Getting into shape before the season apparently doesn’t intrigue Shaquille O’Neal. He would rather take a month off during the middle of the season, due to injury, and use that month to begin shedding weight.
“Trust me when I tell you Shaq has been busting it hard for a few weeks now,” wrote Greg Dickerson on Twitter, “and his body is in fantastic shape..dropped 15..look out east!”
As Julian Benbow wrote in a piece for the Boston Globe, “Everything hinges on whether the O’Neals can get healthy and stay healthy.” Which, frankly, sucks. The O’Neals have missed a combined 61 games now. It’s not like their bodies became made of porcelain just this season, either. In the last five seasons, Shaq has played 50 or more (50 or more!) regular season games only twice — 53 last season and 75 in ’08-’09, when the miracle-working Phoenix training staff Mr. Migayi’d his body. Jermaine isn’t a pillar of durability, either. In the last seven seasons, he has played 45 or more (45 or more!) regular season games just three times — 70 games last season, 69 games in ’06-’07, and 51 games in ’05-’06.
Which brings me to the “Danny Ainge knows something about the O’Neals that we don’t, or else he would not have made this trade” argument. Do I believe Ainge knows things about the O’Neals’ rehabilitation that we don’t? Of course. Do I think he can guarantee a healthy postseason from the O’Neals, even with his insider information? How could he? These two big men have been injury problems for years. Their string of injuries this season isn’t just an exception to the rule — it IS the rule. Even last year, when Jermaine made it to the postseason still standing, he was hurting. He shot something like 2-fer-3,948,483 in the first round, against the Celtics… blaming his struggles on — guess what? — an injury. (Jermaine said he got “kicked in the ankle.”) Even if Ainge knows the O’Neals are both progressing well, he couldn’t possibly predict their health come May or June. Their bodies have proven shaky, for years.
Kendrick Perkins also has an injury, right now, and that’s important to point out. But Perkins, despite a rash of minor shoulder injuries in the past, had always been durable before this season. The past four seasons, he played more than 70 games each year. In other words, Perkins played 70 games or more games each of the past four seasons; in the past decade, the O’Neal brothers have combined for five 70-game seasons. The recent knee injuries are troublesome, indeed. But Perkins could normally be trusted to stay on the court. He has been far more durable, during his career, than either of the O’Neals.
“We still have size,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I’m almost laughing at people that say we don’t have size. Last time I checked, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq and Krstic, they’re pretty big. It’s almost laughable to me that people keep saying you’ve lost size. I think we may still be the biggest team in the NBA.”
The Celtics still do have size. Plenty of it. But the C’s traded away two seven-foot centers at the trade deadline, receiving only one in return. Left on Boston’s roster are three seven-foot centers (a number down from four last week). Two of those seven-footers have injury histories, both past and present. The other is Nenad Krstic, who can certainly play effective minutes but lacks the girth to defend real centers. Not that there are many real centers in the league, but still.
It’s now a good time to point out that Glen Davis has finished almost every game as Boston’s center. That’s a valid point, and calming. But the Celtics could use a bigger, bulkier player to gobble up minutes, and to match up with the Dwight Howards and Andrew Bynums — especially in the playoffs, when the pace slows and size becomes more valuable than ever. If the O’Neals aren’t healthy, is Krstic capable of being that guy?
There’s no guarantee Perk would have been healthy for the postseason. But history tells us he has a better chance than either of the O’Neals.
“We want them to get healthy,” Paul Pierce told the Boston Globe, referring to the O’Neals. “They’re everything that we need to make a run at the championship. If they don’t get healthy then it’s going to be tough.”
Isn’t that a scary thought?