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.

Team USA plays down loss to Australia: The real thing doesn’t start until China”

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It was the first time Team USA has lost an international game since 2006 — 78 straight wins. That seemed like a big deal.

It absolutely was huge for the 52,000 in attendance in Melbourne, where Australia was the one that upset the USA. This was validation for a strong basketball country and program — remember in the 2016 Olympics they lost by just 10 to a USA team with Kevin Durant, and it took a late push from Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony to secure that win — that has never quite gotten the huge win on the international stage.

But after the loss, members of Team USA chalked it up as a learning experience. Coach Gregg Popovich said that, and the players followed suit. Quotes via Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

Kemba Walker: “Teams lose. We are just going to take this loss and build from it, that’s all we can do is continue to try our best to get better. The real thing doesn’t start until China, so we’ve got one more game. We’re going to head to Sydney and focus on Canada and from that point out the real thing starts. That’s all we are worried about, just continuing to get better, continuing to learn each other.”

Donovan Mitchell: “To be honest, this game doesn’t mean anything. Obviously it hurts to lose, but I look at this and we look at this as more of a learning experience as opposed to we just lost. That’s the mindset. If you think of this as a loss, you start to get carried away with all that.”

Technically, all of that is true. If the USA goes on to win gold at the World Cup, this will be but a blip on the radar.

But the loss also showed just far Team USA is away from that goal and how much work there is to do. Watch the game and what stood out — besides Patty Mills getting red hot and dropping 30, with 13 of that in the fourth quarter — was the difference in cohesion and chemistry. The core of this Australian squad has been playing together for a decade, and with Andrew Bogut as the offensive fulcrum (and Joe Ingles playing that role some) guys were cutting, moving with purpose, and seemingly always in the right place to get an open look or layup.

The Americans are trying to build chemistry on the fly and it comes and goes. Particularly on the defensive end. Team USA members lose guys on cuts, don’t help the helper consistently, and for stretches look like a team just thrown together. Especially under pressure, when the ball movement stops and there is too much one-on-one on offense.

This American squad still has the talent to overwhelm and beat most of the world. However, with some of the USA’s top talent staying home, there are a handful of teams out there — Serbia, Spain, Australia, France — with the talent to hang, and then it becomes about chemistry and execution. Team USA was beaten badly in those hard-to-quantify categories by Australia. The American’s margin for error is much smaller in this World Cup.

Maybe the loss galvanizes Team USA in a way nothing else could. Maybe. And the players are right that things don’t really matter for the USA until the games in China.

But Team USA still has a lot to prove.

James Harden working on one-legged step-back three for next season

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As if James Harden wasn’t unstoppable enough.

Harden’s step-back three has become probably the most unstoppable shot in the NBA. Now video has gone viral in NBA circles of Harden working on a one-legged, step-back three. Think Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged jumper, but from three and with a little more side-to-side to it. (You can see the video above.) Harden talked to Tim MacMahon of ESPN about it.

“I’m not sure; it’s something that I work on,” Harden said when asked if he’ll use the one-legged, step-back 3 this season. “But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever. So when I travel around the world and I see little kids that [say], ‘Hey James, I got a step-back!’ — I love to see that.

“It’s me being a creator and me being an innovator and paving the way in basketball in my own way, doing it how I want to do it, and that’s what it’s all about. As a little kid playing in these parks, that’s what I imagined, that’s what I dreamed of. Now it’s coming to reality, so it’s pretty cool.”

Harden is going to score a lot of points… or, maybe the better way to say that is he’s going to score even more points if he gets to a point he unleashes that in a game.

The challenge this season for Harden will be balance — he’s got to share the court and the ball with Russell Westbrook. Both of them are at their best with the ball in their hands, creating in isolation, but they need to be more than that. While coach Mike D’Antoni can do some things to help with that balance (staggering their minutes as much as possible) for the Rockets to become the contenders they want to be Harden and Westbrook have to be more than “your turn, now it’s my turn” on offense.

But when it’s Harden’s turn, that one-legged step back will be fun to watch.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.