Waiting on Shaq

197883.jpg

Waiting on Shaq

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Charlie Sheen wants us all to love violently, and fortunately (as to not upset his fragile genius), the concept isnt too far from the norm for a Boston sports fan.

Maybe Bostons unable to love quite as violently as Sheen, but in terms of what regular, not-so-special humans are capable of, Bostons right up there with the best. When it comes to violently loving professional sports, no one can hold a candle.

And were modest, too.

Bostons a place where failures never tolerated. As an athlete, it doesnt matter if youre too old, too young, injured, out of place or out of shape. If you underperform, you hear it. You get picked on. You become the inspiration for so many sports talk tirades. Of course, if youre successful in Boston, life will never be better. Youll walk around town like the President only your secret service would be two drunk guys in matching Danny Woodhead jerseys. Or like Sheen walking around Sober Valley Ranch only if the goddesses were those same two drunk guys.

But if you come up short around here, it can be brutal. Just ask guys like Eric Gagne, or Dennis Wideman or Adalius Thomas. Youll be ridiculed, tormented, or . . .

Or sometimes . . . just ignored?

So far, thats whats happened with Shaquille ONeal.

Four months into the season, and hes barely been a factor. Hes shown glimpses of what he can do, but still hasnt proven he can do it for an extended period of time. In the meantime, hes amassed an unbelievable collection of injuries and to this point weve chosen to ignore them, or at least resisted labeling them with any sort of significance.

On one hand, you can understand why.

For one, because the injuries are inevitable. However optimistic you wanted to be at the start of this season, it was guaranteed that Shaq was going to miss significant time with this, that or any number of injuries. Why? Well, hes unbelievably old. Not just a little old. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are little old, and proving that old isnt always a negative trait. Shaq was a "little old" in Miami. Now hes the oldest; literally the oldest player in the league.

You dont see many 39-year olds in the NBA. Of those who make it that long, very few start as early as Shaq and almost none can boast that kind of odometer reading. Only 16 guys in NBA history have logged more minutes than ONeal (one of them is KG), and of those 16, none (no, not even you, John Stockton) can match Shaqs sheer size (not just height, but size).

What hes done in terms of longevity is really impressive, but its not without legitimate consequences. And for Shaq, that leaves him with a body that isnt primed for extended NBA battle. But we knew that coming in, so it's not much of a surprise. What are you supposed to say now? Hey, remember how we knew Shaq could get hurt a bunch this regular season? Well . . . it happened! Wanna talk about it?

While the predictability of Shaqs string of injuries is one factor in his undermentioned, underwhelming season, another is the uncertainty of the future.

Basically, the fact that if Shaq can somehow get it together in time for the playoffs and help the Celtics win just 16 more games, then none of these injuries matter. Nothing will matter except for the fact that Shaq came to Boston and somehow did enough to help bring them a title. At that point, the hip, the knee, the calf, the Achilles, the foot and everything else that pops up between now and then will mean nothing. All the time we spent almost talking about them will mean less.

No matter how frustrated you want to get with Shaq for these injuries, you cant help but feel like until the playoffs start, its useless to even care. That's why they brought him here. That when we can judge him (and every other personnel move from the past year). At that point, if he comes through, well look back at early March and think, Ha! Remember all the whining we did when Shaq decided to hibernate for the winter? Well look back and laugh at everything from the last few months. That was just Shaq being Shaq! Goofing around and missing games; showing up more on TV and Twitter than he does on the court. This was his plan all along! He knew hed be fine. They knew hed be fine."

But who knows?

Yesterday afternoon, after A. Sherrod Blakely broke the news that Shaq is, once again, out indefinitely, I wasnt sure how to react. It was only natural to get frustrated, maybe a little concerned. Especially with Kendrick Perkins and Semih Erden playing elsewhere, with Jermaine ONeal no guarantee to be back, and with Troy Murphy still shooting a cool .000 for his Celtics career. The playoffs are six weeks away and the Celtics are still looking to get the right bodies on the court and finally start shaping themselves for the playoffs. And Shaq needs be a part of that.

But for now, he's not and he won't be. And amazingly, Boston still doesn't seem panicked. For some reason with Shaq, they're able to put aside that violent love for their team that's resulted in so many underachieving and injury-prone players turning into public enemies, and hold out hope.

