BOSTON // Shaquille O'Neal has changed The Big Three of the Boston Celtics into a Very Big Four. The 7ft 1in, 325-pound centre in the twilight of a brilliant career is moving to the Eastern Conference champions, hoping to add to his four NBA titles. O'Neal signed a two-year contract worth about $3 million (Dh11m) on Wednesday, according to sources close to the deal.
So this is where Shaq's colourful career will end after 20 seasons if he completes his contract with the Celtics. One of the NBA's most charismatic players will finish with a legendary franchise that already has 17 championship titles to their name. After receiving little interest from other teams, O'Neal will play on that floor with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston's "Big Three" since Garnett and Allen arrived before the 2007/08 season
From the first pick in the 1992 draft out of Louisiana State to the dominant, rim-rattling inside force to complementary player, O'Neal's NBA travels have taken him to six teams and 15 All-Star games. He is the fifth leading scorer with 28,255 points and 14th in rebounds with 12,921 in league history. He has averaged 24.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks and was the NBA MVP in 2000. His foul shooting might still be a problem and his lumbering style could slow down a running game, but the Celtics need the big centre because Kendrick Perkins is out, possibly until February, following knee surgery.
"If we get to another Game 7 down the line, I'm sure we will be glad we have Shaq on the team," Wyc Grousbeck, the Celtics co-owner, said. The team considered too old by some, despite nearly winning the title, has decided to rely for two more years on a group of 30-plus stars, all likely to be heading for the Hall of Fame. O'Neal, 38, joins Pierce, 32, Garnett, 34, and Allen, 35. The Celtics also signed free agent centre Jermaine O'Neal, 31 - a six-time All-Star.
All five are signed for two seasons, except Pierce, who has four years left on the deal he signed after the season. Rajon Rondo, the 24-year-old point guard, also is in the fold for four more years. "I am honoured to be joining the Celtics," Shaq said in a statement issued by the club. "I have played against Paul, Ray, Kevin, Rajon, and Jermaine for many years and it will be great to be able to call them my teammates. I cannot wait to get to Boston to get started in pursuit of another championship."
The Celtics won their last title in 2008. "I am very excited," Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, said. "Adding a player like Shaq is a major plus and it fills a void for our team." O'Neal won three championships with Los Angeles along with his latest, in 2006, with Miami when he was teammates with Dwyane Wade. The Cleveland Cavaliers signed O'Neal before last season, hoping he could help LeBron James win his first title. O'Neal averaged a career-low 12.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 53 games, and the Cavaliers lost the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Celtics in six games.
That is where he is scheduled to begin his next season in a match-up on October 26 against the Miami Heat with James, Wade and Chris Bosh. On Tuesday, O'Neal sounded unsure if he would ever play another NBA game after a difficult off-season of uncertainty. "I came into the league very graciously and want to go out very graciously," he said. My main thought was I would like to play for a winning franchise, somebody that's used to winning, somebody that keeps winning. Hopefully, I'll make my decision here in the next one or two days." Now it's been made. * AP