Even with Shaq’s retirement coming today at 1:00 p.m., speculation has begun that Shaq will not stay retired for long.
Adrian Wojnarowski wrote, “Goodbye will never come this way. There’s still a comeback left within him, still some late-season clandestine workouts with teams to show he can be useful in the playoffs.
“A former front-office executive, former coach and former teammate of O’Neal’s privately agreed with the premise on Wednesday: Shaq will try to play again. There will be one more ill-conceived, clumsy comeback for him.”
Danny Ainge also remains unconvinced by Shaq’s retirement.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Ainge told the Boston Herald when asked if he believed Shaq would remain retired. “I don’t know. I would not say that. I mean, hopefully Shaq can get his body healthy and then reconsider.”
“I can tell you that even if he’s still out when we start next year, he’s a guy I’ll be making a phone call to at some time during the season,” Ainge continued. “But I believe what he’s saying now is real.”
Under league rules, the word “retirement” means almost nothing unless a team refuses to let a player out of contract. A player can retire and return to the court at any time, either signing a new contract (if he was un-signed before retirement) or playing under his existing one. Since the Celtics and Shaq have a seemingly amicable relationship, the team will likely let him retire with no ramifications, meaning a comeback could come at any time next season.
The problem, of course, is Shaq’s health. He damaged his Achilles heel so badly this season (“I felt like someone had shot me in the back of the leg,” he said) that recovery from Achilles surgery would take approximately nine months. If he underwent the surgery today, that would set Shaq’s return date sometime next March, almost at the time the 2012 playoffs will begin.
“I really, really thought about coming back,” Shaq told ESPN, “but this Achilles is very damaged and if I had it done the recovery would be so long we’d have same outcome as this last year — everyone sitting around and waiting for me.”
There’s also the issue of Shaq’s will to return to the court next season. A recovery from such surgery would likely be a strenuous task; after taking more than five cortisone shots this season and undergoing substantial rehab (“I did everything — and I mean everything — to try to get back,” he said), nine more months of rehab would loom like a 60-page paper due tomorrow that you haven’t even begun writing. Considering Shaq has never built a reputation as a player who enjoys offseason workouts, he will be 40 years old by the time he could possibly return, and that he’s somewhere north of 340 pounds and thus more affected by an Achilles injury than most human beings, a comeback seems somewhere between “unlikely” and “no bleeping chance.”
Hell, Shaq doesn’t even think he’ll miss the competition.
“No, not really,” he told WEEI, “because I was so used to playing at a very, very high level. The last couple of years [my game has been] sort of slipping off. I have a problem with going out there and looking regular. I thought this year, [Rajon]Rondo and them, they used me very well. But trying to play through the injuries—I actually watched a tape of the game that I played in in Miami, and I actually looked terrible out there.”
The speculation will nonetheless continue deep into next season, when Danny Ainge will inevitably call Shaq in an attempt to coax him off the couch and into Boston’s playoff rotation. But if the Big Fella’s smart he will know his NBA days have expired; the obstacles standing between him and his return are too steep—battling age, a battered Achilles, and his own laissez-faire attitude toward working out likely would not end well. There comes a point when a player’s body screams for retirement, and Shaq’s body shrieked all season long.
Now, he’s using that body a little differently.
“He’s overjoyed, he’s comfortable, he’s relaxed,” said Jackie MacMullan. “He was actually just a few minutes ago jumping up and down about the possibility of having sausage and biscuits. This guy, believe me, is ready to retire.”