando goes where Dwight Howard goes, and I don’t see Howard having the offensive potential to take over a game when he has to deal with 12 fouls between O’Neal and Perkins. They will hammer Howard, who will probably get frustrated and taken out of rhythm like we have seen before.

Hakeem Olajuwon is tutoring Howard this summer and improvements to Howard’s post game remain to be seen.

Fans shouldn’t have to wait long for a decision on O’Neal and the Celtics. ESPN NBA reporter Chris Broussard said that he has heard a decision could be reached as early as Tuesday evening. Shaq doesn’t want to drag negotiations out with any team.

“My main thought was I would like to play for a winning franchise, somebody that’s used to winning, somebody that keeps winning,” O’Neal said. “Hopefully, I’ll make my decision here in the next one or two days.”

Look, nobody is expecting Shaq to put up 15 points and 10 rebounds in Boston and overtake Howard as the premier center in the Eastern Conference.

But if Boston wants to muscle it’s way through Miami in 2010—lets be honest, they won’t beat them with athleticism—and have a chance at another Finals, signing Shaq would be worth the risk.

Then Ainge will have to pursue an influx of youth for Boston going forward.

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