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Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — Aug. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Joerger hoping to get Kings to defend | Heat hoping Whiteside can assist shooters | Is Harrison Barnes ready?

No. 1: Joerger hoping to get Kings to defend — The Sacramento Kings haven’t ranked higher than 20th in defensive efficiency since the 2005-06 season. Hoping to end that 10-year streak of futility is new coach Dave Joerger, who had two top-10 defenses in his three seasons as the head man in Memphis. Joerger knows that improvement has to start with effort, as he told the Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voisin:

Joerger’s challenge is transforming an unbalanced roster into something resembling chicken soup. A team featuring Cousins, Collison and Rudy Gay pleases the analytics people but has been susceptible to injury and devoid of chemistry or defensive commitment. The playoffs are a distant memory. A joyous locker room traces back to another era.

As training camp approaches for the Kings’ first season at Golden 1 Center, Joerger is tinkering and pondering, noncommittal about a style of play and, in his mind, moving the players around a chess board.

“We have a lot of work to do, and it starts defensively,” he said during a lengthy conversation. “We are a very poor transition team. Turnovers were catastrophic last year. I think we can play fast, but I don’t think you go three or four possessions without DeMarcus touching the ball. He should be a playmaker. How do we do that? That’s a spacing issue and a shooting issue. We just have to try to build a foundation and go from there. We have to understand what it takes to grind, because we need to grind here. And we need to outwork people.”

Joerger also joined ESPN’s Zach Lowe this week for a podcast about his days in Memphis and his plans for the Kings.

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

John Wall has more to say | Donovan on being one-and-done with Durant | Jason and Jason a tandem again in Milwaukee

No. 1: John Wall has more to say — The soap opera surrounding the Wizards and their starting backcourt is either an overblown story that’s dominating a quiet summer, or something real under the surface. If you believe John Wall, it’s the former. To recap: Wall and Bradley Beal, in so many words, see themselves as the face of the franchise based purely on their lead-singer personalities and determination. Also, Beal signed a deal this summer that makes him the team’s highest paid player, while Wall is making Ian Mahinmi money. Well, Wall insists he has no problem with that, and took to social media, specifically “Uninterrupted” to squelch any rumors of unrest regarding salary:

“I just wanted to clear the air for all these people talking about how I’m watching other people’s pockets and I’m not worried about basketball and getting better,” Wall said directly to the camera. “Listen, that doesn’t matter to me. If I produce like I’m supposed to on the basketball court and take care of myself and image, I’m going to be fine with making money. That’s not why I play the game of basketball.”

News of a rift between Wall and Beal came to light earlier this week, when both players acknowledged their difficulties in dealing with each other on the court. Wall point-blank stated the two “have a tendency to dislike each other on the court” in an interview that aired on Comcast SportsNet on Tuesday night.

Beal, meanwhile, described himself and Wall as two “alphas,” insinuating that their difficulties stem from their personalities.

Neither player mentioned Beal’s new contract, which will garner the 23-year-old $128 million over the course of five years. This makes Beal, who will earn more than $22 million this season, the highest-paid player on the team. Meanwhile, Wall, 25, remains the second-highest paid player, despite being a three-time all star. Under Wall’s current contract, a five-year deal that goes through the 2018-19 season, Wall is set to make just under $17 million this season.

“Me, talking about Bradley Beal [making] more money, I’m not mad. I’m happy. He’s my teammate,” Wall said Friday. “He came out at the right time when the contract money came up. I can’t control that.

Wall added that if he does what he’s “supposed to do and the Washington Wizards win,” he’ll get his own salary bump in the future.

Wall also addressed rumors that he was “rankled” over James Harden’s four-year, $118 million extension.

“I don’t care,” Wall said of the Houston Rockets star’s deal. “I’m happy for him. That’s my guy. I’m not mad at him. … Please stop saying I’m watching money. I’m not.”

***

No. 2: Donovan on being one-and-done with Durant Billy Donovan left the University of Florida two summers ago to take his dream NBA job: Coaching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a loaded Thunder team. Donovan did well as a rookie NBA coach, but once again OKC came up short of a championship after blowing a 3-1 lead on the Warriors in the West finals. Compounding matters, of course, was losing Durant to free agency weeks later. Donovan is now left holding the bag with just Westbrook inside, and the coach often wonders what-if he had that duo intact at least for another season. He recently spoke to the Vertical and shared his thoughts on Durant joining the loaded Warriors:

Billy Donovan did not go as far as saying that he thought Kevin Durant would definitely re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency, but the coach told The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he felt good about their chances after their meeting.

