Shaq's 1-on-1 with Blakely: Hint at return?

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Shaq's 1-on-1 with Blakely: Hint at return?

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

ORLANDO, Fla. Shaquille O'Neal has every intention of never lacing up for an NBA game again.

His mind and body are both in agreement on that - right now.

But the right Achilles injury that limited him during the 2010-2011 season - and essentially led to his announced retirement on Friday - will be surgically repaired soon.

A healthy Achilles means a healthier O'Neal, who acknowledged that the recovery time from the injury will last about nine months which just so happens to be right about when the Boston Celtics will be within weeks of another playoff run.

Can that run include a return by O'Neal?

"Probably not," O'Neal told Comcast SportsNet moments after announcing his retirement at his home in Orlando, Fla.

When reminded that such an answer leaves the door for speculation open wide open, O'Neal responded, "I say probably not; you finish the sentence how you want to finish it."

OK.

If O'Neal has the surgery and he's feeling back to his not-so-old self, no one would be surprised if he decided to return to Boston for one last shot at a title.

"I don't think he'll be like Brett Favre and go back and forth, over and over again," said one Eastern Conference executive on Friday. "But if he does have some kind of surgery and he's feeling pretty good and maybe most important, the Celtics need another big man, I think the expectation becomes that at the very least, both him and the Celtics would think about trying to make it work."

But first things first.

O'Neal said he will meet with Celtics team physician Dr. Brian McKeon in a few weeks to figure out a time to do the surgery.

"Right now, I still have a limp. My back is off, my hip is off," O'Neal said. "I have to get my body right."

And that is why a return by O'Neal seems more likely than one by another former No. 36 for the C's, Rasheed Wallace.

When Wallace walked away from the game following Boston's Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, he was both mentally and physically worn down.

He had essentially nothing left to give the C's.

The issues affecting O'Neal are quite different.

He has retired from the game for one reason - he's not physically able to play anymore.

But another trip under the knife could change that, and in effect, potentially change his outlook on retirement.

When you look back on the Celtics this past season, you can't help but recognize how dominant they were when O'Neal was healthy.

In the 25 games he played 21 or more minutes, the Celtics were a gaudy 21-4.

Although his role was limited, he was the one player that no team could match up with and expect to be successful.

"Everybody knows if I was at least 80 percent healthy, we could have gont it done," O'Neal said. "If we would have got past Miami, we would be playing now."

And while O'Neal talked about the many opportunities that await him in retirement, you can't help but get the feeling that if the body could get right, the mind would soon follow.

So for all those looking at his No. 36 jersey as a throwback, you might want to hold off on that.

Because the playing days of O'Neal won't ever be what they were during his 20-point10-rebound days.

But to say his career is done for sure?

No one's buying that - not even Shaq.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.