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O'Neal would be the 'Big Mistake' in Boston

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  July 7, 2010 12:23 PM

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Don't do it Danny and Doc. Don't even consider it. I understand you are desperately seeking a back-up big man for the pursuit of Banner No. 18. But putting Shaq in a shamrock jersey would be a huge mistake, a miscue as massive as the man himself.

In case you haven't heard, perhaps because you've tuned out the self-aggrandizing, never-ending soap opera of NBA free agency, there was an ESPN report yesterday that said the Celtics were among three teams expressing interest in Shaquille O'Neal. Celtics coach Doc Rivers told the Globe that the Celtics hadn't ruled out signing the certain Hall of Fame center, and the Celtics have also shown interest in Kwame Brown.

The Celtics are starting to realize that they don't have a lot of options when it comes to acquiring a big man to back up center Kendrick Perkins, who was scheduled to undergo surgery today to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and is expected to be out until December or January.

Brad Miller is likely out of the Celtics' price range, ditto for Brendan Haywood. There are few other appealing free agent options. At this point, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if Rasheed Wallace put off retirement and decided to lace'em up for another season. The paucity of post players is that acute in the NBA.

That leads us back to Shaq, who reportedly wants to play two more years and is willing to do so at mid-level money. The four-time NBA champion, two-time scoring champion, and former league MVP will be employed somewhere by someone, but it better not be in Boston by the Celtics

Sure, the 38-year-old Shaq is in the right age demographic for the Celtics, has an Irish-sounding last name and a host of entertaining self-given sobriquets. There is no doubt he would stage a memorable introductory press conference during which he would ask reporters if they've ever heard of the Black Irish, take a shot at Lakers star Kobe Bryant, and dub himself something silly like the "Big Leprechaun" or the "Big Shaqrock."

Everyone would laugh, but they wouldn't be laughing when an out-of-shape O'Neal prevented the Celtics from fast-breaking, demanded more touches, or chafed at coming off the bench after Perkins returned and he was displaced from the starting lineup, the only place he's known in his 18-year career. At this point, O'Neal's 12 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, his numbers in Cleveland last season, aren't worth the trouble.

What good is a role player who won't play his role? O'Neal has played in 1170 games in his career and come off the bench for nine of them. He started all 53 games for Cleveland last year before Glen "Big Baby" Davis injured Shaq's right thumb. O'Neal then started all 11 playoff games for the LeBrons. In his mind, he will always be a starter and a star. It's hard to believe Shaq would be content playing fifth banana on this team behind Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen (hopefully) and Rajon Rondo, but he's going to be content as a sixth man?

No way.

The only thing more prodigious than O'Neal is his ego, somewhat rightfully so since he's one of the five greatest centers of all-time. Adding another ego to the Celtics would be like trying to use the Exxon Valdez to cap the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Celtics nearly ran off Rivers with their in-fighting, ego struggles, and lack of discipline last season, so imagine how hard his job would be if suddenly it included placating Shaq. The over/under on the first Shaq-Rondo dust-up has to be two games.

People skills aside, adding O'Neal doesn't make sense from a purely basketball standpoint either. During the NBA Finals, Pierce laid out a formula for the Celtics success. It was to get stops, get the ball into Rondo's hands, and run.

"That's pretty much our formula," said Pierce, following Game 2. "We're a halfcourt defensive team, get stops, get the ball to Rondo on offense and let him make plays."

That's the paradox of the Celtics: even though they are an aging team they're actually at their best when they're pushing the pace. That's when Allen gets transition 3-pointers, Garnett gets easy hoops, Pierce can slash to the rim before the defense is set up or find a mismatch, and Rondo can be Rondo. Shaq and up-tempo go together like Lindsay Lohan and responsible, which is to say they don't.

It's not a coincidence that the Phoenix Suns, who didn't make the playoffs in 2009, shed Shaq and advanced to the Western Conference Finals last season. O'Neal actually had a stellar season in the Valley of the Sun, averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while leading the league in field goal percentage (61 percent). But to be effective O'Neal needs time and touches, and he shackled the Suns' trademark transition game and point guard Steve Nash with his glacial pace.

If you thought Wallace was out of shape this season, then you don't want to watch O'Neal profusely perspire his way up the parquet. The Diesel is out of gas at this point in his career. He is strictly a half-court hoopster, which was obvious in the Celtics' second-round series with the Cavaliers. Former Cleveland coach Mike Brown did the Celtics a favor by playing Shaq more than Anderson Varejao, and he did a disservice to LeBron James, the most athletic player on the planet.

Brilliant ideas like surrounding LeBron with a player who clogged up the paint and limited his fast break opportunities are why the Cavaliers are going to have to tune in to ESPN tomorrow to find out if the Chosen One is choosing to stay in Cleveland.

The Celtics should choose to pass on Shaq. Yes, they badly need a big man, but they don't need the Big Whatever He Is because what he's not is a good fit.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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