“I started out as a young ninja and killed all of the shoguns. I am a shogun now and I’m holding my spot. There probably won’t be another shogun after this.” — Shaquille O’Neal, Oct. 2008
Once a shogun, now just a hired gun — with the news that Shaquille O’Neal has signed a two-year deal with the Boston Celtics (sponsored by Metamucil), it’s never been more clear Shaq’s legacy will not be associated with any one NBA team. It’s entirely possible that he might go down in history as the greatest NBA player to never have his jersey retired.
If any one team was going to retire Shaq’s jersey, it would have been the Los Angeles Lakers — he played his best years there and led them to three consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002. They might have gotten over their bitter divorce in 2004, but choosing to sign with the hated Celtics? Some transgressions can’t be forgiven.
It’s hard to say whether or not this signing makes the Celtics better-equipped to challenge Miami, Orlando and Chicago in the East. At 38 years old, Shaq is obviously a shell of his former self. His help defence (particularly on screen-and-rolls) is virtually non-existent now and he may not have the stamina to play more than 20 minutes per game. However, it’s a mistake to write him off as being completely washed up. He’s still tough to handle in single-coverage — he was one of just eight players last season to average at least 12 points per game while making at least 55 percent of their shots.
While we’ll probably never have this confirmed, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Shaq made overtures to the Miami Heat before this — how quickly do you think Dwyane Wade and LeBron James said “No way” when Pat Riley bounced that idea off them? Since Kobe and the Lakers obviously weren’t going to take him back, the Celtics were his next best opportunity to try to win his fifth championship ring.
As for the Celtics’ reasons for taking a chance on The Big Shillelagh (you read it here first!), this gives them additional frontcourt depth (along with Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis) as they wait for Kendrick Perkins to heal from knee surgery that will probably keep him off the court until February. More importantly, this creates the possibility for Celtics president Danny Ainge to stick it to a couple of old nemeses — Pat Riley and the Lakers — in a particularly satisfying fashion.
You think Ainge isn’t still stinging from his seven-game finals loss to the Lakers in June? You think he wouldn’t like to get some measure of revenge on Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who coached the Lakers to championship series victories over the Celtics when Ainge was a player in 1985 and 1987? Ainge is one of the most competitive players who ever stepped on an NBA court and he is willing to do whatever it takes to win. He was fined $25,000 by the league in May after a TV camera caught him throwing a towel in the air to distract J.J. Hickson at the free throw line during Game Two of their playoff series with the Cavaliers. In a 1988 meeting with Celtics president Red Auerbach, Ainge tried to convince Red to trade Larry Bird and Kevin McHale because he considered them too broken down to help the Celtics compete for a championship anymore. The only thing Ainge considers sacred is winning.
The weirdest thing about this news is that it actually seems a little anti-climactic compared to some of the other craziness of this past month. Who would have ever thought that Shaq signing with the Celtics wouldn’t even be the most unholy alliance of a particular off-season? I guess this proves that Shaq’s new teammate Kevin Garnett was right — anything is possible.