Boston Celtics

The Curious Case of Shaquille O’Neal

We are happy to welcome Dave Sheridan to the Chasing 23 team. A former Nets fan (he’s paid his dues), Dave spends most of his time being the most unpopular fan just outside of Boston, rooting for the post-Isiah New York Knicks. You can also follow Dave on Twitter at @ToughDSheridan


The fragile state of Shaquille O’Neal’s aging body is all that stands between the Boston Celtics and banner # 18, or that is what diehard fans of The Green are choosing to believe, even though Dennis Lehane’s fictional Boston private detective, Patrick Kenzie, could unearth salient clues from the Boston Herald’s sports page to undermine that parochial belief.

The thirty-nine-year-old O’Neal is facing the diminishing returns of a body that is beset by the cruel realities of aging. Shaq, who has never been billed as a paragon of physical fitness, is seeing his body abandon him, in much the same way the effects of age have betrayed previous NBA big men such as Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and Artis “Rigor Mortis” Gilmore.  Combine that with a career filled with Hack-a-Shaq abuse – and the unending pounding of NBA post play – we are witnessing this once in a lifetime athlete’s body surrender to years of wear-and-tear.

#53 Artis

Boston Celtics fans are holding on to a fragile hope, which defies all rational logic but could be aided with a few well-placed messages sent to a higher power, that Shaq’s crumbling Man of Steel structure will be able to withstand the rigors of what could possibly be over twenty-five postseason games. This belief stands in stark contrast to the Shaquille O’Neal, who sustained a right calf strain, in Sunday night’s 101-90 win over a somnambulant Detroit Pistons squad.

Watching head coach Doc Rivers dejected and stunned face, as he saw O’Neal hobble into the arms of the team’s medical staff after seeing five minutes and 29 seconds of action, it was clear what was on Doc’s mind and racing through the thoughts of knowledgeable Celtics fans – Shaq has blown his Achilles tendon.

A fatal blow to the Celtics championship dreams was averted, but Shaquille O’Neal’s body is about as reliable as Allen Iverson showing up on time for practice in Turkey. Don’t wager much dough, or Turkish lira, on the health of Shaq’s body or Iverson’s devotion to Anatolian customs, but a gut feeling suggests that AI could be persuaded to be punctual with the lure of some sweet Red Afghani. Red Afghani wouldn’t necessarily work for Shaq’s physical state, but an appointment with Victor Conte might work wonders.

Hope prevails in Boston. And Shaq is the embodiment of that hope, but is Shaq truly the answer to Boston’s recent struggles?

Red Afghani wouldn’t necessarily work for Shaq’s physical state, but an appointment with Victor Conte might work wonders.

Celtics President Danny Ainge’s trade deadline deal, which sent center and fan favorite Kendrick Perkins and guard Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for forward Jeff Green and center Nenad Krstic, was based on the belief that Shaq would be healthy for the postseason. Shaq was naturally viewed as the suitable replacement for Perk in The Green’s starting five, but unlike Perk, a healthy Shaq isn’t an option for late game situations because of his poor free throw shooting. (Perkins is no Calvin Murphy at the line, either.)

What this means is that Doc Rivers will most likely finish playoff games with this lineup:

PG Rajon Rondo

SG Ray Allen

SF  Paul Pierce

PF Kevin Garnett

C   Glen “Big Baby” Davis

So, the return of a healthy Shaq, which is deemed paramount to the Celtics raising banner #18 to the rafters, probably will not affect Boston in crunch time. It’s also clear that Doc Rivers would prefer not to employ Nenad Krstic or Jermaine O’Neal as starters, but at the moment, those are his available options. Presently, Jermaine O’Neal has a game that resembles former NBA great Primoz Brezec, and Krstic is viewed as someone who can help anchor Boston’s second unit.

And that’s why Danny Ainge insists he made the trade with Oklahoma City – to improve Boston’s second unit with the additions of Green and Krstic – but sometimes reality sticks its ugly head into the best laid plans.

Jeff Green is becoming a defensive liability for the Celtics. Most noticeably, this occurs when Doc Rivers inserts Green into the game at power forward. Green is ritually used and abused by opposing power forwards, he has struggled to pick up the Celtics defensive concepts and has proven to be a rebounding liability. To manage this situation, Doc Rivers has been employing a second unit front line that has Krstic at center, Big Baby at power forward and Green at small forward.

