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Heat celebrate Shaq’s impact ahead of jersey retirement

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade still remembers when he initially heard the rumor that Shaquille O’Neal was coming to the Miami Heat, and how his first reaction was disbelief.

And then came the 18-wheeler that carried O’Neal to his arrival in Miami, as he happily fired a squirt gun at throngs of screaming fans.

“We had a vision to be a championship team,” Wade told The Associated Press on Wednesday, “but it wasn’t for real for real until Big Fella came and pulled up on that truck.”

A grand celebration was had on that day in July 2004, the franchise’s first of three NBA championships followed two years later, and the Heat will give O’Neal their version of an ultimate thank-you on Thursday night when they raise his No. 32 banner to the rafters. He will be the third Heat player to get such an honor, joining only Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

“I said `I promise I’m going to bring a championship here,”‘ O’Neal said. “And we did.”

Fittingly, the Heat will fete O’Neal at halftime of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers – who have also retired his number.

“He changed the direction of our team,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “He brought an absolute legitimacy to our franchise. And when we won the championship I think it sort of took us over the top. He deserves to be honored by having his number hanging from the rafters. It’s not just out of respect. It’s because of what he did for us.”

The NBA is permitting a longer-than-usual halftime for the ceremony, in which Riley and O’Neal will be among the speakers. O’Neal won his first three titles with the Lakers, then got his fourth in Miami to make good on the promise he made when he stepped out of that truck to deliver a championship to Heat fans.

And, in a nod to that infamous arrival, the Heat will have an 18-wheeler bearing the “Diesel Power” artwork that greeted him 12 years ago at the arena.

“Big Fella in Miami changed everything,” said Wade, who’s now with the Chicago Bulls but will one day have his jersey hanging next to O’Neal’s in Miami. “Changed everything for everyone.”

O’Neal appeared in 205 regular-season games over parts of four seasons with Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. But his impact stretched well beyond stats; he helped turn Heat games into events, and did so while not impeding Wade’s rapid rise to superstardom.

There were some well-documented troubles along the way. When Stan Van Gundy stepped down as coach in 2005, part of that decision was believed to be related to his relationship with O’Neal. And when the Heat traded him to Phoenix in 2008, O’Neal blasted Miami’s personnel – including guard Chris Quinn – along with the team’s medical and athletic training staffs.

Quinn is now an assistant coach with the Heat. And O’Neal’s jersey banner will sway next to one for Ron Culp, a revered figure in Heat history and the team’s athletic trainer from 1988 through 2008.

“It was not personal,” Riley said. “Shaq was impeccable with his word. He came down here and said `We’re gonna win a title, Coach.’ And we won a title. … No hard feelings, at all. I’m an Irishman and I forgive.”

So with that, all is forgotten, all is forgiven.

“Next to Dwyane, I’d have to say he’s probably the best teammate I ever had,” Heat captain Udonis Haslem said. “Just showing us how this NBA life works, how you can have fun and enjoy it but stay out of trouble and win games. He put so much confidence in his teammates. He really was the great Shaquille O’Neal.”

Haslem was a second-year undrafted player when O’Neal arrived, and remembers hearing that an undersized power forward like himself wasn’t the sort that would work well with a still-dominant center.

O’Neal let Haslem know right away to ignore such talk. Haslem wound up playing a huge role in Miami’s 2006 NBA Finals victory, and is still so revered by O’Neal that he wants him to join in the ovations from the crowd on Thursday night.

“The first thing when I got with Big Fella, he said, `I’ve been watching you, I like your work ethic and I can win with you,”‘ Haslem said. “A player like that has confidence in you, how could I ever question that?”

Damian Lillard talks about his “no pressure” pitch to Carmelo Anthony, selling Portland

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Self-made, over-achieving players in the NBA tend not to be the recruiters. They worked hard and made it to where they are more on their own, and their world-view follows that path. Think Derrick Rose in Chicago.

Damian Lillard was one of those guys, but he has done a little recruiting of late — he reached out to Carmelo Anthony last week. Lillard told Chris Mannix of NBC Radio (who is filling in for Dan Patrick for the day on his national radio show) that it wasn’t really the John Calipari hard-sell.

“It wasn’t really a pitch, I just reached out to him and let him know the interest just wasn’t from our front office, if there was a possibility there was definitely interest from the players as well, and I didn’t want that to be confused,” Lillard said on the radio show. “I didn’t put no pressure on him or ask him a bunch of questions, I just said what it was from our end.”

