With Shaquille O’Neal Edging Closer to Boston, His Role on Celtics Still Is Unclear


With Shaquille O'Neal Edging Closer to Boston, His Role on Celtics Still Is Unclear No one ever said Jimmy Kimmel knew how to ask the tough questions.

So no one was surprised on Monday night when the Emmy-winning television host sat down with 15-time NBA All-Star Shaquille O'Neal to talk about his future career plans, both on and off the basketball court.

Kimmel threw Shaq a couple of soft tosses, and Shaq knocked them out of the park. But after Monday night, we still have plenty of questions about the Diesel and his potential future in the NBA.

What we got from Kimmel were two questions:

1. Whether Shaq could imagine playing in a Celtics uniform next season, to which Shaq responded that the Celtics "would be a good program" for the final two years of his career.

2. Whether he would "feel weird" about putting on a Celtics uniform, to which Shaq responded in the negative, prompting Kimmel to point to Shaq's pajama-like wardrobe selection and needle him, "I guess from your attire, you wouldn't feel weird about putting on any kind of clothing."

I don't know about you, but I'm still wondering about a lot of things regarding the possibility of Big Aristotle making a big splash in Boston. Here's just a small sampler of what Kimmel could have asked Shaq on Monday night:

Shaq, how will you fit on this Celtics roster? This is a team that's made three consecutive deep playoff runs with a starting frontcourt duo of Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett. Those guys are used to getting all the minutes, all the touches, all the respect.

Shaq, can you defer to the guys with Celtic seniority? Can you come off the bench and log a modest 10 minutes a night without clamoring for more?

It's not easy for a guy like Shaquille O'Neal to take a backseat with all the money, fame and accolades he has attained throughout his career. He couldn't do it particularly well in Miami, Phoenix or Cleveland — how will he handle Boston, where the team's leaders are already firmly entrenched?

And on the floor, what will his role be? Will he try to take over the offense by demanding 20 shots a night, or will he calmly assume the role of rebounder, shot-blocker and rim-defender that Doc Rivers needs? His track record suggests the former.

Shaq, how do you feel about taking a massive pay cut? The Celtics are well over the salary cap and have already used every penny of their mid-level and biannual exceptions. That means they can only sign new free agents to minimum contracts — in Shaq's case, as an NBA veteran of over 10 years, that means a touch under $1.4 million in each of the next two seasons.

Shaq made $20 million as a glorified bench role player in Cleveland last season. Over the course of his 18-year career in the league, he's made about $291 million. Would he be willing to play for pocket change? His wallet can handle it, sure — but can his ego?

Shaq, how will you get along with the other new O'Neal in town? Jermaine O'Neal is younger than Shaquille. He's quicker. He works harder on both ends of the floor. He deserves to be the starting center on opening night while Perkins sits out with a knee injury, and when Perk returns, Jermaine deserves to be the first guy off Rivers' bench. Shaq is 38, and now's his time to be buried on the depth chart.

Can he handle that? And more importantly, can he be there for Perk and Jermaine as a teammate and a mentor? He's got plenty of wisdom as an 18-year vet, and he can be there to support his fellow Boston big men in a lot of ways if he's willing.

Shaq, how much better will you make this team? Look at it this way — if the Celtics had started Shaq in Game 7 of the Finals last year against L.A. instead of Rasheed Wallace, would it have made a difference? Could the C's have toppled the mighty Lakers? It's an important question. If Shaq isn't going to make the Celtics a better team, then what is all this for? Amid all the hype and the hoopla that comes with signing a celebrity, the end goal is still to win more basketball games. The Celtics won't lose sight of that.

All indications are that Shaq to Boston is close to happening. And Shaq seems ready to make it happen.

But there are still a lot of questions about how the Shaquille O'Neal era will unfold in Boston. Jimmy Kimmel may not have asked them on Monday night, but I have a feeling someone will soon.

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