When you're Shaquille O'Neal, expectations will always be inflated.
There's simply no way around it. Even at 38 years old and with 18 NBA seasons under his belt, O'Neal is still viewed as the man who once fearlessly anointed himself, "the most dominant player ever."
There are some who still expect O'Neal to produce the 24.1 points and 11 rebounds per game that he's averaged during a Hall of Fame career that includes four world titles and 15 All-Star Game appearances.
But here's the reality as he joins the Boston Celtics: Shaquille O'Neal is this season's Shelden Williams. Scoff if you must, but -- like Williams -- O'Neal was brought in at the veteran's minimum to add frontcourt depth and -- like Williams -- O'Neal could see extended time at the start of the season due to injury.
Yet O'Neal will be criticized if he posts the 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game that Williams averaged a year ago in 54 appearances. No, the bar will be set at least somewhere around the 12 points and 6.7 rebounds per game that O'Neal averaged last season in 53 appearances (all starts) for Cleveland.
For his part, O'Neal acknowledges that this stop in his career is like no other and he notes that team success should dictate how he's judged more than his stat line.
"The roles I had on previous teams were different," O'Neal said at his introductory news conference earlier this month. "I'm much older now. This team is a good team, with or without me. Sometimes, in order to win, you have to sacrifice. Because, at the end of the day, it's all about sacrificing and nothing else. When I was 'That Guy,' I did everything I was supposed to do. And everything's documented. But now, it's not about that. It's about coming to a team that needs one or two pieces and we're just going to play and play hard and play to win."
So what are reasonable expectations for O'Neal next season? We asked our panel of 18 writers from eight of our favorite Celtics blogs to offer their thoughts on Shaq's role next season, including their best guess at his minutes, points and rebounds per game.
Averaged out, our panel believes O'Neal will produce around 11 points and seven rebounds over 20 minutes per game during the 2010-11 season. (Reasonable or still inflated? You can sound off in our comments section.)
Below, our panel weighs in with thoughts and analysis on how Shaq's role will play out in Boston:
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston (18 minutes per game, 10 points per game, 6 rebounds per game)
Starter or reserve, Shaq is going to get a chance to show how much he has left in the tank and there's going to be benefits that will allow his stat line to shine regardless of where he's ultimately slotted. With the first unit, he'll get plenty of chances to catch the ball with space around the basket as opposing defenses simply cannot commit double teams when you've got the Big Three and Rondo on the floor. With the second unit, one that struggled to generate offense last season, O'Neal would be the immediate focal point and the go-to guy when things go stagnant. Playing against other backups, O'Neal again will have the ability to do damage. Unless the Diesel has run out of fuel -- something we don't envision -- he's going to quietly produce for this team, and at a higher and more consistent level than Rasheed Wallace (9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 22.5 minutes) did last season (even if Shaq isn't expected to fill the sixth-man role that Wallace occupied).
Chuck McKenney, Red's Army (22 minutes, 13 points, 7 rebounds)
Shaquille O'Neal will be one of the team's best bench players who could see crunch-time minutes depending on matchups and foul trouble.
Jimmy Toscano, CelticsBlog (20 minutes, 10 points, 6 rebounds)
I'm one of the guys who wanted Shaq from the start of the offseason, so if he doesn't work out here, I'll be the first to admit I was wrong. That being said, I do think he is going to work out here. Anyone who followed the Celtics last year saw how bad they were on the boards. If anything, Shaq can grab rebounds for this team -- something they desperately needed, especially during Game 7 against the Lakers. I think Shaq comes in off the bench for most of the season but also makes a handful of spot starts when called upon. I can see him putting up averages of 10 points and six rebounds in about 20 minutes of action per game. Obviously those numbers could change depending on how Jermaine O'Neal fares at the starting center position, and how Kendrick Perkins responds from his injury.
Tommy King, CelticsTown (22 minutes, 10 points, 5 rebounds)
Shaq's role is going to be simple: score and rebound. Last season, the Celtics ranked 25th in rebound differential, getting outrebounded by an average of 1.47 rebounds per game. Shaq needs to limit the opposition's second-chance points, while adding a few of his own. Shaq's defensive liabilities (especially pick-and-roll defense) have been well-chronicled, so he will have to make up for his defense by scoring at a high rate. Expect the Celtics to go to Shaq in the post when the second unit needs a hoop, and expect Shaq to finish plays around the rim like he has his entire career. As the backup center, Shaq will be the leader of the second unit, though he will occasionally play extended minutes with the starters.
Brandon Paul, Gino's Jungle (20 minutes, 12 points, 8 rebounds)
My expectations for Shaq are probably a lot higher than those of many others. The way everything went down this offseason, I expect Shaq to come out a lot stronger than he did last season. Being on the Celtics he can get revenge on LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in one season by winning another title. Let's say 20 minutes, 12 points, and eight rebounds per game -- and a whole lot of missed free throws.
Nick Gelso, North Station Sports (22 minutes, 8 points, 6 rebounds)
I'd love to see Shaq in an 18- to 25-minute starting role until Kendrick Perkins returns. When Perk is back, I see a subtle and gradual decrease in Shaq's minutes. I think -- and can only hope -- that Shaq can provide similar stats in Boston as he did last season in Cleveland.
Kevin Henkin, Celtics Stuff Live (20 minutes, 10 points, 7 rebounds)
First of all, I expect Shaq to come off the bench. I could honestly write about this for days, but in a nutshell: The second unit needs his offensive punch and the starting five is far better balanced with Jermaine O'Neal as the temporary fill-in for Kendrick Perkins. In terms of numbers, I think 10 points and seven rebounds are reasonable and very attainable. There will be nights, however, when he could become a real factor for the team based on a favorable matchup and far exceed those averages. Mostly, though, I love the depth and size that Shaq adds up front. His role? Inflicting sporadic pain on opponents.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (24 minutes, 15 points, 8 rebounds)
Shaq will turn a lot of heads with solid numbers by providing scoring and rebounding beyond the expectations set by fans and the media. Defensively, Shaq's inability to defend the pick-and-roll will rear its ugly head early and often, but, by being a backup, that damage is mitigated as Shaq will largely be forced to hedge against backup guards and centers. I can see Shaq averaging 15 points and eight rebounds, with a block or two along way.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.