He just couldn’t do it. He wanted to, but his body couldn’t handle it. Boston Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal announced his retirement through Twitter on the heel of a five-game playoff series loss to the Miami Heat. The use of the singular “heel” was intentional, as Achilles and calf injuries reduced Shaq to an unproductive one-legged player in 12 minutes of playoff action.
It’s time for Boston to get younger for the future, and a 39-year-old center won’t be a part of those plans.
Boston will reload on the fly, hoping to remain a championship contender. With Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen showing their age, finding and preparing the next generation is paramount for the Celts. Boston probably will take a step back next year, but it must be done for the Celtics’ future.
But if the fresh blood helps propel Boston near the top of the league in 2011-12, it could be the right circumstances for Shaquille O’Neal to come out of retirement for a run at one final championship.
The last thing Celtics fans want to see next year is an over-30 O’Neal anywhere near the team, Jermaine included. But if the stars align just right, signing Shaquille by the free agent deadline might be just what the Celtics need down the stretch and through the playoffs.
With Shaq a signature away from hanging it up for good, the Celtics get to spend the season assimilating young and athletic players into the system. Expect a big man, maybe two, to be part of the roster turnover.
To keep the youngsters on the fast track towards becoming cornerstone players, they will need as much playing time as possible. Shaq, even in a reduced role, would take minutes away from the young players that need to learn from doing. Boston doesn’t need Shaq’s obstruction.
For O’Neal, sitting out half the season gives him plenty of time for all his injuries to heal fully, get in great shape, and see the whole picture before deciding if one last shot at a fifth ring seems logical.
If Shaq does get in peak shape, then the decision is up to him. He could stay retired or he could pick up the phone and give Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge a call to see if Boston would welcome the Big Shamrock back.
How good would Boston be with a preserved O’Neal down the stretch? It would be the same role that P.J. Brown filled beautifully during Boston’s championship season in 2007-08.
Ainge talked Brown out of retirement to provide Rivers with depth behind Kendrick Perkins and Garnett. Brown played just 18 regular season games and 26 playoff games for Boston, but it was enough from P.J. to help the Celtics become NBA champions that season.
If it wasn’t for Brown’s 20-foot jumper against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7, the Celtics maybe don’t eventually win the title.
Shaq could provide the same lift for Boston in a brief return engagement. The Celtics would only need O’Neal for around 40 games. Playing short minutes, as Shaquille was intended to do in 2010-11, increases the likelihood of O’Neal lasting through the playoffs.
With rotations already set, head coach Doc Rivers would carefully choose where to fit Shaq in. O’Neal wouldn’t play big minutes, just fill in gaps here and there. Boston would benefit from a veteran big man chipping in on both ends of the court while keeping the rotation well rested.
And since Shaq is familiar with Boston’s system, fitting him in on the team wouldn’t disrupt continuity.
If there’s any chance Shaquille’s return would throw team chemistry off even by the slightest degree, this reunion should remain out of the question. But if everything is just right, Shaq can be a boost off the bench for a Celtics team primed to pull off a major upset. One last hurrah for Shaq would be worth a shot.