As Jermaine O’Neal prepares to return to action tonight in San Antonio, the news is grim regarding a return to the floor of the other vital part of the C’s championship hopes in Shaquille O’Neal. Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald caught up with Danny Ainge yesterday, who delivered the disturbing quote in today’s paper:
“I don’t have any idea,” Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said after watching the workout by O’Neal, who is attempting to recover from a sore right Achilles tendon. “It could be a week or two weeks.
“I watched him work out, and he’s starting to do things on the court. We’re just still not sure of when he’s going to come back.
There probably isn’t a soul in the Celtics organization who would have predicted, even two weeks ago, that Jermaine O’Neal would return to full practice and probably a game before his namesake.
But after yesterday’s practice, that’s apparently the case. Though Shaquille O’Neal joined the Celtics on their last road trip through Houston, New Orleans and New York, he chose not to travel during their current four-city trip.
“I’ve seen a lot of things over the years,” Ainge said when asked about this latest twist.
CH’s Analysis: A cruel twist indeed, but at this point can it be considered an unexpected one? For one, I am happy Ainge decide to eliminate any timetable expectations going forward regarding Shaq’s return. Achilles’ injuries are slow to heal to begin with, and when you put a 350-pound frame on top of that, things get unpredictable.
The media has, and will continue to be hungry when it comes to a timetable for Shaq, but the truth is all the anticipated returns and subsequent setbacks has done nothing but raise false hopes for the C’s fanbase at large. The fact of the matter is, with just 9 games left in the regular season, there’s no point in rushing Shaq back just to get acclimated. He’s shown he can play well with the starters and obviously regaining rhythm will be a major concern, but not one that is above overall health.
Shaq will play through the pain, but only when he absolutely has to, especially considering the team is going to need him to gut it out for what they hope is 20+ games in May and June. It’s also worth mentioning Shaq returned in the playoffs for Cleveland last year after missing the final month and a half of the regular season with a thumb injury, which Big Baby may or may not have caused. Different injury obviously, but a good sign Shaq will show up when the chips are on the table.
Despite the lengthy absence, Shaq was arguably their 2nd best player for the Cavs before they bowed out to Boston in 6 games. He was certainly their second option in that offense. Whenever he comes back this year, he will obviously be asked to do a lot less and have a lot more help around him.
Given the choice of just one of the O’Neals returning on schedule, I’m happy in a way Jermaine O’Neal will be returning before Shaq in the sense that Jermaine will take longer that get re-acclimated to the C’s system.
Doc jokes about not having Jermaine around the team, but the fact of the matter is he probably only participated in a handful of practices during the regular season this year, and hasn’t been with the team in over two months. He needs the reps with both units as Doc tries to decipher what the team can realistically get out of him for the postseason.
The main concern I have for both of these guys, specifically Shaq is in a first round series against an up and coming athletic team like Philadelphia. A team I feel could legitimately beat Boston if they don’t have one of the O’Neals effectively patrolling the paint. That in itself is scary enough of a reality to push hard for the second seed into the regular season finale.
For now though, the time has come to be realistic with Shaq. He will be back later than anyone of us will have wanted or expected, but at this juncture, that’s the reality of the situation.