Early last week, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks tipped off their second NBA Finals meeting in five years, with the legacies of Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James and several others on the line. Late last week, an even bigger star had to go and steal the show.
The man of the week last week was Shaquille O'Neal, who shook the Celtics and the NBA to their core with an announcement — first via Twitter, then later in the week in a more official news conference down in Orlando — that he was retiring after 19 years.
The league will live on without Shaq. The Celtics will, too. But times are different now. A new era begins.
Here are seven thoughts on what's next for the C's:
1. A touching moment from Shaq's retirement announcement, for C's fans at least — the big man went out of his way to thank Doc Rivers, one of his two favorite coaches of his career next to Phil Jackson.
"Playing for Doc Rivers was very very special," Shaq said. "We had a lot of talent on our team, but Doc Rivers was always, always, always focused on the team. I remember one time I went 5-for-6, and I said to Doc that I could have gone 10-for-12, or 12-for-18. But he said to me, 'Shaq, it's not about you, it's about the team.' So thank you, Doc."
That team-oriented philosophy has always been one of Doc's biggest strengths. Hats off to Shaq for setting aside his own ego in Boston and figuring that out.
2. Surprisingly, even though he's 39 and in terrible shape, Shaq still has lots of comeback buzz around him. He played coy with the media down in Orlando on Friday, saying "probably not" about a possible return next season, while over at Yahoo Sports, Adrian Wojnarowski has several sources saying he hopes to return. A "former front-office executive, former coach and former teammate" of the big man are all agreeing that he's not done. Me, I'm not buying it. Shaq is old and tired and ready to walk away. Friday's announcement makes sense. It feels final.
3. In one of his many TV interviews after Friday's announcement, Shaq opined that if he'd been able to help the Celtics past the Heat, it would be him playing the Mavericks right now for an NBA championship. He may well be right. If the C's had a little more size and strength up front (not to mention an explosive scorer), they could have been better than Miami this spring. And if they'd been better than Miami, they could have likewise made quick work of the Bulls and been up 2-1 on the Mavs right now. Shaq's failure to come through this spring sent shockwaves around the NBA.
4. Shifting gears to another angle on these Finals: LeBron James caused a ruckus at Saturday's practice in Dallas when he rejected the idea of Shawn Marion guarding him straight up. His comment? "I don't feel like there's one guy in this league that can stop me one-on-one." Sounds arrogant, but he's probably correct. And it leads to an interesting C's-related question — no one's perfect against LeBron, but is Paul Pierce as close as they come? He's been phenomenal against King James for eight years, even knocking him out of the playoffs twice. He's good, but is he better than Marion, Ron Artest, Shane Battier or — gulp — Tony Allen? Tough call.
5. Big news Monday came out of Northern California: The Warriors are replacing head coach Keith Smart, but not with Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank as many suspected. Instead they're going with Mark Jackson, who's been working for ABC as a color commentator during these Finals. Jackson's now got a three-year, $6 million contract to move from the booth to the bench, and that means Frank is likely staying put as Rivers' right-hand man in Boston. Good news for the C's.
6. The Celtics have been working out countless prospects in anticipation of the NBA draft later this month. The most interesting one? None other than Matt O'Donnell, a 6-foot-10, 329-pound offensive lineman from Kingston, Ontario, who had been invited to the rookie camp of the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders but instead headed to Boston to try out for Danny Ainge. Apparently the C's are trying really, really hard to find a big guy to replace Kendrick Perkins.
7. When Patrice Bergeron was allegedly bitten by Alex Burrows in the Bruins' Game 1 loss to the Canucks last week, he was more than a little taken aback. His "I mean, come on!" sound bite has been well-publicized to this point, but don't forget: Bergeron's not the first Boston athlete to suffer a surprise biting attack. Ainge had a similar incident back in his playing days, when he tried to tackle big man Tree Rollins in a 1983 playoff game against the Hawks. Rollins responded by biting right through Ainge's finger; Ainge later needed stitches.
There have been few newspaper headlines of all time funnier than the Herald's "Tree Bites Man" the following morning.
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