Shaquille O’Neal won’t be suiting up for the Hawks.
Multiple media outlets reported last night that he was “close” to joining the Celtics, and the team announced today that it has signed O’Neal.
“It is not every day that you can add a player of Shaquille’s caliber to your team,” Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, said in a statement released by the team. “His past experience speaks for itself and we believe that he is a great fit for our roster.”
O’Neal, 38, will play for his sixth NBA team in his 19th NBA season. He won three NBA championships with Los Angeles and another with Miami and now will seek another title with Boston, the defending Eastern Conference champion.
“I am honored to be joining the Celtics,” O’Neal said in the statement. “I have played against Paul [Pierce], Ray [Allen], Kevin [Garnett], Rajon [Rondo], and Jermaine [O'Neal] for many years and it will be great to be able to call them my teammates. I cannot wait to get to Boston to get started in pursuit of another championship.”
Shaq’s signing with Boston means the best center is off the free agent market as the Hawks look for another big man to join their frontcourt rotation. As it stands now, Atlanta has Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins at center.
Last month Horford said the Hawks need to add an “impact” center and power forward Josh Smith agreed. Said Al: “We need to have someone to come in and have an impact. I think that is the position we need if we want to be any type of contender in the East.”
It doesn’t look like the Hawks will add that player in free agency even as the Eastern Conference has gotten tougher. Miami’s SuperFriends are in Atlanta’s division, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq joined the Celtics, Chicago added Carlos Boozer and Andrew Bogut is set to return from injury for the Bucks.
It’s not that the Hawks are weak at center–Horford is an All-Star and Pachulia is an effective backup. But the big, physical frontlines of Boston and Orlando figure to be tough challenges for the Hawks in the playoffs.
Horford is undersized for center by NBA standards and Pachulia is not a big defensive post presence. Collins is a true 7-footer but he struggled with his conditioning last season and hasn’t been a rotation player for going on two years.
There don’t appear to be any “impact” centers left on the market after two waves of free-agent signings. Atlanta was said to have some mild interest in Kwame Brown, who could provide some post defense but is limited offensively. Other centers yet to sign include Josh Boone, Francisco Elson
and Brian Skinner.
The news that Shaq could join the Hawks created a buzz among Atlanta fans. All indications are that his interest in Atlanta was genuine.
He told friends early in free agency that he would be open to signing with the Hawks and one of his representatives contacted the team to gauge its interest, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. The Hawks were intrigued by Shaq but weren’t sure if he would be willing to accept a relatively small salary and a bench role as he nears the end of a career that will lead to his induction in the Hall of Fame.
Shaq’s initial contract demands were for a two-year deal that starts at $8 million, according to a person who talked to him about his plans. The Hawks, unwilling to exceed the luxury-tax threshold, weren’t willing to come close to that figure and eventually it became clear that no contending team would pay Shaq big money.
Boston is limited by salary cap rules to offering Shaq a contract starting at the veteran’s minimum salary of $1.35 million for a player with his experience. The Hawks could offer more by using salary-cap exceptions but weren’t willing to go much higher since their team salary is roughly $2.7 million below the luxury-tax threshold.
With the money being equal, Shaq apparently decided Boston gives him a better chance to earn another NBA championship.