Boston Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal hasn’t had an easy go of things this year. After signing a two-year mid-level exception deal with the team this summer, for a little under $6 million per year, he’s seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth. JO has only played 17 games this year, the result of a knee injury.
And when it was reported earlier this month that the Celtics were planning on a nine-man playoff rotation, which would exclude the likes of O’Neal, no one was really all that surprised.
Given the current state of things, I’d estimate that the ideal rotation would look something like this:
Regulars: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Nenad Krstic, Glen Davis, Jeff Green, Delonte West
Left Out: Jermaine O’Neal, Troy Murphy, Carlos Arroyo, Sasha Pavlovic, Von Wafer, Avery Bradley
So as the hopeful return date for JO nears, what should Celtics fans expect from him going forward?
For starters, the strength of the Celtics is in their depth. They have as strong a regular rotation as any team in basketball, and they have arguably the best collection of benchwarmers in the NBA today. I’d take their (healthy) bottom six against almost any other bottom six in the league.
Even though I think, come playoff time, we might not see O’Neal on a regular basis, he has the opportunity to make a huge impact for the Celtics.
Even if Shaquille O’Neal is healthy, he’s only going to give the C’s 15-20 minutes of basketball in the playoffs. Not to mention that he’s struggled all season with foul trouble.
So, there may be a time where the Celtics just need a big body who can bring a few minutes of tenacity off the bench. Glen Davis and Nenad Krstic are very capable reserves at the center position, but against teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and even the Chicago Bulls, an extra frontcourt player every now and then would do wonders in extending the shelf life of the rest of the bigs.
O’Neal is probably the best shot-blocking presence on the team, and we’ve already seen him (albeit, on a very limited basis) lead a shutdown defensive second unit for 6, 7, 8 minutes at a time this year.
His minutes may be sporadic. We might go more than one game in a row without seeing him, but that might be for the best. Even if he was able to crack the Celtics’ rotation purely on ability, who knows if his knees would be able to hold up for the extensive NBA playoff/finals period.
Much like Nate Robinson of last year, O’Neal has the potential to deliver a huge performance off the bench without being a member of the regular rotation. In all honesty, Jermaine O’Neal could win a game for the Celtics with his defensive presence.
He’s spent all season as the goat of the team, but come playoff time, he could change everyone’s opinion.
Dan is a Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.