Shaq says Nets will challenge the Heat, calls Brook Lopez the best big man in the NBA

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

NEW YORK - On Tuesday, TNT will be kicking off their 30th consecutive season covering the NBA. They will do so by rolling out three straight nights of NBA coverage, as anchored by the Inside the NBA studio team of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal.

One reason this team -- in particular Johnson, Smith and Barkley who have been together for 13 years -- has been so successful is that they don't hold back, there's no self-editing. Which is the basis of their highly entertaining discussions on Thursday night.

"[Turner] allows us to be ourselves," Shaq said during a small media luncheon this afternoon, adding,"You all know Chuck's an as*hole, we all know Kenny thinks he knows everything, we all know Ernie's a genius and you guys all know I mumble."

Much of the conversation was about the upcoming NBA season, which, naturally, focused heavily on the Miami Heat, who are looking to win their third-straight title, and the Brooklyn Nets, who had the most active offseason in the NBA.

On the Nets, each pundit agreed that they have a legitimate shot at winning the title this year, with Barkley saying they are one of the four elite teams in the East -- along with Miami, Indiana and Chicago -- and Shaq adding that if they can stay healthy they will definitely give the Heat a "run for their money."

Barkley praised both Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov for the job they've done in constructing the 2013-14 Nets, while Kenny Smith said that if he still lived in New York he would be watching more Nets games than Knicks games, saying that they are just as much a part of New York now as the Knicks are.

When it came to discussing Jason Kidd, both Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley think he'll do a fine job, but Smith seems to think the job will come much more naturally to Kidd than Barkley does. Smith said, "the NBA is the only place where your tenure as a player doesn't count," which is something he disagrees with. In that, people are saying Kidd will struggle because he never coached, but they are forgetting that he is one of the all-time great players in this game. Barkley, though, didn't agree, saying that just because you play the game at a high level doesn't mean you're a shoe-in to be a successful coach, adding, "I am rooting for Kidd, though."

Shaq, after the media session, took some one-on-one questions, meeting with small groups of the media, and in that time had nothing but praise for Nets All-Star center Brook Lopez, who he referred to as the best big man in the NBA.

He listed his Top 5 bigs, in order, as Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan, noting that he likes more traditional bigs and not necessarily power forwards playing the center position.

On the criticism that Lopez isn't a very good rebounder, Shaq said, "I didn't rebound well, and nobody gave a fu*k... Reggie Evans, let that motherfu*ker rebound." To Shaq's point, he added that having a rebounding power forward like Evans and, this year, Kevin Garnett, allows Lopez to be a truly dominant scorer. He did note that Leopz should be pulling down 8-10 boards per game, but he didn't think the rebound criticism was any reason not to put Lopez as the best big in the NBA.

Finally, on Prokhorov, I asked Shaq if he thought the kind of spending he did this summer was good for the game and he said, first and foremost, Mr. Prokhorov is a businessman. "He's done a great job...In the business world, those who put a lot usually get the return on their investment in a short period of time," Shaq said, comparing this situation with what Mark Cuban did with the Mavericks, Mickey Arison with the Heat, the Yankees, the Cowboys -- though, "it's not working for them now, with fu*king [Tony] Romo."

"When you look at that starting five," he said of the Nets," I was thinking about that the other day -- Deron Williams, Joe [Johnson], Paul [Pierce], Garnett, Lopez -- holy sh*t, that's nice."

As for the other prognosticators, the general consensus seems to have the Nets as the 7th best team in the NBA, according to preseason power rankings, though Marc Spears of Yahoo has the Nets at No. 11 on his list, which is mostly do to "uncertainly" -- both coaching, ego and health-wise.

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