Tim Povtak of FanHouse reports that the Hawks have offered Shaquille O’Neal a two-year contact starting at the full mid-level exception. That figure is pegged to the league average salary and won’t be known until the league completes its audit this week but should come in at about $5.5 million for the first season.
I can confirm at least the Shaq half of this story: He’d be interesting in playing for the Hawks, according to a person with knowledge of his free-agent desires. But a person familiar with Atlanta’s plans said it’s doubtful the team has made such an offer this early in the free-agent process. (UPDATE: Shaq’s agent, Perry Rogers, says he hasn’t heard from the Hawks.) The Hawks are seeking a bulky center, and ASG is said to be willing to use the mid-level exception and pay some luxury tax if necessary to do so, but so far it doesn’t appear the Hawks have decided whom else to target after re-signing J.J.
Shaq, 38, just finished the least productive of his 18 seasons. He’s certainly a more physical deterrent in the post than anyone the Hawks have now, and his blocks and rebounds numbers are still pretty good. But Zaza’s production actually compares decently when adjusted for minutes and when accounting for Shaq’s much higher usage rate. And if Shaq were to play a major role for the Hawks it would mean less minutes in the lineup for Al and/or Smoove, who are more effective players.
If the Hawks are looking to make a buzz as Potvak suggests (”They also could use O’Neal’s star appeal to help create some much needed interest in the franchise,” he writes) then Shaq can still do that. But they should be careful what they wish for in that regard. The Hawks are looking to create a more serious and dedicated culture for the team with a first-year coach, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that Shaq probably isn’t going to help that effort. His approach is that of an 18-year vet with four rings and a nonchalant view of the regular season.
If Shaq came to Atlanta, it wouldn’t be long before he’s telling teammates and media that the Hawks simply need to be dominant at home and .500 on the road and everything will be OK. When L.D. says the Hawks need to play with more energy and effort every night to make it a habit, Shaq at some point would suggest the Hawks don’t really need to worry until March. When the Hawks lose games they shouldn’t and slide down the standings, Shaq would shrug and say they just need to hold onto homecourt advantage for the first round and everything will be cool. And if Shaq becomes unhappy with his playing time, then I don’t need to tell you Shaq is not going to be quiet about it.
If the Hawks signed Shaq, he would instantly become the biggest presence in the locker room, the guy with the most cred and the biggest voice. In addition to deciding if Shaq could still help them on the floor, the Hawks would have to be sure this team is ready to handle his off-court influence.