The Boston Celtics have lost three of their last four games. But many fans believe all will be well when Shaquille O'Neal returns to the lineup.
The Celtics expect Shaq to return on Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers, but contrary to popular opinion, he won't immediately turn the Celtics around.
Larger issues have prevented the Celtics from being the force they were earlier in the season. The Celtics have already dropped to the second seed in the East. And while it is unlikely they drop more than one more spot, they won't be the dominant force fans saw earlier in the season with or without Shaq.
The biggest reason for the Celtics struggles post-Perkins isn't the lack of the beloved big man—Perkins barely played at all this season anyway.
It's the change that has overtaken Rajon Rondo. After 10 points and five assists last Friday against Charlotte, Rondo sat the next game due to "injury." Rondo and Perkins were best friends and Rondo's aggressiveness has diminished since Perkins left.
Before Monday's loss to Indiana, Rondo averaged less than six points on 30 percent shooting in his previous eight games. In order for the Celtics to compete for a title, they need a happy, healthy Rajon Rondo.
Shaq's return will do little to replace Perkins as Rondo's pal.
The Celtics were a very good team with Shaq starting at center earlier this season, but he was not a dominant player. And now, the team isn't the same one Shaq played with earlier in the year.
To expect similar results is unreasonable. He's in a situation where Krstic will likely further reduce his already meager (about 20 per game) minutes. With those minutes, he brought down less than five rebounds per game.
He was a efficient scorer in his time on the floor scoring nearly 10 PPG on better than 66 percent shooting, but many of his shots came off Rondo passes. (And as we've argued, with an unhappy Rondo, it is unclear how efficiently Shaq would be able to score on his own.)
When aging big men get hurt it can have an enormous impact on the rest of their careers. Think Bill Walton, Manute Bol and Greg Oden (at least he looked like he was aging).
There is no guarantee that when Shaq comes back, he will be able to stay on the floor. If he gets hurt again, the Celtics are right back where they started and stand little chance of improving upon their less-than-impressive recent record.
Believe it or not, Nenad Krstic has been one of the most unexpected good players on the Celtics during their run. His success, and Glen Davis' ability to compete with guys much taller, has kept back-up big man Troy Murphy relegated to the bench.
Krstic is averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game. Shaq is not significantly better than Krstic in their respective careers and Krstic fits Boston's up-tempo style better than Shaq does—who could be seen laboring up the court before his injury.
The Celtics are a team that feeds off of its star power. Winning a game depends primarily on the success of Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
It doesn't matter who is playing center if those players are all on their games. All four of them know how to win—with the exception of Rondo, they're aging, and fast. This makes it difficult for them to do the things they were once able to.
Shaq's return will have little impact on the Celtics success for the rest of the season. If Rondo and the Big Three take their games to the next level, they will get better. If these players don't improve, the season might as well be over.