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Shaq launching new career as NBA analyst for TNT

ATLANTA -- Shaquille O'Neal doesn't like the Chris Paul trade; Charles Barkley says Commissioner David Stern made a mistake.

O'Neal also says the trade talk swirling around Dwight Howard has damaged his relationship with the Magic though Barkley says the center is the first player he would choose to start a franchise.

Let the debates begin.

O'Neal, the Hall of Fame-bound center, is joining Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson on the set of TNT's "Inside the NBA."

Barkley and O'Neal seemed to disagree on all the NBA's hot stories on Thursday. The two outspoken and entertaining former stars had differing views of the deal which sent Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Clippers.

"I think that they totally took a step back," O'Neal said of the Hornets.

Barkley said the Hornets, who acquired guard Eric Gordon, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, center Chris Kaman and a first-round draft choice, protected their future without making a huge sacrifice in their current outlook.

"I think it's a great trade for the Hornets because they weren't going to win with Chris Paul," Barkley said.

Barkley said the Clippers can win with Paul.

"I can't believe I am saying this, there is a legitimate question now: Who is the best team in L.A.?

"The Clippers have got all of their young talent and now they've got a leader. Chris Paul is a leader. He's going to force them to mature quicker."

O'Neal wasn't ready to crown the Clippers the new top team in town.

"I think the Lakers are always the Lakers," O'Neal said before adding the Clippers will be more competitive. "Their team is going to be very, very exciting to watch."

Barkley had sharp criticism of Stern for nixing the Hornets' proposed trade of Paul to the Lakers.

"David Stern is the best commissioner in sports in the last 25 years, in my opinion," Barkley said. "That's the first time I saw him make a mistake. I don't know what happened but it wasn't good for the NBA.

"That was not good for the NBA the way that went down, plain and simple."

There there's Howard, who like O'Neal once did, could be leaving Orlando.

Howard said Thursday that his trade request hasn't been withdrawn. He wants to be dealt to New Jersey, Dallas or the Los Angeles Lakers.

O'Neal said Howard has good reason to be unhappy with Orlando's management, including general manager Otis Smith.

"I think they should show him a little more respect and they should get him more help," O'Neal said.

Said Barkley: "I'm going to disagree with that. They have tried to make trades and make the team better. Has it worked out perfectly? No, but they have tried.

"I hope Dwight stays in Orlando ... but you can't lose him for nothing."

Barkley has a new honor for Howard for the start of the 2011-12 season. Sorry, LeBron James, you're no longer No. 1 on Barkley's list of stars.

"I've said the last three years I think LeBron was the best player in the NBA," Barkley said. "I have to take that back now. If I was starting a franchise in the NBA, I would start it with Dwight Howard."

Asked how much damage has been done to Howard's standing with the Magic, O'Neal said "I think a lot. I've seen him on TV. He doesn't look happy. Otis doesn't look happy."

But O'Neal looked very happy in his new surroundings.

His 19-year NBA career ended last season with the Celtics. He won three straight NBA titles with the Lakers and a fourth title with Miami in 2006.

The 7-foot-1 O'Neal has released four rap albums, had roles on reality TV and even appeared in films. With those and other options, he quickly settled on a new role in the Atlanta-based TNT's NBA studio.

"I think he's going to be a great entertainer," Barkley said. "He's a born entertainer. He's a real fun guy to be around, and we've got the crew to make sure he has fun.

"The key is for him to just be yourself."O'Neal, sometimes soft-spoken, may have to find his voice to be heard above Barkley's bold, booming delivery.

Smith said O'Neal is under no pressure to play a lead role, unlike his playing career.

"This will be the first time Shaq has come to a team where he's not the most dominant," Smith said. "I think it's going to be easy for him because we already have a rhythm and we already have people's expectation of us."