From The Vertical Podcast:

“I don’t know if I ever felt like he was going to necessarily come back, but I thought our meeting went very, very well. I think Kevin on the front end was very, very, honest that when the season ended, he was going to go through this process and he was going to take a meeting with us, obviously, first. And then he was going to have some other teams he was going to meet with. And I think a little bit later on, after the season ended, they decided to do it out in The Hamptons. But I thought the meeting that we had went very well. I think we talked about basketball, we talked about our team, we talked about direction, we talked about obviously his leadership, his role, all those kind of things.

“I think leaving the meeting it was very, very positive. I thought it was very, very clear. I think there was direction on both sides. But one thing I think with Kevin was going through nine years in the organization, he was at a point of time when he was allowed obviously to be a free agent and go through this process and start to gather some information. We were the first meeting. So obviously, I think being in college for so long and you go through recruiting, you know that during that process, things can change through some of these different meetings. And obviously after meeting with Golden State, things probably in his mind changed in terms of what he was evaluating.”

Essentially, as ESPN’s Royce Young reported, the Thunder were optimistic after speaking with Durant for five hours in Oklahoma City. They were less so after he started listening to other teams. Elsewhere in the podcast, Donovan says that he always knew there was a possibility that Durant would leave, but as a coach, he knew he couldn’t control that. In Donovan’s words, Durant earned the right to go through the process, so all he focused on was trying to make the team better. On the Fourth of July, Donovan’s job immediately became about what has to change next year.

Ever since Durant’s decision, there has been all sorts of conjecture about why he did what he did, what it means and whether he made the right or wrong call for his legacy. Donovan, though, sounded completely uninterested in that. He said he would have loved for Durant to return, obviously, but he wasn’t particularly concerned with why it didn’t work out. Now that he’s gone, it doesn’t matter how well Oklahoma City played in the playoffs last season, and it doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation went into its presentation to Durant. The pitch didn’t work, and the Thunder have to move on.

***

No. 3: Jason and Jason a tandem again, now in Milwaukee — The last time Jason Terry and Jason Kidd needed each other was in Dallas. Neither had a championship ring for all of their years in the NBA, and the aging teammates helped produce one of the bigger Finals upsets when they beat the favored Heat in 2011. And now, as coach of the transitional Bucks, Kidd is leaning on his new veteran addition to help push the Bucks into steep territory in the East. Another championship doesn’t appear to be in the works right away, but the Bucks are building with youth and need guidance in the locker room and on the court. Terry recently spoke with Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the upcoming season and the challenge:

Terry believes his 17 years in the NBA will translate into a mentoring role with the young Bucks seeking a bounce-back season in 2016-’17.

“I think it’s very important,” Terry said in an interview after signing a one-year deal to rejoin former Dallas Mavericks teammate Jason Kidd, entering his third season as the Bucks coach.

“If you look at all playoff and championship teams, they have solid veteran guys to steer the ship. There are going to be times during the season when the coach’s voice, some of the young guys get tired of hearing it. That’s when the veteran leadership steps in and says, ‘No, we’re not going to go away from the ship. We’re going to continue to follow the right direction.’”

It will help that Terry and Kidd have such a close relationship. They played together on the 2011 Mavericks team that won the NBA championship, and Terry was on the Nets roster in Brooklyn during Kidd’s first year as a pro coach in 2013-’14.

“I just knew if I had an opportunity to either play again for him or coach with him, I would take it,” Terry said.

When Kidd was in Dallas, his advice proved valuable to the 6-foot-2 shooting guard. Now Terry believes he can play the same role in Milwaukee.

“It was him taking me in the weight room and just showing me another way to get longevity out of my career,” Terry said. “I didn’t know that if you lifted weights the morning of the game, that prolonged your career.

“That was something I really took to heart, because he didn’t have to teach me that. The respect level was there, No. 1.

“And No. 2, he’s a Hall of Famer. I had a chance to pick his brain and see what he’s seeing on the court. It was just phenomenal for me.”

Terry was coming off knee surgery when he played for Kidd in Brooklyn, but in the past two years he has been healthy and played in 149 games with the Houston Rockets.

He was part of the Rockets team that stunned the Los Angeles Clippers, erasing a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference semifinals in 2015.

Even though he will turn 39 years old before training camp opens in late September, Terry believes he still can contribute on the court.

“I stay in top condition,” Terry said. “I’m always watching film. I’ve already been watching some film on the Bucks last year.

“I may not be playing the point guard position, but I can still help guys get in position and calm them down, just like I did in Houston.”

Terry, nicknamed “The Jet,” ranks third all-time in three-pointers made with 2,169, behind only Ray Allen and Reggie Miller.

“I’ve always been a guy that came early and stayed late,” Terry said.

“If we’re on the road, I will go at night and get shots up in the other team’s arena. It familiarizes you with the environment. The rims are still 10 feet, but the shooting background and environment are different. Only shooters can understand that aspect.”

