Lost amidst all the trade talk, conspiracies and player movement of the past few weeks, Shaquille O’Neal is still joining the best basketball show on television and is still going to make TNT’s “Inside the NBA” an even more entertaining program. Watching basketball on Thursday nights is great, but we all know how much better TNT makes it. Yesterday, I got my first listen into what a show with O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson will be like. TNT held a media conference call and nearly three quarters of the way through, the three analysts got into a pretty big argument over what Orlando should do with Dwight Howard. Should they include him in basketball decisions? Should they trade him right away? Should he have to make up his mind and tell them immediately?
Howard wasn’t the only person they spoke on. They broke down the contenders and pretenders, as well as talking about Golden State’s prospects, who the best player in the league is and of course, the new-look L.A. Clippers. Below are some highlights from the conversation.
On What They’re Looking Forward To This Season
O’Neal: “I’m looking forward to hanging out with two legends… Ernie (Johnson) and Charles (Barkley).”
Dwight Howard’s situation in Orlando:
O’Neal: “I’m going to keep an eye on the Orlando situation (with Dwight Howard). I’m anxious to see if they’ll make the same mistake twice (in trading a young center like they did with O’Neal early in his career).
“Well one, they should show him a little more respect. And two, I think they should get another dominant player. If you look at the history of the league, most (successful) teams have had a definite one-two punch. Right now in Orlando, you have a one-punch and no one can do it by themselves.”
“With Otis (Smith) getting on TV and saying we’re not gonna do what he wants us to do and we’re gonna do this and do that, you just gave a guy ammunition to say ‘You know what? I’m tired of this. I’m gonna go somewhere else.'”
Smith: “This is a critical time and you have to include him into the situation to make him feel comfortable. He is their ‘LeBron James‘ and if he walks out of the arena (to another team) 7,000 fans might walk out with him. So you have to include him in all of the conversations and not alienate him.”
Barkley: “Dwight’s a great player, a great guy. Everyone has been unfair to (Magic GM) Otis Smith to a certain degree, he doesn’t want Dwight Howard to leave. They made a bunch of trades to try and get him some help but it didn’t work.”
On the Oklahoma City Thunder:
O’Neal: “I think they are a little bit too young. If everyone can learn their roles, they can make it deep in the playoffs, but I don’t see them making it to the Finals.”
Barkley: “They are one of the four best teams in the West.”
Smith: “I think the Thunder have a legitmate chance to be (in the Finals). This could be their breakthrough year because of the shortened season. Most teams are trying to figure out who their top six or seven guys are…they know who their top guys are in Oklahoma City.”
On The Shortened Season:
O’Neal: “I like it because it causes some drama. We are sitting back watching who is getting traded, which team is doing what, how much is he gonna get paid? We’ve already missed enough. I like that they are rushing it because we all love to watch the game and it’s like the TNT slogan, ‘we know drama.'”
Smith: “I was getting a little tired of seeing those exhibitions games. So it was time. I think it would’ve maybe been more productive if the season was 55 games starting on Christmas so you still would have some type of lapse in-between games.
“I think with the shortened season, you won’t have those typical teams who make the late season run because they’ll be running out of time. You used to have a 30 game window after All-Star (Weekend) for teams to get going and now that window is so short.”
Barkley: “I thought it was too much. First of all they have a lot of player movement going on right now. I thought they could’ve waited until January and waited a couple of weeks because they got to play so many games in such a short period of time. The game is going to be played no matter. I just think it’s too much. I’m really concerned about injuries. I look at the football thing. I think there’s been a greater amount of injuries in the NFL than there has been in the past because there was a short training camp.
“There are two types of teams…teams trying to win a championship and teams trying to have a good season. The teams trying to win a championship will be pacing themselves. We know who the best teams are and they are just trying to stay healthy and get to the playoffs.”