Celtics counting on J.O.

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:42 PM ET

There were no shameless made-for-TV appearance to announce his intentions, no audiences with any would-be suitors and no shortage of choices.

Jermaine O’Neal sat back and contemplated his options, choosing to join the aging Boston Celtics in one of those minor moves that has the potential to yield major gains.

With so much of the attention focused on South Beach and the Heat’s three-headed monster, the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics should not be taken for granted.

By signing O’Neal, Boston made a very wise investment in a big who figures to step into the team’s starting centre spot until Kendrick Perkins recovers from knee surgery.

O’Neal isn’t going to step out and make shots like Rasheed Wallace, whose career will forever be overshadowed by his boorish behaviour, but he’ll give Boston a much-needed interior presence.

O’Neal’s arrival in Beantown assures the Celtics of making yet one more championship run, perhaps even two, depending, of course, on health and how this veteran group holds up during the NBA marathon.

Denver and Dallas also showed interest and there was some suggestion in certain parts that O’Neal would even consider the Heat, who obtained him two years ago from the Raptors.

Toronto shipped him out when O’Neal and Chris Bosh could not find a rhythm on the court, O’Neal’s expiring contract ultimately was used by Miami to clear cap space.

“They have a great tandem down there, but the Celtics have the best team,” O’Neal told reporters in Boston. “I had a great time in Miami and I had a chance to re-sign with them. But I thought this is where I was meant to be.

“I knew what they were trying to do. But it comes down to fit, personalities and the style of play, and Boston has all of that for me.

“It was the most important choice I made in my career. This was the first time I even became a free agent in 14 years. It was very difficult, but I felt it was important over the next two years to be where the focus was on winning now and not worrying about chemistry, not worrying about anything.”

Whatever moves get made this summer and into the fall, the East is a three-horse race featuring, in no particular order, Boston, Miami and Orlando.

One of those teams will play for the NBA championship, making for one heck of a race to avoid finishing with the third seed when the post-season rolls around.

No team features a better point guard than Rajon Rondo.

No team features a more dominant big than Dwight Howard.

No team is more explosive from the wing position than Miami.

At the end of the day, interior defence, protecting the basket and the glass are the areas that separate good from greatness.

O’Neal, assuming Perkins does undergo a full recovery, gives Boston a leg up because no team can throw out as many bigs than the Celtics.

O’Neal, 31, agreed to a two-year deal with Boston for $12 million US. Pocket change, an amount that pales in comparison to the $20 million J.O. made in the final year of his deal last season in Miami.

At this stage in his career, it’s all about winning for O’Neal.

“I’m not concerned about shots or minutes,’’ added O’Neal. “It’s winning. At the end of the day, the validation is whether you’ve won or not.”

O’Neal spoke to all the parties associated with the Celtics, but the words that struck home were expressed by Rondo.

“(Rondo) just told me what they expect on a daily basis and their focus,’’ O’Neal said. “All I heard was championship run, championship run.

“When you hear that, it’s like Christmas all over again. The last four or five years, it’s been basically talking about let’s make the playoffs. That’s very difficult when I’m coming into the stretch run of my career, which is basically the end of my career.”


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