Terry said he learned from watching Miller and Steve Kerr, now the Golden State Warriors coach and former teammate of Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls. Another major influence was Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.

The increased emphasis on three-point shooting in today’s NBA is not surprising to Terry. Golden State’s success behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson is leading other teams to emulate its style of play.

“I love it,” Terry said. “A guy that’s 38 and still can shoot, it prolongs your career because you’re still valuable.

“You have to have shooting on the floor in today’s basketball. When you have great 1-on-1 players, it provides spacing for your guys to operate.”

The Bucks lagged behind in the three-point game last season, finishing last in the league in threes made and attempted.

But Terry sees that changing with the additions to the roster the Bucks have made in the off-season, including the signing of free agents Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova.

The Bucks still have the length featuring 21-year-olds Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, but teams will not be able to pack the paint as much if they can show legitimate three-point threats.

“When you have a guy like Giannis who can play point forward and Jabari, who is great off the dribble, you have to have spacing on the floor and guys who can knock down shots,” Terry said.

“Teletovic, he’s my candidate for sixth man of the year. I don’t know what their plans are, but he can flat out shoot this ball. He’s good.”

Terry is ready for the next chapter in his career and eager to arrive in Milwaukee after Labor Day to begin working out with his new teammates.

Last season the Bucks sorely missed the leadership of Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia, who were traded last summer as the youth movement took full flight.

Terry isn’t the bashful type and is nearly twice the age of some of the Bucks players.

“I have a routine and I will show them,” Terry said. “They already have the work ethic and that’s half the battle.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gregg Popovich should be OK in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics, you think? … Kobe Bryant essentially telling teams to man up when it comes to facing the Warriors … The Jazz-Sixers trade a few days ago was all about dumping salary … Reggie Jackson is bullish on the Pistons this year … Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson were almost teammates?

Morning shootaround — Aug. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden organizes players-only camp | Kaminsky working to improve his defense | Sefolosha: Hawks have ‘different dynamic’ now

No. 1: Harden organizes Rockets’ players-only camp — Star players on NBA teams are tasked with a variety of responsibilities, with overall leadership of the team being perhaps their most important job to succeed at. As such, many standout players — from the New Orleans Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday to Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James — are organizing players-only workouts and mini-camps before NBA training camps open in late September. According to Marc Berman of Fox26Houston.com, James Harden is doing likewise for the Houston Rockets:

For the second consecutive year Houston Rockets guard James Harden has organized a players-only minicamp scheduled for next week.

Last September Harden had the Rockets players together for a minicamp in Los Angeles.

“James is doing everything,” said Corey Brewer, Rockets guard/forward. “He is showing he wants to be a leader.

“He’s the franchise player. He signed the extension. So it’s his team, and he’s doing all the right things to do what we need to do to have a chance to win championships.”

Harden’s plan is to hold the minicamp in Miami. However, the potential of bad weather hitting South Florida may cause the Rockets players to work in a different city.

Eric Gordon said the Rockets players had a “good group” for players-only workouts around the same time as the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

“It was just everybody getting together,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t a real structured thing.

“It was just guys working out together.”

Brewer is looking forward to getting together with his teammates.

“I’ve got to go down there with the fellas,” Brewer said. “It’s a good thing. We got to get together. Get to know each other, team camaraderie. You need that, especially now days the way the NBA is. A lot of good players, but you got to be a team.

“We want to send a message that we’re ready to go. We’re going to work our butts off. All the guys have been working hard this summer. Last year was a year that we didn’t like. Everybody has a bitter taste in their mouth. So we can’t wait to get started.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall, Beal try to get past their on-court ‘dislike’ | Boeheim doesn’t think Anthony will win an NBA title | Rose ready show new aspect to game in 2016-17

No. 1: Wall, Beal try to get past on-court ‘dislike’ of each other — Bradley Beal and John Wall have been the backcourt of the future for the Washington Wizards since Beal came aboard as a rookie in 2012-13. Since then, the duo has seen its share of highs (back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2013-14 and ’14-15) and lows (non-playoff seasons in ’12-13 and last season). To reach greater heights, Beal and Wall will have to work together, something they both say doesn’t always come easy to them in an interview transcribed by J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com:

It’s no secret that the Wizards’ future — and two best and highest-paid players — have work to do with builidng their relationship. It’s Wall’s seventh season and Beal’s fifth.

“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court. … We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball,” Wall said in a sitdown interview with CSN’s Chris Miller that airs tonight, Wizards Central: Offseason Grind, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

“Now that you have your money you got to go out there and improve your game. I want you to be an All-Star just as much as I’m an All-Star.  If we were playing well as a tandem like the other two superstars that play together as a backcourt, play as a tandem, one night it’s going to be his night, one night it’s going to be mine, some nights it might be both of us. Those are nights it’s going to be tough to beat us.”

