By A. Sherrod Blakely
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."
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.