MIAMI - Shaquille O'Neal is lazy, self-indulgent, over-the-hill and has about as much a chance of collecting another championship as I do waking up next to Angelina Jolie.
Either that, or he's smart, experienced, wonderfully self-disciplined and, at 34, still on the top of the mountain as the most dominant player in the NBA today.
That's what the playoffs decide. That's one of the big, fat, declarative, up-for-grabs conclusions waiting in the Miami Heat's postseason. There are others:
But because of who he is, or maybe was, the big question is O'Neal. He is either The Incredibly Shrinking Shaq in a bad way, the way some have suggested through this regular season as his numbers clunked to career lows of 20 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.
Or he's The Incredibly Shrinking Shaq in the best way, the way that says he was smart to budget himself through the meaningless regular-season (23 games missed, the most in eight seasons), playing time (a career-low 30.6 minutes a game) and also in work habits.
Through February, everyone saw too much of O'Neal. Way too much.
"I was up to 335 (pounds) this year,'' he said.
"OK, 340,'' he said.
"All right, 345,'' he said.
Do I hear 350? 355? Guessing what O'Neal has weighed this season has been a little like guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar. It's often like that for him in the regular season.
When O'Neal was with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003, coach Phil Jackson said O'Neal once tipped the scale at 358 pounds. When he arrived at Heat camp last fall, O'Neal said he had bulked over the off-season to protect against the constant muggings, the insinuation being the freak thigh injury that plagued him in the playoffs was the result of being too light.
"He called me out, said I didn't meet his requirements,'' O'Neal said. "He said if I didn't meet them, I wouldn't be waived, but I'd be — what's it called? — deactivated."
Lingo like that is so foreign to O'Neal, he doesn't even know it. And that story is telling on a couple of levels. First, if the Heat doesn't have a coaching change, does this message get sent to O'Neal?
Stan Van Gundy never talked to O'Neal like that. Only someone with Riley's pedigree could.
The second interesting part of that is that O'Neal changed. He went on a regimented diet. OK, at 322 pounds, squinting still isn't necessary. He's Mount Rushmore minus a few boulders. But watch him run the court in a way he wasn't in February. Watch him move more easily to the basket.
That's the playful Shaq talking, the one who knows how to work a room and get a smile. Through this regular season, Dwyane Wade has been the Heat's best player. And through this season O'Neal waited and waited and waited ...
The question isn't whether O'Neal was playing possum this season. He clearly was. So the question now is how much he still has left in the tank. He says he wants to win three more titles to bring him to a Jordanesque six for his career.
"No doubt,'' he answers when if it's possible.
Smart and experienced and 34? Or lazy and self-indulgent going on 35? Time to see.
PBT: The Kings will stay in Sacramento under new ownership, which likely means a new front office and coach, too.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Grizzlies ready for 'running' Spurs
DPS: Lionel Hollins tells us how he plans to play against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
Latest from ProBasketballTalk
A look at the play that caused George Hill’s concussion (VIDEO)11 hr 25 min ago
Get your NBA cheer on
Check out some of the dancers from the NBA.