August 04, 2010
Actually, he's not hiding at all. He's not flying low to the ground and he's not slumming. Short of zooming back to Los Angeles (hard to do on a burned bridge) or Miami (ditto), he's signed with the most storied franchise this league has. One of the more popular, one of the most prominent and one of two that you last saw playing official hoops a month and a half ago. The Celtics.
[Photos: Shaq through the years]
Shaq in Boston, sportin' the green. Chasing that ring, we'd assume. Chasing down prominence, again. From Kobe to Wade to LeBron. Now in with a series of like-minded fogies. Boston? I suppose it makes sense.
Kendrick Perkins(notes), Boston's dutiful defensive-minded pivot man, will be out until at least January. The team signed Jermaine O'Neal(notes), but (hopefully) with the knowledge that his 2009-10 rebirth appeared to slide closer toward the spires of flukedom than an actual recharge. Rasheed Wallace(notes) is trade bait, Shelden Williams(notes) is no more. The C's need a center.
And it's almost sad that they're turning to Shaq.
You saw those games last year. Shaq didn't really look that bad. He looked like ... Shaq. Big guy, one move, two pivots, two hands. To the naked eye, O'Neal looked like a late-30s version of himself. He looked like what you would expect.
It's just that all these raw stats tell you that the Cavs were so, so much better with O'Neal on the pine. That when things weren't Shaq-centric, Cleveland tended to dominate. The easy answer to that? Don't pass Shaq the ball. Don't make him Shaq-centric. To these eyes, Cleveland didn't. And yet, the team's offense stunk with him out there. Tom Haberstroh nailed the best part of it last week:
LeBron with Shaq last year: Cavs +3.4 pts per possession. LeBron without Shaq? +15.7. That experiment was fun wasn't it?
That's per 100 possessions, and with the average game working around 93 or 94 possessions, nearly 16 points is a pretty big deal. That's not an insignificant number. I watched the games, same as you did. I'm not going to pretend to know something, some significant reason, as to why it didn't flow. Kobe Bryant(notes) seemed perfectly adept at driving the lane with Shaq around, same with Dwyane Wade(notes). Why couldn't LeBron James(notes)?
I've no idea, but it didn't work. And when all else fails, I tend to send the stink-eye toward the big fella in his late 30s, and not the best player in the game.
Boston isn't exactly flush with drivers. The Celtics make their hay on the defensive end and try to hold things toward the realm of the mediocre offensively. There's no superstar for Shaq to co-align with in Boston. Just a bunch of like-minded geezers shooting for another ring.
With every move he makes — from Orlando to El Lay to Miami to Phoenix to Cleveland to wherever — Shaq's press conferences get less and less prominent. They don't mean as much. He's not changing any franchises. He's not just some replacement, but he's not the man you clear your cap for on the hope that you can sign him. It's an odd, uncomfortable-to-anyone-but-Shaq situation.
And it's because he's, above all, an entertainer. Not a big man. Not a minutes sopper. A song-and-dance man, so to speak. That's just how Shaq is now.
The problem is that, as uncomfortable as it may have been to see one generation's best song-and-dance men slumming on Cannonball Run or some such tripe, athletes don't have the same bit of leeway. It's still about performance and not presence. So while it might be kind of cool to see Shaq in Boston, it's not like seeing Liza Minnelli on "Arrested Development," or Mel Brooks' cameo on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
This is what Shaq's backed himself into, for better or worse. His skiff is more "ha-ha" that "clear out, and dump it inside." The man still takes the lumps and tries to win. But on a winter night, with the basic cable running? He's more ABC Family than a TNT double-header.
I'm not asking the man to retire. Nor am I going to waste your time trying to assume how things will work for him in Boston. I'm guessing things will work poorly, based on how it has gone over the last half-decade with this four-time champion.
Shaquille O'Neal in Boston makes sense in all the rational terms. He's a star, he's a veteran and the Celtics badly need a center. If they fall short again in June (or May or even April), O'Neal won't be the reason why.
But, outside of interest in seeing this legend wearing those legendary colors, it's nothing to get too excited about. Those days are over, and Johan Petro(notes) may have been the better hire. Good thing Shaq lowered his price.
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