Ainge’s gamble, in dealing ostensibly Perkins for Green, was to land an offensive force that could reduce the minutes of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Bear in mind that Ainge’s gambit was also based on the precarious condition of Shaquille O’Neal’s health, and the belief that Shaq would be a healthy and suitable replacement for Perk’s physical presence in the paint. With the departure of Perkins and the absence of Shaq, the Celtics are struggling to regain a suffocating defensive presence that possessed the ability to asphyxiate opposing team’s offenses.

The concept of team chemistry has been challenged by Ainge, and the onus of cobbling together a championship team has fallen to Doc Rivers, who may have seen his NBA title dreams depart with Kendrick Perkins. Not only must Doc decipher Ainge’s personnel puzzle, but is this edition of The Green capable of making their bones on the defensive end or has that been altered?

With a week remaining in the regular season, the Celtics are swamped with questions and Doc Rivers hasn’t been able to cement a playoff rotation. It was believed that Pat Riley’s Big Three in Miami would be the team riddled with question marks entering the playoffs, but Ainge’s trade deadline machinations have placed the Celtics in a state of flux.

Are Celtics fans wrong to believe that Shaqulle O’Neal is essential for a long playoff run? Probably not. Shaq is the only Celtics big that can potentially deliver what Perk supplied. Shaq is the missing component that can validate Ainge’s decision to move Perk. Boston’s championship hopes are most likely resting with a thirty-nine-old NBA icon, who entered David Stern’s corporate playground in 1992, and has logged 41,907 regular season minutes in his career.

Danny Ainge has chosen to roll the dice with The Big Shamrock.


30 Responses to “The Curious Case of Shaquille O’Neal”

  1. Great article Dave. As a C’s fan I’m not sure what happens if Shaq doesn’t get healthy. Jermaine O’Neal sucks and we have no depth.

    Posted by Tank | April 7, 2011, 1:01 pm
    • Jermaine O’Neal should be playing ball in the Baltics or anywhere from from the reaches of the NBA. Krstic can play, but I believe the C’s have some doubts regarding how he will withstand the pounding of the playoffs.

      Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 7, 2011, 2:51 pm
  2. Well done, Dave. Still can’t believe the Perkins trade and never bought all the happy talk that followd it; Perk is exactly what is missing right now.

    Posted by Ronnie | April 7, 2011, 1:50 pm
    • Ronnie, thanks for the read. Perk and you being fellow Texans, I can only imagine the sense of loss you must have felt when Perk was sent to the Thunder. It is hard to disagree that Perk is the missing piece to the puzzle right now. Perk bled Celtics Green. Tonight’s game with Chicago should be interesting.

      Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 7, 2011, 2:58 pm
  3. great article. Danny Ainge really screwed things up by trading away Perk. Lucky I’m a Lakers fan :)

    Posted by drinkinghaterade | April 7, 2011, 2:22 pm
    • Maybe Danny was feeling guilty about ’84 and ’86? But what is going on in Lakers land? After last night’s loss to Golden State, Phil and Kobe were conferring on their way back to the locker room. The Lakers are vulnerable. Not saying they won’t win it all, but they aren’t even a lock to get out of the West. The playoffs are going to be an interesting ride.

      Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 7, 2011, 3:04 pm
  4. nice article Dave. Welcome aboard!

    Posted by Brown Mamba | April 7, 2011, 8:28 pm
  5. I love Rondo but i have to admit . . . DerrickRose deserves to be mvp he did really well smh Celtics

    Posted by Mobinote M270s Battery | April 7, 2011, 8:54 pm
  6. I hear Ainge traded me because he thought my knees were shot and that he couldn’t resign me. So basically, I left the Celtics no choice. Think I’m tellin the truth?

    Posted by The Ghost of Perk | April 7, 2011, 11:16 pm
    • After injuring his knee, Perk may have realized how fleeting a hoops career can be. Can’t fault Perk for looking after his family’s future, but watching “The Association”, Perk was all busted up over the deal. He appeared to have cried more than Tom Brady did about being drafted in the sixth round.

      Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 12, 2011, 9:31 pm
  7. I hope everyone realizes that without this trade the celts would be relying on the likes of von wafer and sasha pavolvic to relive Pierce and Allen. With all this Perkins talk it seems as if he should have waited to sign a contract extension and held out for the max

    Posted by Dtrain | April 8, 2011, 8:28 am
    • If the deal wasn’t made, Corey Brewer could have been an option to play behind Pierce and Allen, right? (I realize it’s a hypothetical, but not landing Green could have persuaded Brewer to wear The Green.)

