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.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.