Boston Celtics: Can the Cs Ride Shaquille O'Neal To the NBA Finals?

Collin BerglundCorrespondent IIIFebruary 28, 2011

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 28:  (L-R) Ray Allen #20, Rajon Rondo #9, Kevin Garnett #5, Paul Pierce #34 and Shaquille O'Neal #36 of the Boston Celtics huddle up during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 28, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Celtics 88-71. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Kendrick Perkins was the reason the Boston Celtics beat the Orlando Magic in the NBA playoffs last season. Shaquille O'Neal will have to be the reason in 2011.

This season, Perkins's return was going to give the Celtics the consistency they needed in the starting five. As Doc Rivers always said, Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Perkins never lost a playoff series when all five were healthy.

Instead, the Celtics traded away Perkins. They traded away the size that allowed them to compete with the league's dominant big men like Dwight Howard. Then they traded away Semih Erden, the 7-foot Turkish center who was starting to develop because Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal were never healthy.

The Celtics are one of the best teams in basketball, a favorite to represent the East in the Finals. But can Shaq and Erden lead them there?

Shaq returns this week. With Shaq in the starting lineup, the Celtics are 27-9. In other words, the Celtics didn't have Perkins for much of the season and were still one of the best teams in basketball. Past experiences are not evidence of future returns, and the Celtics can still be a dominant team without Perkins.

Krstic is a similar player to Erden. Both are hard-working big men who can score, but often struggle to rebound against the league's elite big men. Krstic has more experience, so the Celtics might have upgraded that center slot marginally.

Regardless, championships rest on what the starters can do.  

If Shaq stays healthy for the rest of the season and can give the Celtics quality minutes, the Celtics will make the Eastern Conference Finals and have a shot at an NBA championship. It's as simple as that.

The truth of the trade is the Celtics might come out even this season. They might be able to beat the Magic again, and possibly beat Miami's big three.  

The addition of Jeff Green; however, gives the Celtics another guy they can count on after the "Big Three" are gone. Besides Rajon Rondo, the Celtics don't have a single reliable player for life after the "Big Three." That all changed with the Jeff Green addition. 

Green also gives the Celtics a change of pace off the bench that they have never had. Green might be one of the best sixth men in the league.  

So while the Celtics might have broken even this year (if Shaq stays healthy), they are undeniably in a better position for the future.