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Shaq Adds More Star Power To The Celtics, But Is That What They Need?

The Celtics might have one of the better all-time lineups based on names alone. I mean, forget about the pair of likely Hall-of-Famers in Pierce and Allen, the All-Star going on superstar in Rajon Rondo, and six time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal. Just consider the front court of Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett! Those are two of the best players of all time at their position playing on the same team.

Unofortunately, though, it’s 2010, and only Rondo is still capable of playing at the level that earned them their reputation with any consistency. The Celtics aren’t signing Shaq, they’re signing Shaquille O’Neal, a 38-year-old veteran minimum player. So what do we get, realistically, from O’Neal? Tom Halzack has some ideas.

So the Celtics will take care of a big need by signing both O’Neals – Jermaine and Shaquille, two centers who have seen better days, but still offer solid defense in the middle. They are quite different players and in some ways compliment each other.

When you want to draw defenses out of the middle Jermaine’s mid range game must still be respected. When you want to clog the middle, Shaq still is a force, rebounds well and can still block shots. Scoring-wise, Shaq was more productive last season than Rasheed.

By combining the two O’Neals, the Celtics have made their big-man combo more manageable. With Rasheed, you never knew what you were going to get—a post player, an mid-range elbow shooter, or a bomber. When you needed someone to pound the ball inside, putting in Rasheed was the equivalent to rolling the dice. With Shaq, you know he’s not going to be shooting from much deeper than three feet. With Jermaine, you know the jump shot will be a threat.

But if the Shaq signing brings versatility, it might also bring problems.

Interesting enough, in earlier tweets today Chris Mannix voiced serious concern with Shaq’s pick and roll defense and his coachability. Eddie Johnson also mentioned Shaq as a difficult player to coach and someone with a dominant presence like his affects any locker room – positively or negatively.

So, Danny and Doc, I’m sure had private discussions between themselves, brought it before the important players on the team and had clear discussions with Shaq himself about their vision for his role with the team. If they didn’t, that is where problems could pop up.

Considering that when Perkins comes back they will have to split time between three players who play one position (Jermaine can chip in some time at power forward, but still), there could be some serious ego management needed. But as Halzack points out, there are some positive signs just in the nature of the signing itself.

A huge player with a huge ego has come to grips with reality and age. As the saying goes, he ain’t what he used to be.

But for a perennial league star and one of the world’s most visible athletes, make that ‘most visible personalities’ (TV shows, movies, cds, etc.) to go from $20 million to something slightly over $1 million per year says something about Shaq’s desire to play with a contender, instead of just fading away – ‘graciously’ – as he puts it himself.

But the fact that Shaq is willing to take the minimum to play and has voiced his desire to play with the Celtics more than a few times makes things seem less risky. In fact, it could be that the Celtics just got a bit of good luck.

Shaq is definitely a risk. He adds an unstable element to a locker room that has gelled well for the last few years, and if that ends up leading to problems, or if he’s too old to provide what he did last year in Cleveland, than the signing might be looked back on as a failure—albeit a low-risk one. But if Shaq brings the star power, brings an inside game, and leaves his problems behind, he could be a valuable asset and perhaps a difference maker down the stretch.