When Kendrick Perkins Returns, Will Shaq Hold His Starting Spot?

At some point this season, Kendrick Perkins (and, I assume, his scowl) will return to the court. For now, he works out diligently, in hopes of returning better than ever. Perkins recent workouts have included runs on a treadmill, to keep in shape, and shooting sessions, to improve his touch.

"The only thing they haven’t let me do yet is move side to side. I think that’ll come when I put my brace on. They’re telling me that’ll happen towards the end of this month," Perkins told the Boston Herald.

About getting shots up, Perkins added, "There ain’t nothing wrong with my arms. I’m trying to get better. Hopefully my field goal percentage will go up from 60 to 70 this year." Personally, I would just be happy if he stopped bringing the ball down before every layup. But let's not nitpick, because I appreciate everything Perk provides.

The beast once hoped for a January return, but is starting to think with more intelligence. (Boston Herald)

"It can be real," Perk said of playing sometime late next month, "but I think if I play it smart I’ll wait to come back until after All-Star break. That’ll give me more time.

"I think, what’s one more month, right?"

What's one more month, especially as the 14-4 Celtics play so well? It would be one thing if the Celtics were losing games; but they currently possess the Eastern Conference's best record, and the second-best in the NBA. It would be one thing if Shaq were playing like a 38-year old; but he's not. In fact, he's been very good.

Maybe even too good.

Remember what Kendrick Perkins said before the season, about potentially having to fight for his starting spot when he became healthy?

"My spot's not up for grabs," he told reporters. "When I come back, I will be getting my spot, and everybody else just has to adjust to me."

Clearly, Perkins doesn't want anyone stealing his starting spot. Perk has always been a team player first and foremost, but he considers himself the team's starting center. Maybe it's a pride thing, or maybe he simply thinks he's a better option than either Shaq or Jermaine O'Neal. After all, the starting five, when intact and with Kendrick Perkins in it, has never lost a playoff series.

But as much as I like Perk, the starting five has impressed with Shaq in the lineup. Shaq can't do some things Perk does (hedging pick-and-rolls being one thing), but he's a better offensive player. Where Perk catches, pauses, brings the ball to his ankles, thinks about what to eat for dinner, licks his finger to test the wind, and then finally shoots a layup, Shaq catches and finishes in one smooth motion. Shaq also moves well without the ball, seemingly always finding himself open when his teammates penetrate. Throughout the season, Kevin Garnett has repeatedly mentioned Shaq's ability to draw defensive attention and leave Garnett more room to operate.

Best of all, Shaq has made the Celtics better. According to 82games.com, the Celtics are 21.3 points better than their opponents when Shaq is on the floor, per 48 minutes. In case you couldn't tell, that's pretty good. The Celtics have adjusted to Shaq, and his presence has made the starting five potent, perhaps more potent than ever. Playing alongside great teammates in an offensive system he trusts, Shaq has been assisted on more of his buckets than ever before. He has rarely posted up defenders and almost never has plays run for him, yet Shaq has been, according to some stats, the best 35-and-older player in NBA history.

No, I didn't expect Shaq to fit in so well, either. Not after he, by all educated accounts, made the Cavaliers worse just by stepping on the floor.

Before this season, Kelly Dwyer wrote, "The C's need a center. And it's almost sad that they're turning to Shaq. Because O'Neal, at this point, is probably better off working as an entertainer of sorts than someone who should be hedging on Mike Conley Jr. on some random Wednesday in January."

Thankfully, Shaq has proved Dwyer -- and most of Western Civilization -- wrong. The Big Fella's reemergence as a force has been a godsend for the bruised Celtics. When Perkins returns, though, it could also be a problem.

Will Doc Rivers bring Perkins off the bench? Will that anger Perk? Will Rivers bring Shaq off the bench instead? Would that piss Shaq off? Would that make The Diesel less productive? And what about Jermaine O'Neal in all this? If (when?) Perk and Shaq share almost all the minutes, how will J.O. react to a DNP-CD? And Semih? I love you to pieces, but I hope you know you'll be riding pine when (if) the C's get more healthy.

Maybe all the depth is a good problem to have. It certainly has been while Perk and J.O. experience injuries. As a wise man once told me: the more talent, the merrier.

But when his established, prideful centers all become available, Doc Rivers will have to tread carefully. These big men, even Perk, are not devoid of egos.

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