Shaq: Jazz Biggest Threat To Lakers In West

Sep 16, 2021, 12:01 PM
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: Shaquille O'Neal speaks onstage during the 2019 NBA Awards pres...
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: Shaquille O'Neal speaks onstage during the 2019 NBA Awards presented by Kia on TNT at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Sports)
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Sports)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Shaquille O’Neal turned some heads during his appearance on ESPN’s First Take with Stephen A. Smith. Shaq told Smith that the Utah Jazz were the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Lakers championship hopes in the West this upcoming season.

Over the summer, the Lakers traded for All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and signed Carmelo Anthony, Kendrick Nunn, Malik Monk, Wayne Ellington, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, and Trevor Ariza.

The moves came after the Lakers were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns last season during the opening round of the playoffs, though they were playing with a hobbled Anthony Davis and a less-than-100-percent LeBron James.

Despite the Suns’ run to the Finals, and the Los Angeles Clippers eliminating the Jazz in the second round, it’s Utah that Shaq says is the biggest threat to the Lakers to win the West.

What may surprise fans, is that the Lakers legend credited Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert, a player O’Neal has frequently targeted with criticism, as a reason for Utah’s predicted success.

“I’m going to be so hard on Rudy this year,” O’Neal said. “Rudy’s coming with a vengeance.”

Last season, Shaq criticized the Jazz center for his limited offensive game after Gobert signed his massive five-year, $200-plus million contract.

“I’m not gonna hate, but this should be an inspiration to all the little kids out there,” O’Neal said. “You average 11 points in the NBA, you can get $200 million.”

Shaq was also critical of Donovan Mitchell during a TNT broadcast of a game between the Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I said tonight that you are one of my favorite players but you don’t have what it takes to get to the next level. I said it on purpose. I wanted you to hear it,” O’Neal told Mitchell during a postgame interview. “What do you have to say about that?”

“Alright,” the Jazzman responded.

“That’s it?” O’Neal asked.

“That’s it,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been hearing that since my rookie year. You know, I’m just gonna get better and do what I do.”

Though Shaq said the Jazz were the Lakers’ biggest competitors in the West, he didn’t shy away from placing high expectations on Los Angeles’s latest super team.

“It’s championship or bust.”

The NBA season kicks off on October 19, with the opening night lineup featuring the Lakers hosting the Golden State Warriors.

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