Boston Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations and General Manager Danny Ainge dropped a bomb Thursday afternoon on Boston's WEEI radio, revealing that center Shaquille O'Neal is expected back to the lineup either Sunday or Tuesday. The revelation came as a shock, since much of the Boston media has been reporting Shaq's return wouldn't come until the playoffs.
Grilled about the mixed messages being sent out, Ainge said he had just come from a workout with Shaq at a Waltham, MA facility and stood by his comment that the 7'1" center, who has been plagued with right leg and foot injuries, is expected back by Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers at the latest.
Questioned about the confusion of the date of Shaq's return, Ainge basically said that Doc Rivers isn't around the players all the time and hadn't met with O'Neal in a week, given the long road trip. It seemed from his tone that Ainge and Rivers are not on the same page when it comes to updates on players.
Ainge did say that he and Doc speak on a regular basis but essentially do not cover all of the bases.
It's hard not to wonder what the communication is like between the two. The Celtics are on a dismal 5-7 run in the last 12 games. The team had been expected to be a top seed heading into the playoffs but are finding themselves in a tie with the Miami Heat and 2.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls.
Ainge debunked any talk about the Kendrick Perkins trade to Oklahoma City Thunder as a reason for the team's struggles. He said the problems are not related to the trade, nor are they specifically on defense or offense, but rather, the team's failure to "push the ball."
This may be so, yet much has been made of the turbulence the Perkins trade caused when he and Nate Robinson were traded to the Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Boston's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett both expressed dismay over the trade. KG said it was "tough to concentrate" on basketball in light of the news. Pierce said he hopes "Doc and Danny know what they're doing."
Team lineups are often revamped and players adjust. They do what they have to do to complete their mission. Nothing less is expected from the Celtics. The problem which seems to have uncomfortably surfaced is whether Danny and Doc are really working together.
One has to question not only whether or not they were in agreement of the Perkins trade, but in all basketball operations in general. It would seem that business has been flowing quite well. Suddenly, Ainge has given much to begin a serious debate.
Adding insult to injury, Ainge said, "The only players playing better since the trade have been Krstic and Green."
He's certainly not afraid to call out players, or even the coach, if he has to. He said that Rajon Rondo and KG have shown the biggest decline in play.
Rivers recently sat Rondo, with word that a finger injury was reason of his benching. An injury is unlikely the reason, so in this case, perhaps Ainge and Doc are hand-in-hand in this one, taking a measurable Bill Belichick approach to getting into a player's head.
As things look now, a fire has begun to be fanned, and Doc Rivers packing his bags at season's end doesn't seem so foolish a thought. Today's revelation on the radio is just a glimpse into something bigger going on in paradise.