<
>

Shaquille O'Neal on Delonte West and Cleveland

BOSTON – A Boston radio station is running a promotion to encourage fans attending the Celtics-Heat game tonight to print out and wear Delonte West masks. The idea, says the station’s web site, is to “welcome” LeBron James to town.

If any fan actually prints and wears the mask they will be only sighting of West at the game. The Celtics guard is at the start of a 10-game suspension after pleading guilty to a weapons charge over the summer in Maryland. But the promotion is the freshest reminder that West and James, no matter what anyone says or doesn’t say about how last season ended for both of them, will be linked for the foreseeable future.

Shaquille O’Neal, who played with West and James last season in Cleveland, gave some legitimacy to there being at least a rift in comments this week. When explaining that he endorsed the Celtics’ signing West, O’Neal said he told Celtics Vice President Danny Ainge that he could control West because he was the only Cav West respected last season.

“I know he won’t get out of line,” O’Neal said of West. “There’s five or six guys that he truly respects here. Last year I don’t think he respected anybody but me on that team. So I was able to talk to him.”

O’Neal is known for taking shots at former teams and teammates. This one was veiled indeed but still rather clear. James was the captain and unquestioned leader of the Cavs and, in general, his respect in the locker room was strong during the season. The irony is that last season, people from the Cavs will tell you, O’Neal often got frustrated with West.

After missing the first two days of training camp a year ago for reasons he’s yet to explain publicly, West had a trying season battling legal and emotional problems that saw his presence with the team and his general play come and go. O’Neal doesn’t deny it upset the team at times but said he was able to talk to West during those periods as well.

“He got out of control a lot of times and usually when people get out of control they shut their buttons off to somebody they respect,” O’Neal said. “I know he respected me because I can get out of control too. I had to yoke (sic) him up once or twice, tell him to let it go bro.”

So far this year, people around the Celtics say West has been competitive and in good spirits. He has put in heavy work after practices and is expected to be a key bench defender for the Celtics when his suspension ends. O’Neal, though, said West has more of a motive than just his nonguaranteed contract and a team of veterans keeping an eye on him.

“He’s on the big “p;” So if he messes up with the big “p” he’s can to get the “j,” O’Neal said. “Know what I mean? Peanut butter and jelly. Probation and jail. He’s going to be cool and we’re going to keep him in line.”