No. 1: So much to watch as World Cup is finally here — The best basketball outside the NBA gets under way Saturday with the start of the World Cup in Spain. The host country and the United States, despite LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other All-Stars sitting this one, are the favorites for gold. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann is on the scene:
The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.
Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.
There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.
There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.
There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.
There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.
There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.
There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.
There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.
Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait for the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.
No. 2: Colangelo: Team USA “by far” better than 2010 — Team USA is the youngest group of players to represent the country since NBA players started playing in international competition in 1992. Despite their youth and some of the U.S.’s top players sitting this one out, Team USA brass is convinced this squad is even better than the 2010 version that won gold. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has the story:
The 12 players representing the United States at the FIBA World Cup that starts this weekend comprise the youngest team fielded by USA Basketball since NBA players were ushered into the international game in 1992.
When it opens Group C play here Saturday night against Finland at the Bizkaia Arena, Team USA will sport an average age of just above 24 years old.
But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo are nonetheless convinced that the 2014 squad begins the tournament in better shape than the 2010 group that ultimately won that FIBA World Championship in Turkey without a single member from the gold-medal-winning 2008 Olympic team.
“By far,” Colangelo told ESPN.com. “Because we have a couple of Olympic gold medalists on this roster in Anthony Davis and James Harden. We have three players from that team in 2010 in Steph Curry, Derrick Rose and Rudy Gay. And they’re not 21 this time. They’re 23 or 24. A little bit older and more mature.
“We like our team. We really do.”
Yet Colangelo has acknowledged on multiple occasions this summer that he would ultimately regard a fourth successive championship in a major tournament for the United States to be the “sweetest” success enjoyed by the program since he and Krzyzewski teamed up to resuscitate USA Basketball in the wake of a humbling bronze-medal finish at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
That’s because of the rash of prominent players’ withdrawals that USAB has weathered this summer. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook all removed themselves from the roster before the squad convened for its first training camp in Las Vegas in late July. Kevin Durant then followed suit earlier this month after the horrific compound leg fracture suffered by Paul George in an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 1.
But this team, as Colangelo mentioned, brings a modicum of international experience to the competition even after all those losses. In 2010, Team USA was forced to field a new squad that eventually defeated host Turkey in the final after a team led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony narrowly defeated Spain in the 2008 gold-medal game in Beijing.
No. 3: Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons won’t play in Spain — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a loud critic of international play. He abhors the risk to teams in the case a player gets injured, among other issues. So he wasn’t disappointed when newly acquired small forward Chandler Parsons, who Cuban will pay $46 million over the next three years, was cut from Team USA. NBA.com’s own Jeff Caplan spoke to Cuban:
Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.
Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.
“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”
No. 4: Video surfaces of an encouraging D-Will workout — For the last two seasons Nets point guard and former All-Star Deron Williams has been dogged by ankle problems and critics piling on about his demise. Williams had surgery on both ankles this offseason, and new coach Lionel Hollins says he’s the key to success. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York talked to Hollins about it:
Williams underwent surgery on both of his ankles in the offseason. Now it’s about getting healthy and getting his confidence back. But how?
“There’s a lot of different things you can do [as a coach],” Lionel Hollins said Friday. “I can’t say right here that I’m going to walk in there and tell Deron Williams this or that, because I don’t even know where he is from that perspective [a confidence perspective] at this moment.
“But I think first of all he has to be healthy and he has to be in great shape and we’re going to try to put him in a situation where he can flourish, which will give him confidence and go from there. I mean confidence comes and goes with all players no matter how good they are. I don’t think there’s ever been a player that’s played and didn’t have a confidence issue at some point maybe in a game, maybe in a season.”
Hollins has said similar things before. Putting Williams in a position where he can flourish is the key. In that respect, it really comes down to health, doesn’t it?
“If you’re injured, you can’t be who you are,” Hollins said. “You can’t make the same moves or be as explosive as you are, and it’s difficult to go out there and go 100 percent. You’re always worried about what’s going to happen if you push off, stop, change direction, all of those things.”
Asked about where Williams is from health standpoint, Hollins responded, “As far as I know, good.”
Williams looked good dribbling in an Instagram video posted by his close friend, Matt Mitnick, on Friday night.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden expects 20-year-old Kobe Bryant to return … Ian Mahinmi out two to three months with shoulder injury … Spurs interested in Gustavo Ayon … Monty Williams sees big improvement in Anthony Davis … Expect the Clippers to make a run at Ray Allen … Spurs also barging in on Allen sweepstakes.