In O’Neal, West finds key corner man
WALTHAM — Shaquille O’Neal arrived in Cleveland a few months before Delonte West’s world took a major hit. So O’Neal had a chance to see the damage then, just as he’s seeing the 27-year-old attempt to repair it now.
From the time West was pulled over in Maryland last September for speeding on his motorcycle and police found three guns in his possession, his 2009-10 season was a turbulent one.
Throughout it, however, O’Neal felt like he was the only person in Cleveland’s organization who could speak West’s language. Not owner Dan Gilbert. Not GM Danny Ferry. Not coach Mike Brown. Not LeBron James. West saw O’Neal as a big brother, telling NBA.com that O’Neal would “lay down and die for you, and that’s my type of guy.’’
Knowing he had West’s ear, O’Neal tried to offer West guidance.
“I was always taught, ‘Never worry about the problem. Always worry about the solution,’ ’’ O’Neal said. “He did what he did and I just directed him to some people that I knew. I said, ‘Hey, this is how you handle it. Be quiet. I got it.’ Just talked to him like a big brother.
“He got out of control a couple times and usually when people get out of control they only shut their buttons off for somebody they respect. I know he respected me, because I can get out of control, too.’’
Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers both loved West from his first stint with the Celtics. When they were considering bringing West back, they reached out to O’Neal.
“I got the call when they thought about it and I told Danny, ‘That’s great.’ Danny said, ‘Is that a problem?’ I said, ‘No, but if he does get out of line, I can control him.’ ’’
O’Neal said the biggest difference between this season and last is the environment. Between Ainge and Rivers, West has higher-ups invested in him. But in the locker room, he has teammates and people he calls friends vested as well. They’ll be without him initially, however. Because of the arrest and West’s subsequent guilty plea, he was suspended 10 games by the NBA.
“I know he won’t get out of line because it’s like five or six guys that he truly respects here,’’ O’Neal said. “I don’t think he respected anybody but me on that team last year. So I was able to talk to him.
“I know he’s not going to do anything to disrespect himself or Kevin [Garnett] or Ray [Allen] or [Rajon] Rondo or myself.’’
The past three seasons, he’s been able to call any play with complete confidence because he knew Allen, Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and Paul Pierce would be on the same page.
“With all five of us out there I can call any play I want,’’ Rondo said.
That’s the impact of Perkins’s absence.
“With a new guy — whether it’s Shaq or Jermaine [O’Neal] — it’s kind of hard for them to pick it up,’’ Rondo said. “You can’t call as many plays as you want this early in the season.’’
Rondo’s been an instructor of sorts this preseason, but with the season opener against the Heat just a day away, he’ll go in knowing that he won’t have his full palette of plays at his disposal.
“Rondo could come down last year in training camp, call a play that we ran the year before, and that group ran it and ran it with great execution,’’ Rivers said. “This year he calls a play that we’ve just put in and they still can’t run it because one guy doesn’t know it. It messes up the whole group.
“Having your starting unit intact is huge, especially in training camp. When you’re teaching the rest of the guys stuff, you’ve got a group that can show everybody else exactly how it’s run. But we’ll get it.’’