Since the backcourt has played together for four years, there’s a tendency to asume that they’re best friends. But they don’t spend much time together outside of Verizon Center and they have had to be separated on more than one occassion after blowups.

In a 41-41 season that had the Wizards out of the playoffs, Wall concluded the overall bickering amongst teammates was as much of a problem as the injuries.

One of the early signs of the season going south came after an embarrassing 123-106 loss to the Indiana Pacers in which Wall remarked postgame he’d only gotten nine shots up in 31 minutes. He didn’t mention anyone by name, but it appeared to mean he likely was unhappy that Beal took 22 in comparison. The next night, in a road game vs. the Charlotte Hornets, Wall predictably had nine shots by the end of the first quarter in a 101-87 loss.

Beal’s first injury last season was a shoulder contusion that came a few games prior to that episode, when he went down to the floor for a loose ball and took a knee against the Atlanta Hawks. While teammates ran to his aid, Wall bypassed Beal and walked to the other end of the court during the dead ball. This sort of body language speaks more than any words.

If Wall and Beal are truly going to be leaders, they have to be the voices of reason and not fan any flames with the likes of Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Oubre and likely Jarell Eddie.

“It’s tough because we’re both alphas. It’s always tough when you have two guys who firmly believe in themselves, who will bet on themselves against anybody else, who want to be that guy. We both can be that guy,” Beal said.

“Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other. I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in without John. John wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in without me, without the rest of the team. It goes hand-in-hand so it’s kind of a pride thing. We got to (hash) out our pride, fiigure out what our goals are individually, help each other achieve those goals, figure out what our team goal is, where do we see ourselves five years from now, 10 years from now and go from there.”

It’s a rough patch that coach Randy Wittman never was able to smooth out. This is where new coach Scott Brooks is expected to help in their development as the leaders witth the core veterans gutted from the roster, some of whom insisted that during games it can be difficult to get through to the backcourt when they’re frustrated.

“Guys got to know their role. I think that’s the key. I think with coach Brooks coming in he’s going to hold everybody accountable starting with me,” Wall said. “Just make sure everybody know what their role is. If everybody buys into their role, we’ll be fine.”

This was viewed as Wall’s team since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, became a three-time All-Star and second-team All-Defense. Beal, who played a career-low 55 games last season, has yet to achieve those sorts of honors. Wall has to be willing to share.

“I want it all to be on me. At the same time I want him to be right there with me. He’s my sidekick. I’m A. He’s A-1. He’s right there,” Wall said. “That’s something we got to do on the first day of training camp. We have to go in there and understand and get on the same page.

“If we’re not on the same page and we have our ups and downs we’ll keep dealing with the same problems. We have to get control of it. I think it’s hanging out off the court, doing those little things (helps).”

“It kind of goes back to when I was in college,” Wall said. “Me and DeMarcus (Cousins), E-Bled [Eric Bledsoe], they all knew I was getting all the media attention but every time I win I brought those guys along with me. I didn’t leave them behind. That’s because we hung out so much. We built a bond together. When you build that bond it’s kind of hard to break.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Olympics were ‘therapy for me’ | Colangelo challenges other countries to step up their game | Robinson says Warriors have ‘short window’ as contenders

No. 1: Durant calls Team USA experience ‘therapy for me’ — The Golden State Warriors officially signed Kevin Durant on July 8, but the news of his move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to Oakland came out before then. Durant anticipated some backlash from fans for his decision and even said he stayed out of the public spotlight for a few days after his decision. Shortly after his move came training camp for USA Basketball and the 2016 Olympics, two events which helped Durant deal with his move to Golden State. Michael Lee of The Vertical caught up with Durant in Rio, who had plenty to say about his free-agency decision:

During an emotional summer in which he left behind his first professional franchise, was (mis)cast as a villain for siding with a former enemy and found himself having to defend his character, Team USA provided a much-needed sanctuary. For nearly a month, Durant got to play the game he loves, bond with some new and old friends – and win – without sweating any manufactured controversies or external second-guessing.

“It was therapy for me after making a big change in my life,” Durant told The Vertical in the bowels of Carioca Arena 1 about an hour after scoring 30 points in Sunday’s 96-66 victory. “It made my life easier … I knew [a backlash] was coming. It was definitely different for me, but to come here in an environment where people accepted me and didn’t care about anything except being my buddy, that’s what I needed.”

