The Hawks want to believe they’re knocking on the door of the NBA’s elite. This is confirmation that they’re not.
Shaquille O’Neal is expected to sign with the Boston Celtics for the NBA veterans’ minimum salary of $1.4 million per season. For O’Neal, who was determined to try to play for up to two more seasons with the hopes of winning another league title, this means one of two things:
♦ Either Shaq doesn’t view the Hawks as being that close to a title (certainly behind Boston, Orlando and Miami in the Eastern Conference), or . ..
♦ The Hawks don’t believe that O’Neal does anything for them. Because for all of the smoke coming out of the organization that O’Neal wanted way too much money or was demanding way too many minutes or even a starting role, the fact is that he’s going to Boston for a bench spot and NBA pocket change.
ESPN reported Boston coach Doc Rivers, “began pursuing O’Neal last month when the two met in Orlando … and sources say O’Neal chose the Celtics [over the Hawks] because he believes they have a better chance of winning what would be his fifth NBA championship.”
There you go.
The Hawks can be an entertaining team. But they’re also a flawed one. Signing Josh Powell and Jason Collins doesn’t cure their size problem in the post. Al Horford is playing out of position. This decision more likely ensures that they again will be the No. 4 playoff seed in the East and exit in the second round.
How much of this is the result of money? A lot. Ownership and general manager Rick Sund did not want to go into a tax situation with the salary cap. That meant not doing anything of significance to improve the team in free agency this offseason (other than overpaying to keep Joe Johnson).
There are obvious issues with O’Neal, not the least of which are age and weight. But he can still play and provide valuable minutes off the bench, at both ends of the floor. He also would have taken some of the media attention off of Johnson (in a good way) in the locker room. Marketing-wise, of course, he would’ve been a bonanza.
But now it appears he will be a Celtic. The Hawks will point out that they defeated Boston four times in the regular season. Shaq would point out that the Celtics reached the NBA finals (losing in seven games to the Lakers) while the Hawks were swept in the second round (after being taken seven games by Milwaukee in round one). Checkmate.
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