Shaquille O’Neal announces his retirement

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UPDATE 4:38 pm: Shaq spoke with Jackie McMullin of ESPN Boston and explained his decision. It was all about health.

“I really, really thought about coming back,” he said, “but this Achilles is very damaged and if I had it done the recovery would be so long we’d have same outcome as this last year — everyone sitting around and waiting for me.

“I didn’t want to let people down two years in a row. I didn’t want to hold Boston hostage again.

“I’m letting everybody know now so Danny (Ainge) and the organization can try to get younger talent. I would love to come back, but they say once the Achilles is damaged it’s never the same. I don’t want to take that chance.”

2:58 pm: It’s not a huge surprise, but it is the sad end of an era.

Shaquille O’Neal is retiring.

In a very fitting and low-key way, the guy who always connected with the fans announced it himself on a video sent straight out to those fans through twitter.

“We did it, 19 years baby. I want to thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first, I’m about to retire. Love ya, talk to you soon.”

Shaq played 19 NBA seasons and had hoped to play a 20th, but his body betrayed him this past season. What looked like a routine Achilles and calf injury never healed stretched from February through the end of the playoffs, and he just couldn’t will his body to come back for one more run at one more ring.

It was that body that will have him going down as one of the great centers to ever play the game.

He was 7’1″, 325 pounds, one of the biggest and strongest men in a league of guys who won the genetic lottery. But with that came a quickness of foot, spin moves from his early days that were as good as any big man in the league. He was nimble, period. Let alone for someone who could simply power his way to the basket any time he wanted.

Shaq was the No. 1 overall pick out of LSU in 1992, taken by the fledgling Orlando Magic. He and Penny Hardaway put that franchise on the map, turning an expansion team into one of the most entertaining teams in the league, a team with real stars. They made it all the way to the NBA finals, but were never able to bring the Magic a title.

Then he bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers in a move where you can still see the scars in Orlando. But for Shaq it led to the most memorable moments of his career.

While a tempestuous relationship with Kobe Bryant led to as much drama off the court as on it, the Lakers won three-straight NBA titles from 2000 to 2002. That run included maybe the signature shot of his career, an ally-oop finish off a Bryant pass that was part of a 15-point fourth quarter comeback by the Lakers over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Shaq finally angered Lakers owner Jerry Buss to the point that when it came time to choose between him and Kobe, Shaq was sent to Miami where he teamed up with a young Dwyane Wade. Within a couple years the Miami Heat had a title, Wade leading the way and Shaq accepting a role as the secondary guy (a role his ego never let him accept with Kobe).

There went on to be stints for Shaq in Phoenix, Cleveland and finally Boston as he chased one more ring, one more run at glory. But it was not to be. In part because the body that had been so dominant for so long had started to break down, and that was a process Shaq could not stop.

But through it all, wherever he went, Shaq was loved. In an era of aloof players, he connected with people. He was like a big child still excited to play a game for a living. That’s what and why he is loved. He was an early adopter of twitter. Even last year, when he’d just show up on a park bench in Boston, people would flock to hang out with him.

He finishes with a certain place in the Hall of Fame waiting — He is a four-time NBA champion, a 15-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA finals MVP, an NBA MVP, three-time All-Star MVP. He was the most dominant player of his generation (he would argue ever).

He will be missed. The era has ended.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.