While being stuck in the "one week away" phase for a few months now, the return of Shaquille O'neal has never been more uncertain. In his absence, newcomer Nenad Krstic has started every game that he's been in uniform with the Boston Celtics. On the other hand, Jermaine O'neal has only played seventeen games (he has started five) and hasn't played since January 10th. On top of that, he is coming back from surgery to repair his aging left knee. Although the surgery in theory, should have fixed whatever is wrong, most fans still remain skeptical and aren't willing to set the bar high only to see another injury. But for now, the 16 year veteran is ready to return to the lineup tonight against the San Antonio Spurs, coming off the bench behind Krstic. If Jermaine can show the signs of capability he showed earlier in the season, would it be a bad idea to start Jermaine O'neal over Kristic? If the playoffs were to starting now, who would you want starting at center?
Undoubtedly Shaquille O'neal would be the starting center if he can return during the regular season and remain healthy throughout the postseason, but with all of the uncertainty circling his injuries, what is this teams backup plan? Krstic had shown signs of life after being considered no more than a throw in to the deal for Jeff Green. However in the past two weeks, he has proven to be just that. He's struggled offensively and Tommy Heinsohn pointed out that his tentativeness comes from the fear of being blocked. On the defensive end, he shows similar signs of weakness and is often bullied by his opponent, especially in post situations. On a positive note, Krstic can knock down jump shots at an extended range for a center, can finish well (when confident), and is an exceptional passer for his size. He also has more experience with the starting five, but much less experience in the playoffs.
According to NBA.com, Jermaine O'neal has played in 81 playoff games in his career, sixty of which he started. That compares to Nenad Krstic who has only played and started in 21 games. Aside from those numbers, O'neal has the potential to dominate the post (as he has done often in his career), but his age and fragile health are liabilities. His defense is stronger than Krstic's and he is known throughout the league as a shot-blocker, which is something that gets into the heads of scorers who work by penetrating into the paint (such as Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony). Jermaine also might have more respect and trust since he has proven to be a tough player who doesn't back down in the same manner as Krstic.
Surely most fans will hope for the safe return of Shaq, as well as J.O. so depth can be added at the center position. Unfortunately fans also know that the 38 year-old presents the possibility of missing a playoff game or two (as does Jermaine O'neal). So in his absence, who would you want to get the start?