Wanting to “impose my will on the team,” Durant scored 71 points in the final three games, with his teammates hopping from their seats to celebrate whenever he squared up to shoot. USA Basketball managed to win at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain without Durant, who surprisingly pulled out of his commitment after realizing his heart wasn’t in it. Krzyzewski and Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo accepted his decision and welcomed back Durant this summer, when the team was unlikely to escape this tournament unscathed without at least one superstar takeover.

“You see guys who like to play, he loves to play,” Colangelo said of Durant. “Kevin Durant is one of the great players that we’ve ever had in USA Basketball, that’s for sure, and certainly in the NBA. I’m so happy for him to have broken the stigma of the media taking issue with him going to Golden State. This was good for him, for his psyche.”

Durant doesn’t like to admit it, but he is sensitive to negative perceptions, and has had to adjust to criticism from fans in Oklahoma City who once cheered him and others who were disappointed that he decided to form a super team with players who eliminated him from the postseason in a heated seven-game series.

“I can’t let anybody steal my joy,” Durant said while crediting the presence of Team USA and former Oklahoma City assistant Monty Williams with developing that approach. “Monty Williams used to tell me that every day: don’t let anybody steal my joy. I get joy when I’m out there playing and it went to another level just playing alongside these great players and playing under Coach K and his staff. I focused on that. All that noise around me kind of quieted down.”

After each of the past five international competitions, a participant in USA Basketball went on to win the league’s MVP. From the players on the latest gold-medal-winning roster, Durant is probably the favorite to claim the honor as the league’s best player next season. In a few weeks, Durant will shift his focus to the one glaring omission on his resumé – a ring. But for now, Durant will cherish a fulfilling gold-medal pursuit that was fruitful because of the process that yielded the positive outcome.

“I worked on my game everyday with the greatest players in the world, you can’t beat that. So winning a gold medal was an amazing cherry on top,” Durant told The Vertical. “It’s something nobody will ever take away. This experience will be embedded in my brain forever. This gold medal is going to sit in my house, in my trophy case, forever. Got two of them now. It’s amazing. For a kid from Seat Pleasant, Maryland, to make it on an international stage, it’s a dream come true.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

USA’s Rio Gold Rush | Popovich takes over Team USA | Gasol not ready to end international career | Wall continues making an impact off the court

No. 1: USA’s Rio gold rush With an experienced coaching staff and roster stuffed with NBA All-Stars, the United States Men’s Basketball Team entered the 2016 Rio Olympics as heavy favorites to win the gold medal. And with yesterday’s 96-66 blowout win over Serbia, Team USA did in fact win gold, although the journey may have been bumpier than many expected. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, several lessons were apparent along the way:

This team had some bad defenders, and too many of them were in the starting lineup together until head coach Mike Krzyzewski changed things up before the quarterfinals. On this team and in years past, we’ve learned how important it is to have an Andre Iguodala or a Paul George to complement the guys who can put the ball in the bucket. Kawhi Leonard, you have a 2020 roster spot if you want it.

This team also fell victim to an exhibition schedule that was too easy. That wasn’t necessarily a mistake, because they were only able to play teams that traveled through the U.S. on their way to Rio. But it was clear that the Americans weren’t prepared for a step-up in competition after cruising through the exhibitions and their first two pool play games.

And as much talent as the U.S. has, it’s impossible to make the most of it over the course of five weeks. The national team is made up of stars who aren’t used to playing with one another, and they were playing their first elimination game less than a month after they began training camp.

Other teams don’t train for much longer than that, but almost all of them have more roster continuity than the U.S. does. The U.S. had just two players back from its last Olympic Team, as well as four from the team that won the World Cup of Basketball in 2014. Serbia, meanwhile, returned nine players from the team that lost to the U.S. in ’14.

And that’s concern No. 1 for USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. He knows that it’s always going to be difficult for the U.S. to flow freely offensively and play on a string defensively when they only have three weeks to prepare a brand new roster.

“Basketball is the ultimate team game,” Colangelo said. “And when you have 10 new people and you only have them for a few weeks, it’s not enough time. For me, I’m glad we’re past this. It’s justification for all that we’ve done. But it also says to me we need to continue with the continuity. We can’t go back again with 10 new players. It’s not going to happen.”

This year, the Americans were fortunate to have the two Olympic vets that they did. Durant put the team on his back in the gold medal game. Carmelo Anthony, who retired from the national team after Sunday’s game as the only player with three Olympic gold medals in Men’s Basketball, turned into a leader for the younger players to rally around.

Those younger guys will be asked to keep coming back. And continuity will become even more important down the line, because the rest of the world is continually getting better. While this tournament saw the final games of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in their national-team uniforms, there is more talent coming up behind them.

