So it's official: the TD Bank Garden in Boston is now the nation's largest geriatric facility, wresting the title from the cold but not-yet-dead hands of the AT&T Center in San Antonio, whose patron Spurs are easing Tim Duncan into retirement while filling his huge shoes with such budding superstars as...George Hill?
Anyway, Shaq will officially be wearing green this season, a picture once unfathomable when The Big Shalalie was THE man for the Los Angeles Lakers, the other half of the NBA's most storied rivalry.
But then again, it was once unfathomable that said rivalry would ever be reignited on basketball's biggest stage.
Of course, things changed in 2007 when Celts GM and founder of the Danny Ainge Club For Really, Really Lucky General Managers, Danny Ainge, managed to, more or less, swap a roster-full of young promising players for proven superstars Ray Allen, from the Seattle Sonics, and Kevin Garnett, from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Back in 2007, Boston's All-Star trio of Allen, Garnett, and franchise stalwart Paul Pierce was simply aging. Now, in 2010 and with the addition of Shaq (who may appropriately be nicknamed "The Big Wayfarer" to go along with his already-colorful collection of self-ascribed monikers), the Celtics are certifiably old.
All four are well past their individual primes, with Shaq leading the way as the oldest player left in the league (he can thank Lindsey Hunter for that one).
But rewind the clock back, say, six years or so, and all four leaves of this wilting clover were still among the brightest stars the NBA had to offer.
It was during the 2003-2004 season that KG won his MVP with the T-Wolves and Shaq led the Lakers, in what turned out to be his final year in Los Angeles, back to the Finals (though they lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games) while Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were each putting up 23 points per game for bad teams in Seattle and Boston, respectively. All of this while a skinny kid from Louisville, Kentucky named Rajon Rondo was making his case for a spot on the McDonald's High School All-American team during his senior season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
And it was during that same season that a group of precocious rookies, chief among them, an 18-year-old man-child out of Akron, Ohio named LeBron James, was getting its first glimpse of the NBA landscape.
As Frank Sinatra might say, what a difference [six years] makes.
Nowadays, those four stars—who constituted a significant portion of the first post-Michael-Jordan core of NBA superstars—play on a team led by that kid from Kentucky, LeBron plays on a team in Miami that includes two other stars from his rookie class (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, for those who enjoy living under rocks), and the SuperSonics don't even play in Seattle anymore. Nor are they still called the SuperSonics.
In essence, then, Danny Ainge has put together in Boston a Team for the AGED...
Oh, whoops! I meant Team for the AGES.
And by "ages", I mean the early 2000s.
What a team that would have been, too. Garnett at his absolute peak, surrounded by Pierce and Allen, who, in the primes of their careers, would be putting up 20+ points each on a nightly basis against Eastern Conference competition consisting almost exclusively of the Detroit Pistons, with a host of water-treaders trailing far behind somewhere.
And don't forget Shaq, who, though no longer the absolute terror that he had been just two or three years earlier, would have still been more than capable of dominating the opposition, especially with KG, Ray Ray, and The Truth by his side.
Of course, this is all an elaborate fantasy that would never have been possible in the era of free agency and bloated salaries. I mean, it'd be impossible to fit any more than two superstars at their peaks on the same team...
Granted, the Celtics' newly-expanded Yearsome Foursome may not pack the same punch or strike fear in the hearts of coaches everywhere as they might have six or seven years ago. But that far from precludes Boston's bunch from making another run or two at a title.
Quite clearly, that's a big part of the reason Danny Ainge brought in Shaq in the first place. Well, that and the veteran's minimum.
But seriously, though. Without Shaq, the Celtics came within a mere five points of winning their second NBA title in three years, in a game without their starting center, Kendrick Perkins.
On a related note, it wouldn't be farfetched to presume that Perkins' knee injury, which will likely keep him from playing for a significant portion of the upcoming season, played a major role in Shaq's arrival in Beantown, though he won't be the only O'Neal in town, thanks to Jermaine O'Neal now being the de-facto replacement for Rasheed Wallace off the bench.
Of course, adding Shaq at this point in his career comes with its fair share of risks. Just ask the Phoenix Suns, which brought in the "Shaq-tus" from Miami in exchange for Shawn Marion, with the hope that his size and inside scoring ability would elevate Steve Nash and Co. from playoff team to championship contender. Instead, the Suns sunk to ninth place in the West.
Or ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, which traded for Shaq last summer with the hope that he would "Win a Ring for the King". Those hopes didn't quite translate to reality, with the Cavs failing to make the Eastern Conference Finals and Shaq doing little on the basketball court to help while Cleveland lost in six games to...you guessed it!
The Boston Celtics.
With all that said, this looks to be, at least on paper, a good move for the Celtics. At the very least, they've found themselves an inexpensive, highly-experienced, high-profile insurance policy in the event Kendrick Perkins doesn't return to full strength at some point during the 2010-2011 campaign.
And on a team that struggled all of last season on the offensive end and on the boards, Shaq's merits as an adept post passer and big-bodied rebounder should prove to be valuable assets.
Whether or not the Big Aristotle's presence in Boston will be enough for the Celtics to fend off the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat in Eastern Conference is anyone's guess. As long as the Celtics maintain their status as a top four seed in the East, which they certainly should, they'll have as good a shot as any to make their third NBA Finals appearance in four years.
And lest we forget, it's not as though Shaq doesn't have plenty of experience with playoff success on a team with geriatric superstars.
One need look no further than the aforementioned 2003-2004 season, when Shaq, while still teamed with Kobe Bryant on the Lakers, welcomed Gary Payton and Karl Malone—both ringless future Hall-of-Famers at the time—into the fold.
As also previously mentioned, that team made it to the Finals, prevailing over KG's Wolves in the West only to be trounced by the Pistons in what many have deemed the first-ever "five-game sweep". Not exactly sweet victory, especially when factoring in the dramatic aftermath which found Shaq back in Florida after the dust had finally settled.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what happens now that Shaq is the jewelry-chasing geezer in a quadrant of post-Jordan NBA royalty.
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