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BELGRADE - One of the most versatile centers in the NBA, Vlade Divac announced his retirement Thursday.
Divac, who averaged 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists during an NBA career that spanned 16 years, had been expected to delay his decision until September 30 but hasn't been able to shake a back injury.
One of most popular Serbo-Montenegro basketball players of all time, the 7-footer planned to finish his career back in his homeland with Partizan Belgrade, the club he left to join the Lakers in 1989. But any hopes of an emotional return now appear to be dashed.
The 37-year-old, who signed a extended contract with the Lakers last summer, underwent back surgery six months ago and played only 15 games last season, averaging just 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.
"My back is causing me a lot of problems," Divac said. "At the moment I don't feel pain, but after four or five days of playing I feel it a lot. There is just a 50-50 chance for me to be fully recovered for the new season. As I don't want to become a disabled player, I think this is a right time for me to stop playing basketball."
Divac made his debut for the Yugoslavia national team in 1986 and won two gold medals at the World Championships in 1990 and 2002.
The Lakers have added youth and size over the last three weeks, but aging center Vlade Divac said he is not yet ready to be nudged out of the low-post picture.
Divac, who played only 15 games last season because of back problems, contested a report from a Belgrade news agency that said he had decided to retire.
"Sept. 30, that's when I'm going to decide what I'm going to do," Divac said Friday.
The Lakers and Divac agreed last month to postpone a decision on his future until that date, giving both sides time to monitor his health.
Divac, 37, had back surgery in January and averaged only 2.3 points last season. The Lakers could bring him back for $5.4 million, buy him out for $2 million or trade him to a team that could release him immediately to clear cap space.