SALT LAKE CITY — If there was an advantage the Celtics gave themselves with the moves they made in the offseason, it was unrivaled size. After losing to the Lakers in the Finals – the Lakers had a carousel of 7-footers at their disposal — they went out and assembled their own wall of big men, stockpiling height and girth by using their mid-level exception on Jermaine O’Neal, luring Shaquille O’Neal in with just the veteran’s minimum and finally bringing Semih Erden over from Turkey. They were easily the biggest team in the league, and once Kendrick Perkins’ returned they’d only get bigger.
But at last week’s trade deadline, the dealt Perkins and Erden away, getting Nenad Krstic back in return but losing a key piece of that wall in the process. Neither of the O’Neals have played since January and suddenly the team with the biggest frontline in the league seems to have downsized.
“We still have size,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I’m almost laughing at people that say we don’t have size. Last time I checked, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq and Krstic, they’re pretty big. It’s almost laughable to me that people keep saying you’ve lost size. I think we may still be the biggest team in the NBA.”
The O’Neals have missed a combined 61 games this season. After putting off surgery for most of the first half, Jermaine O’Neal decided to have arthroscopic suregery on his left knee in January and the team expects him to return before the end of the regular season. Shqauille O’Neal has battled issues with his right calf, hip and leg throughout the season and is now sidelined with an inflamed Achilles that was showing no signs of improvement when the Celtics left out for this road trip two weeks ago.
“We want them to get healthy,” said Paul Pierce. “They’re everything that we need to make a run at the championship. If they don’t get healthy then it’s going to be tough.”
Though Erden had battled issues with his shoulder and right abductor, sitting out three games earlier this month, he was an additional 7-footer that gave the Celtics added length.
“We’re definitely hurt when you give up Semih Erden,” Pierce said. “He’s our second 7-footer. You could say one thing about exchanging one seven footer for another one, but we also lost another one. So that’s added size that we had. It’s something that we’re just going to have to put behind us and know that, we’ve got to work with what’s in the room and just play basketball.”
Everything hinges on whether the O’Neals can get healthy and stay healthy. Shaquille O’Neal has been working out in Orlando and will join the team when it returns to Boston this week. Jermaine O’Neal has been working out individually and the team has no timetable for his return. The Celtics are 27-9 when Shaquille O’Neal is in the starting lineup, a stat that Doc Rivers is aware of.
“Obviously, they have to be healthy, but all of them have to be healthy,” Rivers said. “So, we’ll see about that. If they’re healthy, we’ll have a lot of size. That will not be an issue.”