Detroit MLE Dreams: Shaquille O’Neal

Essentials

Position: Center

Height: 7-foot-1

Weight: 325 pounds

Years pro: 18

Age: 38

What he brings

Pros

  • Shaq might be the best free agent still available. He’s definitely the biggest name.
  • This is a dangerous game to play, but Shaq is only a season removed from averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while leading the league with a .609 field-goal percentage.
  • You can still throw the ball to Shaq in the post and expect a basket.
  • He’s big and and strong and has the awareness to effectively defend back-to-the-basket big men.
  • He’s still a good defensive rebounder.
  • He doesn’t block as many shots as he did earlier in his career, but he’s still good at it.

Cons

  • Allen Iverson. Enough said for Pistons fans.
  • With his lack of mobility, Shaq is a terrible pick-and-roll defender in a pick-and-roll league.
  • He could be aging quickly, if that hasn’t happened already.

How he fits

Although he might, Ben Wallace probably won’t handle 28.6 minutes per game as well as he did last year. That leaves the Pistons in need of more help at center. Maybe Jason Maxiell playing well at center last season wasn’t a fluke. Maybe Greg Monroe can handle big minutes at the position.

But Monroe has never played an NBA game, and at 6-foot-7, Maxiell probably can’t succeed against starting centers.

So, the Pistons probably should look for another center.

Ideally, that player is younger than 38 and has a chance to be solid after Wallace retires. But beggars can’t be choosers.

The Pistons are desperate for an inside scoring threat, and O’Neal would provide that. He can also help Detroit defend big, low-post threats. Wallace can also do that, but giving that assignment to just one player is usually asking for a problem.

Shaq has a wide frame and could use that to clear interior defenders away from the basket while Rodney Stuckey drives to the hoop. Or Shaq could just clog the lane. Given the alternative is Ben Wallace, whom defenders don’t have to respect at all, I’d take my chances Shaq could help Stuckey offensively.

But really, given other free agents don’t near the talent of Shaq, the bigger question is about off-the-court fit. Shaq can be egotistical, stubborn, lazy, high-maintenance and a complete distraction. I’m not sure his talent outweighs those issues anymore.

Speaking of weight, that’s always an issue with Shaq. It’s especially worrisome now, given his aging knees will be less capable of supporting his large frame. I doubt Shaq will cut weight, especially for a non-contender.

Is that the type of example you want to send to the team’s younger players?

In other words

John Krolik, who also runs Cavs the Blog, analyzed Shaq for ProBasketballTalk:

He is one of the most dominant players to ever step onto an NBA court, he’s a four-time NBA champion, and he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame when he retires.

Of course, none of that mattered when the Cavaliers played the Celtics in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. O’Neal stopped the ball on offense, couldn’t score on Kendrick Perkins, and the Celtics completely exposed O’Neal defensively. In that series, O’Neal looked like a post-up dinosaur watching a drive-and-kick league pass him by.

The few post-up threats remaining are players like Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard, both of whom are athletic enough to be effective on both offense and defense even if they aren’t being force-fed in the post. Shaq needs his team to adjust its game-plan to his strengths in order for him to be effective, and that puts him at a significant disadvantage in today’s NBA.

At this point in his career, Shaq is a very good situational player. There are still some things he can do as well as anybody else in the league can, but his strengths can’t cover up his limitations as easily as they once did. Against some lineups, Shaq can be invaluable. Against others, he should hardly see the floor. If Shaq can come to terms with the player he is now, he’ll be a very good pickup for the team that signs him. If not, his pride may force him into retiring when he can still contribute to an NBA squad.

Signability

I think Shaq wants three things:

  • To play for a contender
  • Money (in the form of a multi-year contract)
  • A starting job (or maybe major minutes off the bench behind a proven starter)

I have no idea how he ranks those three (his camp is pushing that playing for a contender matters most, but that could just be an image thing), but the Pistons can offer the latter two.

They’re obviously not a contender, but they have as much money that they’re willing to spend as almost any team in the league. And give the organization’s history, I don’t think Detroit is rushing to give Greg Monroe a starting job. Playing time? Sure. But starting? I don’t think they want to hand him that just yet.

So, who are Shaq’s main suitors? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Mavericks have abandoned the idea of a Shaq signing completely — “He is out,” according to one team source — since they have four centers currently on the roster until they can move the very available Alexis Ajinca. Atlanta, then, stands as the only team with a confirmed “live” interest in O’Neal. But Shaq, at last report, still wants assurances of a healthy slice of playing time as well as a salary that starts above the $5.8 million mid-level exception, which can be achieved through a sign-and-trade with Cleveland. No team out there, including Atlanta, is known to be willing to pay Shaq more than $2 million for next season.

 The Celtics have re-emerged in the Shaq rumors, too, according to Tim Povtak of AOL FanHouse.

Still, I see only teams willing to offer 2-of-3 things on his wish list, just like the Pistons can. It’s a matter of what Shaq values most.

Conclusion

I don’t think there’s much of a chance Shaq joins the Pistons, but he’s probably the best free agent left.  I hope Detroit at least takes a long look at him.

If I were Joe Dumars, I’d offer Shaq a one-year deal the for the full mid-level exception. Pitch it as a chance to prove to contenders the following year why they should want him, and explain that he’d likely start (even though he wouldn’t play typical starter minutes). At minimum, Shaq on that deal would be a valuable trade chip near the deadline.

I wouldn’t expect Shaq to accept that offer, but if I’m the Pistons, I’d only take him on my terms.

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