This offseason, when the Celtics decided to bring in both Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal as free agents, the first thing that came to mind was who will start at center and play the most minutes?
Both had career lows in about every category last season, but the numbers are clear, and offer an easy argument as to why Shaquille should be the O'Neal to start.
Last season in Cleveland, the Big Shamrock's role became diminished to the point that he was sharing minutes with an other aging center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Often times Shaq would hobble around and occasionally slam another flamboyant dunk here and there, but it was clear that his next contract in the NBA would be his last.
Despite a sluggish effort in Cleveland, Shaq's numbers weren't THAT horrible.
During his 53 starts in Cleveland, Shaq mustered a line of 12.0 ppg/6.7 rpg/1.2 bpg (Jermaine O'Neal checked in at 13.6/6.9/1.8).
For Jermaine O'Neal, his scenario was quite the opposite. He was THE guy starting at center almost every night. In Miami last season, O'Neal played 70 out of the 82 games.
Although the numbers swing in Jermaine's favor, Shaq had less minutes to put up 12 points per game and LeBron James put up 33 points a game vs. Dwayne Wade's 26.
The experience factor also comes to mind.
We all can agree when Kendrick Perkins recovers from his knee injury, he will be the guy at center guarding big names in the East like Dwight Howard or Chris Bosh. However, in the mean time, the Celtics need to have an answer to Howard and Bosh until Perkins comes back.
In 2009, only two centers could statistically stack up against Dwight Howard and contain him fairly well offesively in the Eastern Conference: Perkins, and Shaquille O'Neal. I know that Shaq has lost a step or two defensively over the last few years, but he is the only healthy option on this Celtics team that has the body (7'1, 325 pounds) vs. Jermaine (6-11, 255) to handle Howard in the paint.
Also, this 2010-2011 team is looking for their '08-09 form of high-energy, competitive and experienced starting lineup. Why not start a guy who has an MVP and four NBA Championship rings under his belt?