In that sense, maybe Shaq's off-the-court persona helps him. Maybe the fact that he means so much, and undoubtedly gives so much of his time to the community, and is one of the more lovable and jovial personalities in sports makes him a guy that fans want to root for. It makes it very difficult for a lot of fans to even stay mad at him. And maybe that works. Hes such a unique guy. Theres never been an athlete who's taken over Boston like Shaq in such a short amount of time. And there probably never will be. So maybe its fitting that hes been given this treatment. For all he's done, maybe he deserves it.

But if it were any other players, under any other circumstances, that violent love would have started to boil. And Charlie Sheen's the only one who'd be gaining any kind of satisfaction.

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

C's showed Patriots support in AFC semifinal game

brad_stevens_tie_too_long_11-24-15.jpg

C's showed Patriots support in AFC semifinal game

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has a tremendous amount of respect for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and what he has built in Foxboro.

But it wasn't until Sunday’s playoff game between the Patriots and the Houston Texans did he actually see them play at Foxboro.

And while Stevens is from Indiana and is indeed an Indianapolis Colts fan, the Patriots have his support for a multitude of reasons.

“It was fun to watch,” said Stevens who attended the game with his father and his son. “When you talk about rooting interest, you root for who you know. I was definitely rooting for them. I hope they can go all the way. It was fun to watch.”

He wasn’t the only Celtic in Foxboro cheering on the Patriots who pulled away for a 34-16 win over the Texans.

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas was there watching from a suite.

“It was a nice. They won. I got a lot of backlash for switching up,” said Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash. Native who grew up rooting for the Seattle Seahawks.

“It was good, just to be on that field and be around those guys,” Thomas said. “You can tell, they’re focused on winning a championship, winning the Superbowl. You want to be around those type of players.”

That goes for coaches as well, which is why Brad Stevens has maintained a good relationship with Belichick who has created the kind of winning atmosphere that all coaches want.

“One of the things they’ve’ created is sustainability and culture,” Stevens said. “Any coach wants to be in a position where over the course of time every single year you suit up, you got a chance. Because of the commitment of doing things the way they want to do it … they’ve created that. I can’t say enough good things about the job that he’s done. I’ve got a chance to watch him up close. You feel pretty inadequate when you walk out of that building as a coach.”

Stevens has also been impressed with the way the Patriots have handled injuries and situations where  a key player has been down.

“There’s been a ton of change in the roster and he just keeps churning out wins regardless of who is on the field. Obviously (Tom) Brady has been a constant through all of that. But at the same time, there have been a lot of changes at a lot of significant positions. They just do their job well. That’s the bottom line.

Celtics being cautious with Avery Bradley's return from Achilles injury

Celtics being cautious with Avery Bradley's return from Achilles injury

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Before Sunday’s practice, Avery Bradley was off to one of the side courts working on his catch, two-dribble, pull-up game.
 
And once practice started, Bradley was on the floor with the rest of his teammates, participating in both contact and non-contact drills.
 
While his return on Sunday was certainly a positive, there’s still some uncertainty as to whether he’ll return to action on Monday against Charlotte after having missed the last four games with a right Achilles injury.
 
While he has made steady progress since suffering the injury earlier this month, the Celtics are being cautious about his return, knowing how a return too soon could set him and the Celtics back significantly.
 
Bradley’s value to the Celtics is not even up for debate, but the Celtics have managed to find ways to win despite being without their top on-the-ball defender and number two scorer.
 
“We’ve gotten good practice with not being with our key guys this year,” quipped Stevens. “So it’s just the next guy has to be ready to go. A lot of guys can fill in, and not try and replace one guy with another guy but rather by committee.”
 
Marcus Smart, a player Stevens has often referred to as the team’s sixth starter, has filled in for Bradley with the first unit.
 
In the last four games, Smart has averaged 14.0 points to go with 4.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.5 steals while shooting 40 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range.
 
Terry Rozier has seen an uptick in his court time as well with Bradley out, resulting in him averaging 5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 60 percent (9-for-15) and 40 percent (2-for-5) from 3-point range.
 
Indeed, Bradley’s absence has afforded other Celtics an opportunity to step up and do so in a meaningful way that’s helping Boston win games.

Bradley has missed a total of five games on the season. Boston has managed to hold their own in his absence, posting a 4-1 record.

This recent Achilles injury has been the only setback of significance this season for Bradley.

We’re used to seeing Bradley improve from one year to the next, but this season has been nothing short of sensational for the sixth-year player.
 
His 18.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game are both career-highs. He’s also shooting 41.7 percent on 3s which is also a new career mark for the 6-foot-2 guard.