x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Celtics are sweating on O'Neal's fitness

The Celtics don't have anybody exactly A-plus in defence and desperately need Shaquille O'Neal to regain his fitness, and quickly.

The Boston Celtics desperately need a fit Shaquille O'Neal for their season run-in. David Goldman / AP Photo
The Boston Celtics desperately need a fit Shaquille O'Neal for their season run-in. David Goldman / AP Photo

After a wacky week in the NBA, which saw more trading than at a stock exchange, two swaps in particular raise delicious possibilities that might not have occurred to you. As coaches like to say, let us take them one at a time.

The Boston Celtics decision to send Kendrick Perkins, the centre, to the Oklahoma City Thunder dropped more jaws than even Blake Griffin's dunk over the compact car. (How about an SUV next time?)

The constant message Doc Rivers, the coach, sends to his team is defence, but he was always preaching to the converted with Perkins.

When Rivers would point out to the media that his ideal starting five had never lost a play-off series, he was sending a compliment to Perkins, Boston's only non-All Star who brought down-and-dirty to the high-and-mighty line-up.

So, what is the deal with this deal?

Well, Jeff Green, a forward, and Nenad Krstic, a centre, who went the other way in the trade, are fine players both but not exactly A-plus on defence.

Which means that, if the Celtics are to bask under a confetti shower after winning an 18th title, they will need a (swatting) hand from the league's oldest, creakiest player.

Hello, calling Shaquille O'Neal? Where are you? Orlando? What, picking out a place in some Florida retirement community?

Actually, the league's elder, age 38 going on 50, is rehabilitating there from yet another injury. This one is to his Achilles' tendon, an appropriate body part, given that it is named after a character in Greek mythology. O'Neal has referenced a Greek philosopher for his favourite nickname, the Big Aristotle.

O'Neal has missed 22 games this season and has logged barely 20 minutes in those for which he answered the bell. He remains productive, albeit in short spurts, averaging nine points, five rebounds, a blocked shot and a bucket of poured sweat from diligent defence.

The problem is, O'Neal sometimes gives the impression that he is treating his 19th season as a lark, squeezing in a little hoops around other interests.

He was a guest conductor for three songs with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall. He spent an hour in Harvard Square pretending to be a statue. (Insert joke here on O'Neal during his more immobile periods on the court.) He posted a video of himself in women's clothing, belting out a Beyonce number.

OK, O'Neal maintains a lusty zest for life. But the Celtics Nation would rest easier if it knew his effort to stay fit and focus on his job, especially with the empty locker vacated by Perkins, is a priority.

"We need to get Shaq healthy," Rivers said. "Shaq will be healthy, but if Shaq plays great, then this deal was obviously really, really good for us. Getting Shaq in great shape ... is really going to be important for us in the play-offs."

If the post-season commenced tomorrow, the Celtics would be the top seeds in the East, bracketed for a second-round series with the Orlando Magic.

Should O'Neal be unable to handle Dwight Howard, or is off rehabilitating while supplying YouTube with fresh videos, the team will rue this trade.

On the other hand, if he is bear-hugging former teammate Kobe Bryant after Boston slay the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals, this will be a memorable trade for allowing the beloved Big Bopper, a man large enough to block out the sun, one more moment in it.

Meantime, how about the New Jersey Nets trying to poke and prod the lordly Knicks into a neighbourhood feud? The NBA could use this, knowing that New York animus between the Yankees and Mets enlivens Major League Baseball, as does the Giants and Jets in the NFL.

Though New Jersey missed out on Carmelo Anthony, who got his wish by becoming a Knick, Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets owner, crowed that his offer to the Denver Nuggets upped the ante.

"I think we made a very good tactical decision to force them to pay as much as they can," he said.

This, after a massive promotional billboard arose last summer depicting Prokhorov and minority Nets owner Jay-Z, the rapper. The supersized duo is visible to everyone who walks into Madison Square Garden ... for Knicks games.

Prokhorov answered the Knicks' deal for Anthony by prying Deron Williams away from the Utah Jazz. Williams may lack Anthony's cachet but, as a five-star point guard, he can match Anthony's impact on any team.

Now the clock is ticking on the Nets, who must persuade Williams, before his contract runs its course after next season, to stay. Williams, it must be noted, was less than enthused about relocating.

Should they fail, the Knicks lie in wait, eager to team Williams with Anthony and Amare Stoudamire to match the Miami Heat's terrific trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

It is game on with the newest NBA rivalry. Nets versus Knicks could get as nasty as O"Neal's scowl.