Shaquille O'Neal is a winner. Four NBA Championships, three Finals MVP Awards, one NBA MVP Award, a Rookie of the Year Award, two NBA scoring titles, fifteen All-Star selections, an Olympic Gold Medal and one of the NBA Top 50 Players of All Time. No one can dispute his credentials.
As the most dominating big man of his generation, Shaq changed the game. His combination of size, strength and agility was something that the NBA hadn't seen since Wilt Chamberlain. His lack of free throw shooting skill coined a new phrase, "Hack-a-Shaq" to describe opponents strategy to foul him as soon as he touched the ball late in a close game. It sometimes worked, but even when it didn't, they had to try. They couldn't stop him in the paint. For several years, it appeared even an M1A1 Abrams tank couldn't stop the Diesel from scoring.
Shaq has been more than just a great player though. He's been an ambassador of the game, an athlete that transcends the sport. He has recorded six albums, appeared in nine movies, endorsed countless products, had his own TV show, and has been as active in his community as any athlete in professional sports. In addition to working a great deal with kids, Shaq is also a Reserve Police Officer in the Miami Beach Police Department.
In short, Shaquille O'Neal is a Hall of Fame player and a genuine good guy. But does he have anything left to contribute to the Boston Celtics, who signed him to a two year deal at the veteran minimum last week, on the court?
In short, yes.
Obviously, this is not the Shaq of the Laker years. This isn't even the "Big Cactus" of the Phoenix Suns a few years back. But Shaquille O'Neal can still contribute to an NBA team.
He won't be expected to carry the Celtics. Those days are long gone. He won't even be expected to play a huge role. Head Coach Doc Rivers elaborated at the press conference yesterday to introduce O'Neal.
"I told him there won't be thirty minutes for him on this team, there will be twenty to twenty five. I asked him if that was ok, because that's the only way it's going to work" Rivers said.
"At the end of the day, when I close the book, it's all about winning."
O'Neal only averaged 23.4 mpg in Cleveland last year, and will split time with Jermaine O'Neal and Kendrick Perkins in Boston. He's proven he can accept a backup role, and will be an asset to the team in doing so. Adding another experienced veteran to an already battle-tested locker room is also a huge plus for Boston.
The major benefit to the Celtics on the court is that although Shaq may only get 20 minutes, he still has occasional dominant moments. He broke the 20 point mark twice last season in virtually the same role with the Cavs on a team that didn't have the array of weapons the Celtics have. He also recorded 13 rebounds in a game against the Grizzlies last winter.
The simple fact is that this signing was all positive for the Celtics. Even if Shaq's game continues to deteriorate, he will still contribute on and off the court, and for the league minimum, what did they really have to lose?