OFFSEASON

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

OFFSEASON

Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

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Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics turned quite a few heads when they used two of their three, first-round picks on International players.

They were part of a record-setting night for international players, with 15 being selected in the first round – the most ever in NBA history.

But like many international draft picks, it is far from a given that you’ll see either of Boston’s international first rounder picks Guershon Yabusele and Ante Zizic who were selected with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively.

While it’s not uncommon for teams to draft international players in the first round and do so with the plan being to keep them overseas for another year or two, the potential hold-up for Boston’s two international picks has more to do with coming to terms on a buyout amount with their current teams.

“We’ve had initial discussions with their representatives,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, when I asked him about it during the team’s press conference to introduce the newest Celtics on Friday. “We have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion. And I’m not sure about summer (league).”

While it remains an option, a league source told CSNNE.com that it’s unlikely that either player will participate in either of Boston’s summer league squads which will play in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Ainge agrees that there are a number of positives one can take from drafting an overseas player in the first round.

But the decision by Boston to draft Yabusele and Zizic in the first round had a lot to do with one thing – talent.

“The reason that these two guys are here, … is because they’re good players,” Ainge said. “The fact that they have people that want them on their teams on the International top level competition, tells you how good players they are. They could easily find jobs overseas at the top level. They’ve earned that reputation. They’re both very productive. Guerson very productive and Ante very good rebounding … now we’re trying to figure out the best way they can help us for their development. We’re working with their representatives on that plan.”

Yabusele, a 6-8, 275-pound power forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes with Rouen Metropole Basket in the LNB Pro A league in France. While appearing in 34 games last season, he grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times while tallying eight double-doubles.

Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound center, distinguished himself as one of the better players in the Adriatic League this past season. He was voted by fans, media and coaches as the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect after averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 24.8 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.7 percent from the field.

OFFSEASON

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

BOSTON – The Celtics are considered long shots at landing Kevin Durant during free agency, which begins next week.

Still, if they come up short this summer, league sources tell CSNNE.com that the Celtics will be on a “watch list” of sorts by Durant’s camp when the former league MVP is expected to hit the free agent market once again in the summer of 2017.
 
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Durant will have teams meet with him in New York beginning next week. In addition to the Celtics, his current team Oklahoma City will sit down with him, as well as Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
 
Durant can re-sign with the Thunder for as many as five years with the total value of his contract worth slightly more than $150 million.
 
However, by signing a one-year deal or a two-year pact with a player option for the second season, Durant would make a projected $25.9 million for the 2016-2017 season and can then hit the free agent market again in 2017 when the salary cap is expected to cross the nine-figure threshold.
 
And at that time, if he decides to stay with the Thunder, he can ink a five-year deal that, when combined with his salary in 2016-2017, would be more than $230 million over six years – that’s about $80 million more than he would get by re-signing a long-term deal with the Thunder now, and would more than double what he would make by signing a maximum-salaried four-year deal with another team.
 
That’s why it makes a lot of sense for him to sign a short-term deal now and better position himself for a bigger payday the following summer when his starting salary will likely be on the north side of $35 million.
 
For the Celtics, Durant going through free agency back-to-back years affords coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics one more opportunity to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings while still being a team that’s clearly in need of adding at least one additional All-Star talent to play with Isaiah Thomas.

In his three seasons as the Celtics coach, Stevens has improved the team’s win total each season.
 
However, they have failed to win a playoff series after having been knocked out in the first round each of the past two seasons.
 
While Durant is the team’s No. 1 priority on the free agent market, the Celtics will quickly pivot their attentions to other highly-regarded players as well with Atlanta’s Al Horford being among their targets.

Depending on how quickly Durant’s free agency gets taken care of, the Celtics might be able to turn their attention towards potentially re-signing Evan Turner, who was sixth in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.

OFFSEASON

Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

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Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

With the Celtics reportedly in the running in the Kevin Durant Derby, C's guard Isaiah Thomas is continuing his recruiting pitch with this playful tweet.

Thomas said in a radio interview earlier this week that the Celtics "definitely have a shot" at landing Durant and a few months ago, Thomas' essay in the Players Tribune is perhaps his best sales job of all.