Yao Ming may retire after this season, and that's a damn shame

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NBA_ming.jpgFrom the Associated Press, some dreary news:

In comments to Chinese state media Monday, Yao sounded far from
optimistic about his future and also made a rare criticism of China’s
national basketball program.

“If the foot injury does not heal next season, I might choose to call it quits,” he said.

Yao
turns 30 in September and missed last season following foot surgery. He
is set to return to the Rockets after deciding not to opt out of the
final year of his contract. Though he has said his recovery was going
well, the Rockets have signed 7-foot veteran Brad Miller to share the
work at center.

Yao, who was in China for charity events and
remains wildly popular in his country, all but ruled out playing in the
2012 London Olympics.

“The chance is very small,” the 7-foot-6
center was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. “The
foot injury will not allow me to play so many games anymore. Like I
said before, I will quit the national team and the sport one day. It’s
what happens to every athlete.”

With Yao out of sight for so long, it’s easy to forget just how good he’s been. Andrew Bogut had an incredible ’09-’10 season, but if Yao had done the same? If he had the same production, and been as good as Bogut was defensively? It would have been just another good year for Yao, and probably not good enough by his lofty standards, to be honest.

Yao is one of the top centers this NBA era has produced, and while it’s easy to forget that when he’s sitting out seasons at a time, don’t. He’s too good to be forgotten now or ever, and I fear that if he does end up retiring after next season, he’ll be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Yes, he’s a 7-foot-6 behemoth. Yes, he’s a tap into a giant overseas market. But Yao is damn good at what he does when healthy or even hindered, and to see him walk away from the game at 31 would be disappointing. Of course he’s right in that every athlete has to hang ’em up sometime, but I always figured I’d be able to watch him lumber up the court to drop baby hooks and swat shots for a few more seasons at the very least.

Centers are supposed to age well. They’re supposed to play deep into their 30s while continuing to anchor a team’s defense. They’re certainly not supposed to offer us a good show for seven seasons before disappearing into the night, with their talents never to be properly appreciated again.

Maybe Yao will change his mind, or the Rockets will help him along. Otherwise, it seems extremely unlikely that his chronic foot injury will be fully healed by the end of the season, and thus quite likely that this year will be Yao’s farewell tour. I’m not sure how anyone who digs this game could possibly be cool with that. Even if it doesn’t qualify as a tragedy, this is still one of the league’s top centers bowing out long before he’s due, and that’s a damn shame.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.