      Von Wafer is talented, but he’s not going to become a member of the NBA Mensa Program.

      Good point about Perk, but maybe he was just the right fit (Kevin Millar) for this particular Celtics team.

      Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 12, 2011, 9:24 pm
  8. Why Shaq hasn’t been laying in a hyperbaric chamber these past two months rather than visiting senior citizen homes and elementary schools is a mystery to me. Rather than dealing players, put Ainge in charge of Shaq’s rehab.

    Posted by '80 state champion Merrimack Cardinals | April 8, 2011, 8:32 am
    • Hyperbaric chamber or tubing on the Sudbury hills? Not that a kid from Merrimack would know a thing about Sudbury, Mass?

      Somehow a New Hampshire state championship doesn’t mean much to this Jersey guy.

      Thanks for the read!

      Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 12, 2011, 9:19 pm
  9. This entire article is sad but true. The Perkins trade took the deepest team in the league (when healthy), knocked a hole in its first team and blew the second team to hell.

    But, as stated, we Celtics fans have a prayer: Shaq could miraculously remain healthy through the Eastern Conference finals. His size and smarts, if not his defensive ability, could be enough to turn the tables on Chicago.

    After that, we have another prayer up our sleeves: Shaq can miraculously stay healthy long enough to help us beat the Lakers or the Spurs.

    While on our bended knees, we also pray that Jeff Green gets a clue, Nenad Krstic levels someone — anyone, Rondo decides to play defense, someone big learns how to set picks for Ray Allen, Ray takes advantage of that, KG and PP get some rest, and the good Delonte shows up to play (not the guy who dressed for the game last night).

    Is that really too much to ask?

    Posted by Kansachusetts | April 8, 2011, 9:00 am
  10. Good stuff.. glad I stumbled in hear, way better than the dreck on ESPN

    Posted by DunkinDonuts | April 9, 2011, 1:01 pm
  11. Good stuff.. glad I stumbled in here, way better than the dreck on ESPN

    Posted by DunkinDonuts | April 9, 2011, 1:01 pm
  12. fun article, but dave sheridan doesn’t include the whole picture:
    Shaq was initially only insurance, the 3rd center of 4 the Celts started the season with. Initially Jermaine O’Neal was the starter, Shaq 2nd, then Semi Erden, all until Perkins was to return in February.
    When JO went down, the C’s couldn’t have dreamed of the success they had with Shaq as starter (record of: 29-8)
    the trade only happened because all 4 centers were out (including Perkins who injured the other leg) and Marquis Daniels (Pierce’s capable sub-in) went down for the season.
    Boston clearly needed at least one center, and at least someone to spell Pierce.
    Although everyone wants to pin Boston’s less than stellar finish on the Perkins trade, and Shaq, it is more a case of injuries (Shaq, Jermaine, Erden, …Perkins, D West, Daniels, … and including Rondo–bone spurs, injured hand…)
    At the outset of the season Boston looked like the deeper, larger, and most dangerous team. Injuries wore them down.
    Unfortunately the NBA is frought with injuries that inevitably effect seasons’ outcomes. I think all back-to-backs should be eliminated, the season shortened. Better for everyone.
    Finally, is Perkins really completely healthy now? Watching the Thunder games, I still sense he is not 100%.

    Posted by legs-diamond | April 11, 2011, 11:01 pm
    • Legs,

      I appreciate the comments and I am a huge fan of William Kennedy’s Albany Trio, where your namesake appears in Kennedy’s “Legs.” Kennedy is a fantastic writer.

      Legs, here is where I will quibble with you. The Celtics made the Perkins deal because they valued Perk’s worth at approximately $4 – $5 million a year. Perk was confident he was worth more than that on the open market, which is evidenced by the deal he struck with the Thunder for four years at $34.8 million. The C’s are an old team, and Ainge was desperate to get younger. Ainge views Green as a more talented player than Perk, and made the move to add Green and Krstic.

      I don’t believe Ainge makes the deal if he knew Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal would both still be question marks at the end of the season. If you were to get an honest answer from Doc Rivers, he never wanted to move Perk.

      Perk was moved to land Jeff Green. As you wrote Erden had a bum shoulder, which he has just returned from in Cleveland, but I believe Krstic was viwed as a nice complementary piece – not the focus of the trade.

