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Parish big supporter of Celtics’ Shaq move

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / August 9, 2010

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Hard to believe it’s been 16 years since Robert Parish laced up those green Converse sneakers for the Celtics. During that time, the Chief has kept close tabs on his former team, and he smiled brightly after their latest move, the signing of Shaquille O’Neal.

Parish played until he was 43, finishing his career with the championship Bulls in 1996-97, and he can relate to being an aging big man with enough skills to help a team reach the NBA pinnacle.

He feels a bond with O’Neal, who is coming to Boston to help the Celtics compete with the likes of the Heat, Lakers, and Magic. O’Neal has said he’s ready to accept a complementary role, but Parish believes the future Hall of Famer possesses enough skill and presence to make a dramatic difference in Boston’s interior game.

“I was happy about the acquisition of Mr. Shaquille O’Neal, it was a good move because the Celtics are trying to win it now,’’ Parish said last week. “Before the other veterans run out of gas, [Kevin] Garnett, [Paul] Pierce, and [Ray] Allen. So their mission is to try to win it now. I think between those two guys [Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal] in the middle, the center position is secure.’’

A part of the Celtics’ original Big Three, Parish made the biggest personal sacrifice. He came to Boston in his prime, after four solid years at Golden State. The most shots he averaged in Boston was 15.4 per game in 1981-82. He was content to set picks, rebound, and score occasionally — the role Shaquille O’Neal is hoping to fill.

After 18 seasons and 28,255 points, O’Neal realizes his best days are behind him, but he still has enough left to give the Celtics the bruising rebounder and intimidating force they lacked last season. Kendrick Perkins was a staunch interior defender but not a volume rebounder. O’Neal nabbed close to 7 rebounds per game last season in 23.2 minutes. Perkins averaged 7.6 in 27.4 minutes.

“Shaq can still start for at least 15 teams, maybe 20 teams,’’ Parish said. “I would say that time has caught up with him but he can still be a factor and not to mention defensively. He’s long and has a lot of mass and is going to take up a lot of room and that definitely is where the Celtics’ strong suit is, defensively. I think that’s where he gets it done. I think Shaq will definitely bring a defensive presence along with Garnett. He’s going to cause a lot of havoc defensively and he still can get it done offensively.’’

Capable big men are scarce in the NBA. The Lakers signed Theo Ratliff, bad knees and all. Veteran Brad Miller, despite many detractors, was highly sought after in free agency. O’Neal lingered for a month in free agency solely because of his salary demands. It is believed he wanted $8 million to $10 million per season when bidding began, then his expectations were lowered to the mid-level exception ($5.7 million). Since the Celtics used their exception on Jermaine O’Neal and offered Shaquille O’Neal only the veteran’s minimum, he had to sacrifice money for the sake of winning.

Only the Hawks also had serious interest in Shaquille O’Neal, and he was not going to start over budding star Al Horford. The Celtics will use both O’Neals at center until Perkins returns from knee surgery.

“He’s lost a step, but any time you design a game plan with Shaq on the [opposing] team, it starts with Shaq in my opinion because he is still a load,’’ Parish said.

“Shaq can still rebound and Shaq can play defense and that’s what the Celtics need most from him. Because the Celtics are going to surround Shaq with plenty of offense. He definitely can get it done defensively, but he can’t do it for a long period of time.

“Like I said, for 20 minutes or on a good night, 30 minutes, he can still get it done.’’

Perhaps the biggest concern about O’Neal is his potential to implode if he doesn’t get enough playing time and touches. In previous stops, O’Neal has complained about the way he’s been used. Last season, he was angry at Cleveland coach Mike Brown for holding him out of the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Celtics.

For this to work, egos are going to have to be sacrificed. Parish played a complementary offensive role to Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, and the reward was championships. That could end up a similarity between Parish and O’Neal.

“Two reasons, why we were successful with it,’’ Parish said. “First of all, I had the lesser ego of the Big Three. So I took a lesser role for Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge so they can mature and flourish as ballplayers. And secondly and equally important, Kevin, Larry, and myself realized that we were great individually, but greater collectively. So we realized in order for us to be a great team, we had to put our egos in check.

“I think we were able to do that for the most part, because you are talking about some massive egos there.’’

The same concerns that could nag the Celtics also could surface in Miami, where the Heat are banking that their Big Three — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh — can mesh well enough to form a championship-caliber team. Of course, the fundamental difference is the Celtics are nearing the end of their careers; the Heat players are entering their prime.

“One of the reasons why it worked out so well in Boston is Garnett and Allen were older players,’’ Parish said. “Those guys [in Miami] are under 30, and are they going to be able to put their egos aside trying to carve out their niche, their legacy? It looks good on paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a success on the court.

“I don’t see them coming out of the East because they don’t have a true point and true center, because [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas is not going to get it done against Shaq, Jermaine, and [Orlando’s] Dwight Howard.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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