Waiting on Shaq


Waiting on Shaq

By Rich Levine

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

Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision


Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision

WALTHAM, Mass. – Just like Avery Bradley comes back each season with a new element in his basketball tool box, defenses have adapted to some degree to try and counter whatever Bradley is doing a better job at.

Before it was take away the mid-range shot and make him a 3-point shooter. Now it’s run him off the 3-point line by closing out hard and fast against him.

Well, running him off the 3-point line is actually playing into the hands of two areas of Bradley’s game that have seen significant growth during the offseason: ball-handling and court vision.

Bradley’s improvement in those areas has been evident in the preseason, something the seventh-year guard hopes to continue in the regular season opener on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.

“I worked on my ball-handling a lot,” Bradley said. “Instead of doing all the Kyrie (Irving) stuff that trainers have people do, I tried to focus on just one or two moves, just perfecting a few moves that I can put into my game.”

What we’ve seen from Bradley is better sense of when to attack players with his ball-handling and when to use it as a set-up to get his teammates good shots.

He attributes both to the work he has put in and just becoming an older, more wiser player on the floor.

“I’m able to make plays for my teammates because I’m a lot more confident in my ball-handling, in my play-making and my decision-making," said the 25-year-old Bradley. "I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

While it may not seem like that big a deal that Bradley’s putting the ball on the floor more and attacking off the dribble, it’s actually really important for this Celtics team.

With Bradley now looking to attack off the dribble more, that means that the Celtics now have a starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – with each player comfortable and confident in their ability to take most defenders and their respective positions, off the dribble.

That makes Boston a significantly better team offensively in terms of being highly unpredictable and to a larger degree, tougher to contain.

“He’s a great defender, one of the best in the NBA,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “But people sleep on his offensive game. He can hit the corner 3s, wing 3s, pull-up jumpers … he can pretty much do it all out there. Now that he’s looking to get to the rim more, that just makes him and our team really, much better.”

Indeed, Bradley sounds as though he plans to continue probing different ways to generate points for the Celtics.

One approach he’ll surely take is to do a better job of taking advantage of the mistakes defenses make against him, like players who try and chase him off the 3-point line.

“Me being  a better 3-point shooter should challenge me to think the game a little more,” he said. “If it’s drawing fouls … I know I should be drawing more fouls from the 3-point line. There are times when people are just running out of control at me at the 3-point line. I have to be smarter.”

Bradley added, “I worked on that this summer. It’s translated in practice, so now it needs to translate in games.”

Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery


Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery

WALTHAM, Mass. – Avery Bradley had just returned to the Boston Celtics lineup after having had surgery on both shoulders, eager to put his injury-riddled days in the past.

Then-Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue had suffered a similar shoulder injury a decade earlier in 2003, so he knew all too well what Bradley was going through.

“I remember Tyronn Lue took me to the side and said, ‘you’re going to struggle,’” Bradley recalled. “When he said it to me, I was like, ‘what is he talking about?’”

The words of Lue, now the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, were indeed prophetic. And now that current Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk is back to practicing after having surgery on his right shoulder, Bradley plans to be there for Olynyk the way Lue was there for him.

Bradley, who missed the first 30 games of the 2012-2013 season recovering from the injury, recalls struggling with his shot for the first couple of weeks.  

His first game back was Jan. 2, 2013. For the next two weeks, Bradley shot 40.6 percent from the field (28-for-69) and 28.6 percent (8-for-28) on 3s, both below his career averages in those respective categories.

Bradley is hopeful Olynyk doesn’t struggle as much as he did upon his return to the lineup from shoulder surgery.

But just in case, Olynyk knows he has a teammate who literally knows what he’s going through right now in trying to get back on the floor and play good basketball.

“It’s our job as his teammates to help keep him confident in himself,” Bradley said. “I told him, ‘you’re going to have your days when you come in and you might make shots. Then you’ll have your week where you don’t make a shot.’ You just have to stay confident.”

But Bradley admits it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’ve had success shooting the ball and now all of a sudden the shots that you normally make in your sleep keep you up at night wondering why they no longer going in.

“It just happens. The muscle memory, you have to get it back,” Bradley said. “It’s just reps; that’s what it took. It took like maybe a good month before my shot felt good again. It’ll probably be the same for Kelly; hopefully not. If it is, I’ll be there to make sure he’s positive and knowing it’s a process and he has to continue to get shots up.”

But there’s more to returning to the game when healthy.

While the body may be ready to go, the mind more often than not hasn’t totally cleansed itself of the injury.

“It’s still in the back of your mind, thinking it’s going to happen again,” Bradley said. “You may not want to drive it to the basket as much or box out the same way or be aggressive. But like I said, we have to give him that confidence and he has to do his work as well, staying in the weight room, making sure he’s strong. We’re here to help.”

And no one is offering the consistent assistance that Bradley has to his injured teammate.

“I’ve taken him to the side like five times already and I told him, ‘I’m here bro. Whatever you need,’” Bradley said. “I’m just happy that he’s back."