The 46 NBA players in these Olympics was an all-time high. Australia took a big step forward, put itself on the second tier of national teams, and has the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft in its pipeline. Serbia isn’t going anywhere, France has good, under-30 players in the backcourt and on the frontline, Croatia and Lithuania have young NBA talent, and it’s just a matter of time (and participation) before Canada breaks though.

The United States’ winning streak in international tournaments, which now stands at 53 games, will come to an end at some point. But this group of 12 didn’t let it happen on its watch.

There were close calls, but they still went 8-0, played their best game with gold on the line, and stood on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. Lessons were learned, but gold was earned.

***

No. 2: Popovich takes over Team USA — After 11 years at the helm and a perfect record in the Olympics, Coach Mike Krzyzewski now hands over Team USA to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who will be Team USA’s new man on the sideline. As ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan writes, to truly understand Pop, you have to understand where he comes from and the disappointments that have helped shape him…

Gregg Popovich graduated with a degree in Soviet Studies in 1970 and joined the U.S. Armed Forces basketball team, touring Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, using his fluent Russian to brief his coach on helpful buzzwords.

His team won the AAU championship in 1972, and when he returned to the U.S., he learned the Olympic basketball trials would be held at the Academy. Jack Herron Jr., who was named to the 1972 U.S. Olympic selection committee, made it his charge to make certain Popovich received an invitation.

Herron, whose father Jack Sr. played for Olympic coach Hank Iba at Oklahoma A&M (later Oklahoma State), had just spent a year as an Air Force basketball assistant and recruiting coordinator. Popovich had earned rave reviews for his overseas performances, but they were neither televised nor publicized.

“It was a fight just to get him there,” says Herron. Back then the Olympic team was selected from a pool of players representing AAU, the NAIA, junior colleges, the Armed Forces, and both the university and college divisions of the NCAA. Players were split into groups of 10 to 12 and assigned a coach. Popovich played for Indiana coach Bobby Knight; one of his teammates was forward Bobby Jones.

Jones remembers that Popovich was in his group but could not recall particulars of his game, even though Popovich led all players with a .577 shooting percentage. What Jones recalls with clarity, though, was how, before the last scrimmage of the trials, Knight informed the group that only two of them had a shot at making the final Olympic squad and the rest should pass them the ball to enhance their chances.

“The two guys were Kevin Joyce and me,” says Jones. “I had never heard a coach be so honest. I don’t know how Gregg and the other players felt about it.”

Herron suspects the subtleties of Popovich’s game were lost among the other candidates who were jacking up shots and looking to put points on the board. “Gregg could have been more showy,” Herron says, “but he played the way Mr. Iba told him to play. It probably hurt him in the end.”

Herron says he attended every single Olympic selection committee meeting and that Popovich was among the top 14-16 players in each of those discussions. But as the committee began to vote on the final roster, members who hadn’t showed up at any of the previous meetings suddenly surfaced. When Herron asked why they were there, he says they told him, “We’re here to get our guys on the team.”

The process, Herron says, quickly dissolved into factions fighting for representation instead of choosing the top performers. When the final roster was announced, Popovich was left off.

“I’ve been aggravated about this for almost 50 years,” Herron says. “Gregg belonged on that team.”

Larry Brown was invited by Iba to attend the tryouts and was suitably impressed by Popovich’s moxie, so much so that he invited him to try out for his ABA team in Denver later that fall (Popovich was among the final cuts).

“Pop was real tough and tenacious, like [Cavs guard Matthew] Dellavedova, although a little more athletic,” Brown says. “But there were so many talented players there.”

***

No. 3: Gasol not ready to end international career In other Olympic basketball action yesterday, Spain defeated Australia, 89-88, to win the bronze medal, behind 31 points from Pau Gasol. And while Gasol will be 40 years old by the time of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he’s not ready to say he’ll be finished with his international career by then:

Gasol, who will spend this upcoming NBA season in San Antonio and hasn’t committed to playing at Tokyo in 2020, and his teammates celebrated by piling on top of each other near center court. This wasn’t the medal they wanted, but after losing their first two games in Brazil, it beats nothing.

“Unbelievable,” forward Rudy Fernandez said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

It is a feeling Gasol wishes could last. He isn’t ready to shed his Espana jersey.

“I’m getting older and at some point I’m not going to be able to play,” said the 36-year-old. “So when that day comes, I’ll accept it. It’ll be hard, but I had an incredible run. I can’t ask for anything else. Everything I gave, everything I lived as a basketball player, it’s a plus. It’s a gift.

“I’m just enjoying the ride.”

***

No. 4: Wall continues making an impact off the court Washington’s John Wall wasn’t able to participate with USA Basketball this summer because of offseason knee surgery, but his rehab from the injury hasn’t kept him from being involved off the court in D.C. As the Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner writes, Wall recently gave out backpacks at a local elementary school, his latest attempt to make a difference in his community…

John Wall remembers how as a child he had to strap on the same backpack from elementary age until seventh grade. It’s one of the reasons why Wall showed up in Southeast Washington on a blazing hot afternoon to give away 250 backpacks.