      Regarding backups for Pierce and Allen: The C’s would have had a second unit anchored by Delonte West, Nate Robinson and Big Baby. Doc likes to leave Pierce or Allen on the floor to play with the second unit. Add Troy Murphy or one of the O’Neals, and that’s your second unit. It’s not great, but do second units win NBA championships?

      I agree that injuries and age have derailed what appeared to be the Celtics express to banner #18. It’s clear that Rondo has been hurting.

      It also appears the Celtics lost their identity when Perk was dealt to the Thunder. Green and Krstic do not possess a toughness that was essential to Boston’s success -the C’s were feared.If anything, the deal changed the culture of the team and we could employ that mystical word: chemistry.

      You make a valid point that Perk hasn’t been able to remain healthy with the Thunder, which is probaby residual effects from Perk’s offseaon surgery.

      Also, I agree that the season should be shorter.

      Great comments. I can’t completely disagree with your take. And I think both of us would have liked to have been flies on the wall when Ainge explained his moves to Doc.

      Thanks for reading, Legs!

      Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 12, 2011, 9:14 pm
      • Not if Doc had a flyswatter when he heard the news!

        Ainge’s reasoning is hard to fathom. GM of one of the richest teams in the league, he apparently let Perkins go for two big reasons: 1. The difference between what Perk could make on the open market and what the Celtics wanted to pay him, and 2. The belief that Green was the better talent.

        I don’t agree with either reason. Then again, I don’t have to pay the bills. The difference between what Ainge wanted to give Perk and what Perk got was chump change for a team like the Celtics. Perk, though injury prone, is much less so than Shaq or JO. If opposing teams know the Celtics are much weaker without Perk, why couldn’t Ainge couldn’t foresee that? And why did he think he could engineer a massive late-season influx of talent and still field a team with a cogent offense and defense? Finally, regardless of how good Jeff Green becomes someday (assuming he grows as a player) I don’t understand how a second-string small forward replaces a first-string center.

        So it looks to me like Ainge’s reasoning had everything to do with the future of the Celtics and nothing to do with winning a championship this year, when a championship was within reach. Since championships aren’t often within reach, Ainge salved his conscience by believing that Shaq and JO could come back and hold the fort.

        I even think there’s some evidence that Ainge rushed Shaq back to his recent abbreviated return. Doc kept saying Shaq wasn’t ready to play, Ainge kept saying he was. So Shaq played when Ainge said he would and look what happened. That would make Doc even less happy now, I would presume. Put down that flyswatter, Doc!

        Posted by Kansachusetts | April 14, 2011, 1:36 pm
      • Not true, the Celts offered Perk the maximum they were allowed which was 28 mil over 4 years I think. Either way it was more than 4-5 mil/year. They probably thought he was worth a bit more than they offered because they went to the limit. Unfortunately they didn’t think he was worth as much as he would cost on the open market (probably more than the 4 years/34 million OKC gave him).

        Boston thought Perk was worth something in the 7-8 million/year range. On the open market he might have been worth 10. There was a disparity but not as large as you make it sound.

        Posted by matt | April 22, 2011, 7:50 am
        • So the difference between what the Celtics offered and what OKC got him for was $1.5 million a year for four years.

          Chump change. Horrible decision. And every argument that was made against the trade when it first happened has come true. PLUS it was even worse than expected because Green has shown next to nothing.

          Posted by Kansachusetts | April 22, 2011, 9:59 am
        • It was reported that Perk and his representatives were looking for a contact similar to Brendan Haywood’s deal with the Dallas Mavericks. In July of 2010, Haywood signed a six-year deal for $55 million.

          Posted by Dave Sheridan | April 22, 2011, 11:21 am
          • OK, so Boston was willing to pay Perk $7m per year for four years. Oklahoma City paid him $8.5m per year for four years. Perk and his people were asking for up to $9.1m per year for six years, but probably would have settled (and did settle) for less. I still think that’s not close to an even swap for losing your shot at a championship.

            Assuming that Ainge had to do something because Marquis Daniels went down, there are more efficient ways to do that than to lose your shot at a championship because you won’t pony up less than $10 million over four years to keep Perk.

            I realize no one wants to talk about the trade anymore, but a lot of us longtime Celtics fans are like jilted suitors: we won’t get over it quickly.

            Posted by Kansachusetts | April 22, 2011, 2:39 pm
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  1. […] on one Big Baby and two O’Neals nearing the end of their careers. Of biggest concern is the health of Shaquille O’Neal, a large body down low whose body seems to be betraying […]

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