He still wants to be The Big Leprechaun.
The Celtics, who lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in June, are facing the difficult task of holding off both the suddenly star-studded Miami Heat and the improved Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference to get their rematch in the Finals.
Although O'Neal was unavailable for comment Friday, two sources close to him confirmed his continued interest in the Celtics, even though they currently have no room, or exceptions, under the salary cap to pay him beyond the NBA veteran's minimum of $1.35 million.
The Celtics could pay him more, but only if his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped with a sign-and-trade deal.
"He only wants to go to a team with a chance to win it all,'' one source said. "That's a short list. Even for the money, he's not going to a non-contender.''
The Celtics recently signed veteran Jermaine O'Neal, using their mid-level exception of $5.6 million to do it, but they still have a need for another veteran front-court player. And O'Neal sees himself as that guy.
The Celtics will be starting this season without veteran center Rasheed Wallace, who is expected to announce his retirement soon, and without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who is expected to miss at least the first two months recovering from knee surgery. They also lost veteran free agent guard Tony Allen to Memphis, but they did re-sign guard Marquis Daniels.
O'Neal, 38, already has won four NBA titles (three with the Lakers, one with the Heat). He was expecting to get his fifth in Cleveland last season, but the Cavs were upset by the Celtics in the conference semifinal round, which led to the firing of coach Mike Brown and the departure of free agent LeBron James to Miami.
The Celtics, during Summer League play earlier this month in Orlando, sounded less than enthusiastic about the idea of adding Shaq to their mix, leery of adding his strong personality to a delicate chemistry. Yet his recent eagerness to join them may have softened their stance.
He told friends recently in Orlando, where he started his career and still makes his offseason home, that he wanted to play two more seasons. He also talked of earlier interest from both the Atlanta Hawks and the San Antonio Spurs.
An issue with the Celtics would be his willingness to take a much smaller role than he is accustomed to taking. Even though he happily deferred to James in Cleveland, he still was the starting center, which is something that would change in Boston.
If O'Neal can accept a smaller role, the Celtics would be a good fit. They are filled with aging veterans like Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who play better in the half-court style that O'Neal needs. And they also have just a one- or two-year window of being serious contenders.