Celtics

This is (probably) Shaq's end game

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This is (probably) Shaq's end game

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Its pointless to dive into a retrospective on Shaquille ONeals career when were not even sure its over yet.

Of course, today in Orlando, Shaq will take the podium and tell us that it is over; that hes done enough and ready to move on. But we know better. Regardless of what Shaq says this afternoon, no ones ruling out the possibility of this retirement turning into a sabbatical.

First of all, superstars suck at retirement. Jordan, Favre, Magic, Clemens . . . its so hard for these guys to gracefully step out of the spotlight. And no ones ever loved the spotlight more than Shaq.

Second, you know the phone will be ringing. At some point next season, a coach, player or GM will attempt to persuade Shaq out of retirement. Theyll make him feel needed, and Shaq loves to feel needed. On top of that, as he goes about his everyday, somewhat normal life, hell have people at every turn telling him how great he is, that hes still the best and should still be out there. I dont care who it is: fans, cab drivers, waiters, Reality TV producers. Theyll all feed the beast.

Then theres the Achilles. It may never be 100 percent, but there will come a point when it feels much better than it does now. Everything will feel better.

And lastly, theres the fact that Shaqs still a competitive guy. He wants to get even with Kobe. Hes still driven by rings.

Put that all together, and theres no way to logically rule out a comeback.

In fact, if anything, that seems to be the expectation. Maybe we have no choice but to be completely cynical any time an all-time great hangs them up, but for whatever reason (and all of the above reasons), many NBA fans almost consider Shaqs return a foregone conclusion.

But Im not one of them.

Im not ruling out the possibility, because Ill never rule out the possibility, but if you ask me today "Will we ever see Shaq in the NBA again?", I say no.

First and foremost, it comes down to health. Even if he wants to play again, whos to say his body will let him?

Shaqs not retiring because hes lost the desire, or thinks hes ready for new challenges. Thats the type of motivation that usually leads stars to change their mind. In Shaqs case, hes retiring because he cant run up and down the court anymore. He had every intention of playing both years in Boston, but his bodys breaking down. Its already broken down.

The Achilles might have been the injury that broke the seasons back, but it was hardly the only ailment that he dealt with. There was the hip, the knee, the calf, the hamstring, the everything. Even when Shaq was playing (and playing well), he was still in all sorts of pain. Even when he was healthy, he was never healthy. And that was with the help of a round-the-clock training staff, the regimented routine of the NBA schedule, and the very real prospect of another title dangling right in front of him. All that, and Shaq was still a mess.

No offense to the Big Fella (okay, maybe a little) but he had a hard time staying in shape under the Celtics watch. He has a history of not being the most disciplined guy (in terms of fitness) in his non-basketball life. Couldnt you see the honeymoon period lasting for a while on this retirement?

Its the same reason I never thought Rasheed Wallace would return this past season. He and Shaq dont come from the era where guys treat their bodies like temples. They treat their bodies . . . well, a lot like you and I do. And when the phone starts ringing, how long will it take Shaq to get back into playing shape? And can he do it without aggravating one of his laundry list of injuries, and setting off on the same awful journey he just completed?

Listen, we can all agree that, in an ideal world, Shaq should have walked away a few years ago. And if he had, at that point I would have guaranteed an ill-fated comeback. But after this past year, the beating he took, and the harsh realities that he was forced to face, I dont see the physical side coming together for Shaq.

But what about the spotlight? What about the adulation and the screaming fans?

Shaq has screaming fans everywhere he goes. People cheer this guy on while he pumps gas, buys the newspaper, while he does anything. Regardless of whether he ever plays again, the fans will always be there. He'll never be any less than biggest star in any room he's in. His fame won't die with his playing career. It never will.

And hell certainly never leave the spotlight. Hell rap. Hell act. Hell have his own sitcom. Hell take over for Oprah. Hell become the mayor of Newark and the sheriff of Las Vegas. He'll win Dancing with the Stars. Hell start his own line of microwave dinners. He'll do whatever he wants.

But will he ever play basketball again?

I honestly dont think so.

But just in case, I'll keep the retrospective on hold.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”