Shaq's addition should help the Celtics contend with the Lakers, Magic, and Heat. When it came down to it, Shaquille O’Neal only really had one place he could sign. But do not let that fool you, he is a great addition for the Celtics and Boston is a better team for signing him.
The ‘Big Shamrock” is no longer a dominating force in the middle who cannot be guarded with just one man. What he can be though, is a force off the bench. He took an enormous pay cut and swallowed a lot of pride by taking the veteran’s minimum ($1.4 million). If he can swallow his pride once again and learn to relish his role as a bench player, the Celtics just became much better. Shaq may not share the Celtics' defensive mindset, but the situation he is going into is beneficial in multiple ways. Provided that Kendrick Perkins is able to rejoin the team in the latter half of the season and resume his position at starting center, Shaq is a bigger asset than he would be if Perkins was healthy the entire year.
The first way that Perkins’ injury helps Shaq is that it allows him to accept an intermediate role on his way down to the limited one he will end up with when Perkins is healthy. Jermaine O’Neal will be the starter to begin the year, with Shaq being the second string. After starting last year, there will be a bit of a transitory period as he accepts a lesser role. When Perkins comes back, Shaq will seemingly be pushed down to third on the depth chart. That will be tough to swallow for the self-declared ‘most dominant player ever,’ but the fall from second to third option in the middle will be easier than the fall from first to third.
The return of Perkins will lead to less playing time for Shaq. This seems like it would be an issue, but in reality it is a chance for Shaq to rest up for the playoffs. The ‘Big Aristotle’ will be close to turning 39 by the time the Celtics get their starting center back, after all. Less playing time will allow him to rest up and get ready for their playoff run. Fresh legs are a key in getting the most out of someone who has been in the league since shortly after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's retirement.
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The Celtics seem to have an overcrowded frontcourt. With Shaq, Perkins, Garnett, Davis, and Jermaine O’Neal, there does not seem to be enough minutes to go around. Davis and Garnett will be the only players to play the 4, and there has been speculation about J. O’Neal playing here also, but it will likely never happen. Boston likes ‘Shrek’ (Davis) so much that he averaged 20 minutes in the postseason. With the newfound depth at center, Davis' minutes will be cut as it is, and O’Neal will not be enough to take away his minutes at power forward. Jermaine’s poor defensive reputation has also been pointed at as a reason that he will not play the 4, but it should be noted that Davis had a worse defensive rating last year than either O’Neal.
Garnett averaged 33 minutes in the playoffs, and it will probably be around the same next year, with Davis getting roughly 15 minutes. At center is where it gets tricky. Especially with Rasheed Wallace gone, Perkins is the one of the primary enforcers of this team, and he brings a defensive mindset that neither O’Neal can approach. Because of this, he will end up with roughly the same number of minutes he averaged last post season, 25. Both O’Neals will probably end up playing 10-15 minutes.
That last fact is the key to the Shaq acquisition. In the playoffs, for 10-15 minutes a game, Shaq is better than anything else the Celtics can throw out there. Those minutes would be split between Davis, the other O’Neal, and maybe a bit of Perkins. Davis is capable of games like Game 4 of the Finals, but his PER and defensive rating are both poor and his offense is not much to brag about. On your average day, he is just an undersized decent back-up power forward. Jermaine put up the same PER and a worse defensive rating than Shaq last year, and Perkins' intensity is better when it is not too spread out. If Shaq can put out the effort in 10-15 minutes that he usually puts out in twice that long, he will be a huge weapon.
Shaq helps the Celtics in all of their primary match-ups for next year. The Celtics have their eyes on beating 3 teams in order to win the Finals: Orlando, Miami, and LA. Shaq has not held Dwight Howard under his averages, but that is not his role for this team. He has 2 inches and 60 pounds over Howard, and he will use those advantages to knock around Howard and play the kind of physical defense the Celtics like. If the Celtics were able to get under Superman’s skin last year, this year they will send him over the edge when including a few hard fouls from the Diesel.
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Miami’s weakness is their front court defense, specifically at center. Shaq won’t have too much trouble with Joel Anthony, and while Big Z has had some success containing him, I don’t see a Bosh-Ilgauskas line doing too much against a Garnett-O’Neal line. Shaq’s familiarity with his former teammate will also be beneficial. The pick and roll is his weakness, but he can switch and play off Wade or LeBron a bit, daring them to shoot. None of the Heat’s centers have a significant post-up game that would leave the shorter defender in a huge amount of trouble, and people can slide back into position. His familiarity with the Heat’s big stars will be beneficial in his defense and possibly for the team as a whole. Bynum has had no luck with the Shaq, with his high point being a game where he got 10 points and 7 rebounds. Gasol shot 9-for-24 in the two games against Cleveland last year. Even aside from the success against the Celtics greatest rival’s players, more than anything, Shaq just represents another 7feet-1 player that can bang with the Lakers' frontline and grab boards (which we all saw the significance of in last year’s Finals).
If the Celtics are able to turn a deal for Rudy Fernandez and get some backcourt depth, they will be ridiculously stacked at every position. They might even be favorites against the Lakers and their upgraded bench. One thing is clear, Shaq to the Celtics not only gives them protection against injury, it makes them a better team and helps them with everyone they are trying to beat.