That is nice, but Anthony reportedly has focused in on Houston, and might settle for Cleveland (if there was a deal to be had). Would ‘Melo waive his no-trade clause to head to Portland?

“I didn’t get a sense that he wouldn’t,” Lillard said in a tepid response. “What we have here is a good situation for him and that’s just kind of where it went. I let him know what I thought he could do for our team and what our team could do with his presence. And that was it. We didn’t go over no details or talk about a no trade clause or nothing like that. He’s gonna make his own decision to do that or not, I just want to make sure we had some kind of a conversation.”

It’s a start. It’s likely not enough. Anthony wants to go somewhere and chase a ring, and despite what C.J. McCollum thinks, Portland with ‘Melo isn’t a contender. Even with Anthony, I would have them sixth in the West, maybe fifth at best (Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and probably Minnesota are better still). And this is assuming Portland can find a team to take on Myers Leonard’s contract to make a deal work.

What Lillard wanted to get across was that Portland is a great place to be an NBA player.

“I think people talk about what it would be like in Portland or to play in Portland, but actually having lived here, I live here year-round, so I know it’s a great place to live,” Lillard said. “Some of the best food in the United States. You talk about loving the game of basketball, our team and the soccer team are all the city has, so we get a lot of support and our fans really back our team and are really passionate about our team. That type of environment, and that type of love and support around the city, what NBA player wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Jimmer Fredette re-signing in China

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Jimmer Fredette played well in China last year, and buzz even emerged about him re-joining the NBA after the Chinese season ended in March. Never happened.

Even in the offseason, when every NBA team had open roster spots, nobody stateside has signed Fredette.

So, he’s returning to the Shanghai Sharks.

Fredette:

Fredette retains a cult following in America, but not the talent of an NBA player. He can score plenty in a lesser league, but his game doesn’t fit with better players on the floor.

Perhaps, he could’ve gotten a training-camp invite, maybe even with a small guarantee. But would’ve faced an uphill battle sticking into the regular season. Better for him to lock into a bigger salary in China now.

Rumor: Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder ‘officially circling each other’

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Carmelo Anthony prefers to be traded to the Rockets. He might soon be traded to the Rockets.

Are the Thunder trying to interject themselves before it’s too late?

Bill Simmons of The Ringer:

Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse when Anthony played there. Weaver is also well-connected in the Washington area (D.C./Maryland/Virginia). I’m not sure how much that means to Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore – in many ways, a different world from the DMV (which includes only parts of Maryland and Virginia closer to D.C.). Still, Weaver and Anthony at least share their Syracuse connection.

The problem: An Oklahoma City trade for Anthony would almost have to include Steven Adams (way more valuable than Anthony) and/or Enes Kanter (way less valuable than Anthony). There’s no easy way to bridge either gap, especially considering how much the Thunder need Adams’ interior presence.

Here’s my best stab at a workable framework for a trade, via ESPN’s trade machine:

screenshot-www.espn.com-2017-07-24-12-26-16

The Clippers would get a more-skilled backup center while just shuffling bad contracts (at least that’s how it seems they view Wesley Johnson‘s deal). The Thunder would still need to send the Knicks more assets (Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant and/or draft picks). The Knicks would get a veteran point guard in Austin Rivers while Frank Ntilikina develops and, more importantly, additional young assets. It’s just a matter of determining whether there’s an overlap in the picks Oklahoma City would trade and New York would receive. That window might be tight – or not exist.

Adding Paul George and Anthony to a team led by Russell Westbrook would be exciting. I’m just not sure it’s realistic.

Rumor: Knicks likely to trade Carmelo Anthony to Rockets this week

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After numerous starts and stops and starts and stops, maybe the Knicks will actually trade Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets soon?

Tarek Fattal of the Los Angeles Daily News:

So, they found a third team to take Ryan Anderson or a fourth team to take Meyers Leonard?

If true, that’d please at least Anthony.

There’s room for a trade to work. New York is clearly ready to move on from Anthony, and Houston wants him to join James Harden and Chris Paul. The Rockets can add sweeteners to convince another team – or maybe even the Knicks – to take a bad contract in the trade.

But this has dragged on so long, I need more evidence the deal is actually close before I believe it.