On Saturday at Malcolm X Elementary School, the John Wall Family Foundation hosted its third annual Back to School Block Party. The event featured local organizations that donated back-to-school items, a DJ blasting up-tempo tunes, a bouncy house, face painting and free food. However, the main attraction was Wall, who personally placed backpacks on children and posed for photographs.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to meet my favorite player or an NBA player [when] I was growing up,” Wall said. “But [now] I can see the smiles that I put on these kids’ faces.”

Wall arrived at the event with little fanfare — though the DJ dropped the beat to welcome the guest of honor with “Teach Me How To Dougie.” Wall then walked the perimeter of the parking lot and basketball court to shake hands with every volunteer.

Following his gratitude lap, Wall took the microphone and addressed the crowd.

“I’m excited to be at Malcolm X Elementary school to give back to the community,” Wall said. “Like I told a lot of people before, we’re not forced to do this. I do it because I want to. I do it to be involved and be involved with the kids.”

School Principal Zara Berry-Young said Wall’s foundation reached out to her school because it specifically wanted to help in the Southeast Washington community. Wall echoed this sentiment, saying he picked an area “where people and the kids are going through tough times. . . . It’s kind of easy because it’s kind of over here by where our practice [facility] is going to be. I’m going to be over here a lot and seeing these people.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In an emotional interview following the gold medal game, Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement from Team USACatching up with Brazilian hoops icon Oscar SchmidtYao Ming reflects on his Olympic experiencesAllen Iverson picks his top five players of all-time … The Heat and Chris Bosh are reportedly still discussing his returnKobe Bryant today will announce a venture capital fund for investing in technology, media and data companies …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21



NEWS OF THE MORNING
Melo’s long journey | Meet salary cap guru | The Coach K Effect | Embiid’s progress | Whiteside’s new expectations
No. 1: Carmelo values gold above all — He’s gone from the bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens to the doorstep of a third straight gold medal in Rio and Carmelo Anthony told Michael Lee of The Vertical that he wouldn’t trade his experience growing into a leader of Team USA for anything:

“I wouldn’t trade, hopefully my three gold medals, in for nothing,” Anthony told The Vertical. “I hope I’m never put in that position. That’s a tough position. But I always say, ‘Winning is winning is winning.’ No matter what level you win on. Hopefully, I do get an NBA ring, but that’s two things. … I wouldn’t try to compare or force myself to make that comparison.”

Anthony has come to rely on his summers with USA Basketball to provide some balance for his complex career and stumbles in his personal life. When he started recruiting talent to fill out the country’s pool for international competitions, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told Anthony he would overlook any past mistakes and give him a clean slate. Anthony raised his hand as one of the first to commit to what would require him to sacrifice three consecutive summers. They have proven to be beneficial: He made his first All-Star team the season after participating in the 2006 world championships. He led Denver to the conference finals the season following the 2008 Olympics. And he led the Knicks to their first division title the season following the 2012 Olympics.

“We ask the guys for a commitment and selfless service,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But Carmelo is a perfect example of commitment for the Olympics. That’s his entire playing career and to devote that amount of time is remarkable really, and it’s not been done. He’s been such a good guy to coach.”

***

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Morning Shootaround — Aug. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA one win from gold | Serbia hopes for gold | How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1

No. 1: Team USA one win from gold —Heading into the 2016 Olympics in Rio, expectations for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team were sky high. And while they may have struggled to reach some of those expectations, and haven’t blown out every opponent along the way, with Friday’s 82-76 win over Spain, Team USA is now in the gold medal game, one win from leaving Rio with their ultimate goal accomplished. Against Spain, with the offense struggling to pull away, it was the defense of DeAndre Jordan that helped Team USA survive and advance. As our own John Schuhmann writes, Jordan has embraced his role with Team USA …

The U.S. offense was never pretty on Friday. It only once scored on more than three straight possessions. Kevin Durant (14 points on 6-for-13 shooting) and Kyrie Irving (13 points on 5-for-9) were held in check. Klay Thompson led the U.S. with 22 points, but had rough moments shooting. After scoring 129 points per 100 possessions through its first six games, the U.S. scored just 82 points on 74 possessions (111 per 100) on Friday.

The second half (37 points on 39 possessions) was particularly ugly. This was not a repeat of the last two gold medal games in which the U.S. beat Spain 118-107 and 107-100.

“It was a different type of game,” Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “It was a very hard game. It wasn’t easy flowing and both teams had to make big plays.”

