By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Aug 3 2010 9:16PM
Desperate for frontcourt depth and intrigued by what the self-described "Most Dominant Ever" big man has left in his 38-year-old tank, the Boston Celtics were "close" on Tuesday, according to a league source, to signing center Shaquille O'Neal for next season.
The Celtics, the source said, have told O'Neal that he has to come off the bench next season, and that O'Neal said he could accept a reserve role for the first time in his career. The three-time Finals MVP has not had many suitors this summer that had either the playing time or money to offer him, and O'Neal is running out of places that can give him a chance to compete for a championship as his career draws to a close.
Boston was leery of signing O'Neal because if he became unhappy with his role, that unhappiness could pervade the entire team, as the Celtics believe happened with O'Neal in some of his previous stops in recent seasons. O'Neal started in his one season last year with the Cavaliers, including after his return from a right thumb injury that kept him out of the final five weeks of the regular season.
Sources have indicated that Cleveland Coach Mike Brown's decision to play O'Neal ahead of forward J.J. Hickson and veteran big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas caused friction within the Cavaliers' locker room.
O'Neal averaged 12 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Cavaliers, shooting a still-robust 56.6 percent from the floor, and seemed to mesh reasonably well with LeBron James. Brown, who was fired after Cleveland's second-round loss to Boston in the playoffs, mixed and matched lineups throughout the regular season, including playing O'Neal and Ilgauskas together at times. Until the loss to the Celtics, there wasn't much complaining about his use of O'Neal.
O'Neal has told associates for several weeks that he thought he could help the Celtics, who will be without starting center Kendrick Perkins for most of, if not all, of next season after tearing his MCL and PCL in Game 6 of the Finals last June against the Lakers. Perkins underwent surgery two weeks ago, and while he hopes to play next season, the Celtics aren't optimistic that he'll be able to contribute much. In the interim, veteran center Jermaine O'Neal--signed to a two-year deal earlier this summer--will start at center for Boston.
Boston is two big men down after Perkins's injury and the retirement of Rasheed Wallace, who has given the team no indication that he's re-considering his decision.
Both Boston and O'Neal are motivated to make this arrangement work. The Celtics still need big bodies to deal with the likes of Dwight Howard in the east, and the Lakers' Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum if they were to make the Finals again next year. Without Perkins on the floor, Boston was bludgeoned 53-40 on the glass, giving up 23 offensive rebounds, in the decisive Game 7 loss to Los Angeles. For his part, O'Neal still wants a chance at a fifth NBA championship, especially now that Kobe Bryant has five and is going for a Threepeat next season as the unquestioned leader of the Lakers.
Comcast SportsNet Boston first reported that the Celtics were near a deal with O'Neal.
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