Shaq goes out with a smile

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Shaquille O’Neal said goodbye to the NBA in the way we should all remember him, with a laugh and a smile.

He started his official retirement press conference — broadcast live on NBA TV — by somebody handing him a cell phone, saying a few words, then telling the media it was the Knicks asking if he would come up and interview for the Knicks job.

He was smiling and laughing the whole time, talking about his 19 years in the league, four rings and certain Hall of Fame credentials. He was comfortable discussing it all.

He sounded like a man who could walk away from the game because he had somewhere to walk to.

Shaq said his competitive fire had him wanting to come back, but the only way was surgery and a nine-month (at least) rehab. Which even if he had the surgery now might mean a post All-Star game return at best. While Shaq had the second year option on his contract, he said he could not do that to the Celtics.

“I didn’t want to let that happen what happened last year,” Shaq said of the Celtics waiting on his return.

But after that it was all about having fun. He joked about missing shooting free throws. He joked about his nicknames.

“In light of today, I am retiring all my nicknames. The Big Aristotle, Shaq-Fu, The Big Shamrock, The Big Cactus, The Diesel, and finally, the one and only, original, never to be duplicated or replicated Superman,” he said. “From now on, you can call me The Big AARP — Association for the Advancements of Retired Persons.”

There was a huge spread of food and he wanted to hang out and just talk with friends in the media. Even after he joked about having wanted to smack Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless around. (I think we’ve all felt that way at times.)

Shaq laughed off the idea he might coach.

“The only people I’ll coach are my three sons,” he said. “I’ve been coaching the last three summers and I am the Phil Jackson of little league around here. I’m like 36-0.”

Shaq laughed about a lot of things. He was having fun with this. But he had his serious moments too, talking about his parents and his desire to be a good father.

Shaq talked about his legacy, admitting he could have gotten more out of his talents but adding that in the end his name was mentioned in sentences with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain and that’s all he could ask.

He also threw down the gauntlet to Dwight Howard, saying he was the only dominant center left and he would be “disappointed” if Howard didn’t have three or four rings someday.

He talked about leaving Orlando.

“Businesswise I had a better offer in Los Angeles, at the time they didn’t match it,” Shaq said. “I didn’t want to go back and forth… Plus a lot of other selfish reasons, movies and stuff like that that I thought was best for me.”

In the end, the press conference was a lot like Shaq — memorable and fun. And that’s a good legacy to have.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.

Kristaps Porzingis officially day-to-day, questionable vs. OKC

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Knicks fans can exhale now.

There was understandable concern after face of the franchise Kritaps Porzingis had to leave the game in Brooklyn Thursday night following a non-contact injury.

Turns out there is nothing to worry about. After the game, Porzingis spoke to the media and was standing on the leg, a good sign. By Friday, after a day of treatment, he was doing well. Officially Porzingis is day-to-day and may sit out Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden Saturday, but the injury is nothing serious. Ian Begley of ESPN has the details.

Porzingis’ knee was “worked on” on Friday and the discomfort in his knee decreased, league sources told ESPN. It is unclear if Porzingis underwent an MRI or had X-rays to further determine the extent of the injury but sources say he did not undergo significant testing because it wasn’t warranted based on the state of the injury.

Good. We don’t need another star down with a major injury this season.

Especially Porzingis, who has led the Knicks to a 15-13 record (sixth in the East, in the playoffs) while putting up All-Star numbers: 25.5 points per game, shooting 39.5 percent from three, plus grabbing 6.6 rebounds a game. Maybe more impressive is how he has anchored a solid Knicks defense this season with his rim protection. Stay healthy and he should make his first All-Star team this season.