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

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

WALTHAM, Mass. – When it comes to NBA standings, no Celtic pays closer attention to it than Isaiah Thomas.
 
But the 5-foot-9 All-Star is quick to say that while he’s aware of what’s happening with other teams record-wise, Thomas, like his teammates, isn’t obsessed with it, even with the Celtics (48-26) now in first place in the East following Cleveland’s loss at San Antonio on Monday.
 
“It’s a good feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s still not the end of the year; anything can happen. It’s a nice feeling to be the number one seed for once, but we just have to continue to control what we can control.”

The fact that Boston is even in position to finish with the best record in the East is amazing when you consider injuries and illnesses have forced them to use 13 different starting lineups this season.
 
And the preferred starting five of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson has played together 31 times and posted an impressive 24-7 record.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been consistent in his message that while having the best record in the East is nice, he’s more consumed with the team continuing to improve.
 
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now,” Stevens said of being in first place. “The whole idea is to make progress, get better every day and stay in the moment. You do that if you’re in last place trying to build up or whether you’re in a position where you’re fighting for seeding. Ultimately, we’ve been able to grow and get a little bit better. But I still think we can play a lot better. That’s where my focus is.”
 
And the same holds true for his players. Thomas knows how unusual this season has been for the Celtics, who continue finding ways to win despite frequently being short-handed.
 
The latest example of that involves forward Jonas Jerebko, who is questionable for Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee because of a sore left knee that limited him in Tuesday’s practice.
 
“It’s a long season. A lot of things can happen whether they be good or bad and we know that,” Thomas said. “We just try to withstand the storm we’ve had a few times this year, and continue to try and stay as positive as possible and we’ve done that. We’re in a good position right now. We just have to continue to take care of business.”
  
And that means steadily improving while piling up the wins, particularly against teams such as the Bucks (37-36), who are among a handful of teams that could potentially be Boston’s first-round opponent.
 
Milwaukee comes in having won 11 of its past 14 games.

“It makes the game that much more important,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “Just like the Miami game. We want to let the teams know now, they go up against us in the playoffs, it’s no mercy. We’re going to play hard. We’re going to bring it every single night. We’re going to play Celtics basketball every single night. Them knowing that, we can scare a lot of teams if we’re playing the right way.”

Jerebko questionable for Wednesday against Bucks

Jerebko questionable for Wednesday against Bucks

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Celtics have spent most of this season playing short-handed and Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee will potentially be another one of those games.
 
Veteran forward Jonas Jerebko has a sore left knee and is considered questionable for the Bucks’ game.
 
“Jonas went through about half of [Tuesday’s] practice,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
 
Jerebko has missed two games this season due to illness.
 
Because of Milwaukee’s length at seemingly every position, Jerebko’s ability to play both forward positions will be something the Celtics will surely miss if he’s unable to play.
 
This season, Jerebko has appeared in 69 games while averaging 3.9 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 35.0 percent on 3’s.