BOSTON -- When you think of Rajon Rondo, you usually think of assists -- the tangible kind, as in the Celtics' franchise record 794 of them that he dished out during the 2009-10 regular season. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon in Waltham, MA, he had racked up another assist for the Celtics franchise that may be a key ingredient to the team making another championship run next season.
Jermaine O'Neal, one of the most coveted big men on the free agent market this offseason behind the big names like Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer and Amar'e Stoudemire, officially became a Celtic today, and he surpsingly noted that a chat with the point guard is what sealed the deal for his arrival in Boston.
"Rondo actually was the guy who probably sold it the most," O'Neal said in his first appearance as a Celtic. "... He really helped me understand where my fit would be."
Rondo's ability to reel O'Neal in was critical for the Celtics' chances next season. In fact, the signing may be even more important than the Big Three's winning pitch to Rasheed Wallace -- who also assisted in Boston's recruitment of O'Neal -- last offseason.
Jermaine O'Neal is excited for the opportunity to play with Glen Davis next season, rather than against him.
With Kendrick Perkins scheduled to be out of the lineup due to an ACL tear until weeks, or even months, after the calendar turns over to 2011, Boston needed a starter-caliber player who could hold the fort up until Perkins is ready to return. Judging by the numbers, O'Neal more than fits the bill.
The 6-foot-11 big man has averaged 14.2 PPG and 7.5 RPG over 14 NBA seasons and is coming off of a career-best 52.9 shooting percentage last season. According to Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, O'Neal is the "perfect fit" for Boston and will complement his teammates well when he takes the court in Celtics green this season.
In Boston, he'll probably be the fourth of fifth offensive option on a regular basis, but the fact that he was the second option, behind only Dwyane Wade, on a 47-win Heat team last season gives you an idea of the power and depth he will add to the Celtics. Even better, he is completely satisfied with playing that role.
"It's not about (offensive) options, it's about winning," said O'Neal. "And that's what it really boils down to."
That selfless attitude also includes his willingness to step out of the starting center position -- which he is likely to hold while Perkins recovers from surgery -- when No. 43 returns to the lineup.
"That's something I want to talk about now, and not talk about anymore during the season," O'Neal said of Perkins' looming return to the lineup, "because when he comes back, you know, it's his position to have."
He went on to note that, "[Perk starting is a] situation that's already proven. And why come in and try to mess up something that's already proven?"
The overriding themes of his 15-minute chat with the media were the fact that he's willing to accept any role necessary to win, but more importantly, that he believes the Celtics are the best team in the NBA right now and give him the best chance to win a title next season.
"I just felt like over the next two years, I needed to be somewhere where the focus was strictly on winning now," said O'Neal. "Not worrying about chemistry, not worrying about anything. It's about just coming in and helping the team win and being involved in something great."
And by great, he doesn't mean making a run to the NBA Finals. He means winning it.
After noting that most of the current Celtics have a championship ring and want another one, O'Neal definitively said: "I don't have a ring, and I want one."
When he and his teammates embark on training camp in about three months, the pursuit of that ring is all he will hear about from Day 1 on. Rondo assisted the C's by helping lure O'Neal to Boston, now it's time for O'Neal to assist Boston in winning Banner 18.