The Big & Tall Boston Celtics – Thin in The Middle

            The Boston Celtics made some interesting off-season moves. Picking up two guys named O’Neal – Shaquille and Jermaine – the NBA Eastern Conference champs have more depth at the power forward and center positions than any other team in the league.

            Shaquille O’Neal comes to the Celtics in the wake of the dismantling of the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he had a decent season last year and showed sparks of energy and scoring ability. The Cavs couldn’t ever manage to get the right line-up on the floor when times got tough and the task of getting a ring for “the King” proved impossible for the former NBA MVP O’Neal.

            Shaq moved on to his second cold-weather team (perhaps the last NBA team in the Big Aristotle’s second career as journeyman-ambassador?) and he is joined by another veteran attempting to re-invent and re-establish himself.

            Jermaine O’Neal is coming off a solid season. His numbers and his play suggest that he has finally adjusted, physically and mentally, to his post-knee-surgery skill set. Jermaine O’Neal is not the dominant athlete he once was with the Pacers. He is, however, a solid role player and a very good pick up as a sixth man.

            On the Celtics, with their super-abundance of big men, it is difficult to see what the rotation will be and which O’Neal will be the sixth man, which the seventh, etc.

            Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal join a team with another veteran seven-footer in Kevin Garnett. Kendrick Perkins remains the team’s starting center and Glen Davis is also going to be coming off the bench.

            With this many big men and this much size, the Celtics should have no trouble limiting the opposition’s opportunities down low while also keeping the minutes at a manageable level for Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal, each of whom have been somewhat prone to injury in recent years.

            There is, of course, a potential downside to all this size. Whenever you overload the roster with a certain body-type and deepen one position, the depth at other positions suffers.

            At both guard positions, the Celtics look relatively deep. Delonte West joins Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Marquis Daniels and rookie Avery Bradley on the list of second-string Celtics guards.

            It is at small forward that the Celtics appear woefully thin. Paul Pierce is backed up at the three spot by rookie Luke Harangody and that is it. There are no more players to fill in at the swing position.

            Shallowness at this position may not end up being a problem. Considering the Celtics numerical superiority at the four and five spots, there is a chance they will be able to overwhelm opponents with their size.

            The eastern conference has certainly gained talent at the power forward position going into the 2010-2011 season. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer found new teams in the eastern conference, joining Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut as the big names at the “big man” positions.

            So, size will matter for everyone in the east.

            The Celtics should be eyeing the Miami Heat as potential playoff opponents, as well as the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks. Each of these teams will be well stocked in small forwards. The Orlando Magic are also considering moving Rashard Lewis to small forward from time to time.

            The Celtics simply do not have that kind of versatility in their forwards. Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett are each skilled big men, but they can’t guard LeBron James.

            If Paul Pierce is the only small forward ready to play big minutes for 82 games, then the decision to stack the deck heavily toward the center and power forward positions begins to seem questionable.

            The front-court talent of O’Neal, O’Neal, Garnett, Davis, and Perkins will have to shoulder a lot of the weight to carry this veteran team to the playoffs. They are big. They may be able to handle that load.