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

Barnes, Cousins trying to keep 'emotions and energy focused'

Barnes, Cousins trying to keep 'emotions and energy focused'

BOSTON – No one is proclaiming DeMarcus Cousins’ demeanor is all that radically different than past seasons. 

But the volatile nature that has often overshadowed his on-the-court-brilliance, doesn’t seem to shine as brightly as it used to. 

Maybe he’s growing up. 

Maybe he’s finally comfortable with his team. 

And then there’s the almighty dollar which was the incentive for one of his teammates, Matt Barnes, to clean up his act as far as racking up technical fouls and being fined by the league. 

I asked Barnes whether there was a light bulb moment or a teammate or player that helped him get on track and not draw so much attention from officials and the league office. 

“It was all the money I was being fined,” he said. “I think I lost like $600,000 over my career for fines. It was time to kind of wake and say ‘hey, they don’t like you so you have to stick to the book.’”

With Barnes returning to Sacramento (he played for the Kings during the 2004-2005 season), he finds an intense, kindred spirit of sorts in Cousins who like Barnes has had his share of technical and fines handed down by the league office. 

This season, Cousins is the NBA’s leader in technical fouls with six. 

“I’ve always had a good head on my shoulders,” Barnes said. “I’m just a passionate player. I play with my emotion on my sleeve. I think DeMarcus does the same thing. What I’m trying to show him now, we have to keep our emotions and energy focused towards the right things. That could be detrimental to the team if it gets out of hand.”

First-year coach Dave Joerger has been pleased to see how different Cousins is to be around on a daily basis as opposed to how he’s perceived. 

“He gets credit for his talent. He gets credit that he’s improved in the league,” Joerger said. “I think he doesn’t get enough credit for the way that his approach to the game and the way that he’s carrying himself and conducting himself has greatly improved. He’s a good person. Now being with him, I see improvement over the last three years, the way that he goes about his business. I think that’s very positive.”

Game notes: Celtics look to extend Kings’ Boston losing streak to nine

Game notes: Celtics look to extend Kings’ Boston losing streak to nine

BOSTON – Here are a few odds and ends to keep an eye on heading into tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings: 
 
· The Celtics have won eight in a row over the Kings in Boston, with the last loss to Sacramento at the TD Garden coming on Jan. 19, 2007. Current Celtic Gerald Green was in the starting lineup that night. 

· Only six times in franchise history have the Celtics launched 38 or more 3-pointers in a game, four of which came in the month of November this season. 

· Speaking of 3-pointers, 36.2 percent of Boston’s shots are 3s. That ranks fifth in the league behind Houston, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Golden State.

· Don’t be surprised if Avery Bradley gets off to a good start tonight, especially from 3-point range. He’s shooting 59.1 percent on 3s in the first quarter which ranks second in the league. 

· Isaiah Thomas tallied 395 points scored in November, the most by a Celtic since John Havlicek had 406 points in November during the 1971-1972 season. 

· Boston leads the NBA in points scored (46.3 per game) by second-round picks. The Celtics’ second-round picks include Isaiah Thomas; Jae Crowder; Amir Johnson; Jonas Jerebko; Demetrius Jackson and Jordan Mickey.

· The Celtics are 5-0 this season when they outrebound an opponent. 

· Tonight’s game will be Boston’s fifth set of back-to-back games this season. In the first game, they are 3-1 this season. On the second night, they are 2-2.