Jordan made a lot of them. With the 6-11 center being disruptive on pick-and-rolls and at the rim, a potent Spanish team was held to just three scores on its first 10 possessions, allowing the U.S. to build an early, 14-7 lead that it never gave up. Jordan blocked Nikola Mirotic on Spain’s third possession, deflected a Sergio Llull pass on the next one, and forced Llull into shooting a tough, rainbow foul-line jumper two possessions after that.

“The key of the game was their defense, their athleticism, their size,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “They made our offense get difficult during most possessions.”

Pau Gasol led all scorers with 23 points, but needed 19 shots to get them. Jordan allowed him some open threes, but forced him into tough shots in the paint and a few turnovers.

Every night, somebody else has stepped up for the U.S. Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had their signature games. Though he scored just nine points and made just one of his four free throws, this game belonged to Jordan.

“He’s locked in,” Kyle Lowry said. “He wants this medal. He wants it really bad. I think we all want it and tonight he just led by example. We just feed off his energy.”

That energy came on both ends of the floor. Jordan not only affected Spain’s shots and passes, he helped get his team extra possessions. Jordan was only credited with three offensive rebounds, but got his hands on a couple of others. The U.S. finished with 21 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points.

“His activity sometimes didn’t translate in the stats,” Krzyzewski said, “but it translated into disruptive play or taking away from the continuity that Spain normally has.”

Jordan’s skill set isn’t necessarily a great fit for the international game, which values spacing and perimeter shooting. But his combination of size and athleticism can overwhelm smaller, more ground-bound opponents. And every single opponent is smaller or more ground-bound.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Navarro thought he had a clear lane to the basket on a fast break. But Jordan came along and erased Navarro’s shot, his fourth block of the afternoon. And by the end of the game, he had 16 rebounds.

Krzyzewski has shuffled his lineups (both the starting lineup and bench units that get extended run) much more than usual in this tournament. But he’s seems to have found a formula that works. Cousins better complements the defensive perimeter of Lowry, Butler and George, while Jordan fits better on the starting lineup with an offensive backcourt of Irving and Thompson.

As he is with the LA Clippers, he’s the role-playing complement to the stars.

“I have one job on this team and that’s to come out and play with as much energy as I can on both ends of the floor,” Jordan said. “I’m used to doing that. That’s the type of player that I am, so it just comes naturally. Anything I can do for this team to help us advance and keep winning, I’m going to do that. And I take pride in it.”

***

No. 2: Serbia hopes for gold —Team USA’s path to gold still has one major hurdle, as they will play against a streaking Serbia squad on Sunday in the gold medal game. Serbia advanced to the gold medal match yesterday by blowing out Australia 87-61. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, Serbia still has designs on going home with gold …

For the second straight time in a major international tournament, it will be the United States vs. Serbia for the gold medal. And for the second time, Serbia has followed mediocre pool play results with an impressive run in the elimination rounds.

At the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Egypt and Iran – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – France, Brazil and Spain – that did. Then it beat Greece (the top seed from Group B), Brazil and France before losing to the U.S. in the final.

In these Olympics, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Venezuela and China – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – Australia, France and USA – that did. And now it has beat Croatia (the top seed from Group B) and Australia to face the U.S., once again, in the final.

On Friday, Serbia never trailed, beating Australia 87-61 in the second semifinal and earning their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball (since the break-up of Yugoslavia). The question now is whether it will be gold or silver.

The U.S. won the ’14 gold medal game by 37 points, but only beat Serbia by three last Friday, allowing Serbia to shoot 52 percent. The U.S. defense has shown improvement since then, but will be tested by Serbia’s passing and the playmaking (and shotmaking) of point guard Milos Teodosic.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica said about last week’s meeting, “showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Going to settle for silver?

“No, never,” Raduljica replied. “We are Serbian.”

***

No. 3: How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1 After engineering a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, LeBron James has taken some time off this summer. But in this wide-ranging interview with Business Insider, James recalls the Cavs being down 3-1 in the Finals and how he and the Cavs were able to come from behind to win the title …

James: We lost our defensive pressure. Golden State turned up the pressure, and they were able to steal our home-court advantage to go up 3-1.

So I’m sitting at home, recalibrating and thinking about the game. And everyone is kind of down at that point. For me as a leader, I couldn’t allow myself to get in a funk. I just started to try and recalibrate and say, “Listen, we’ve got to go to Golden State for game five. We’ve got to come home anyways. So why not come home and give our fans another game, and give them an opportunity to have a game six?”

And that was my mindset. I was very relaxed going out to Golden State for game five, and obviously we saw what happened in that game. I was extremely confident in my teammates’ abilities throughout game five, and then coming home in game six to our fans, who are ecstatic and crazy as can be.

And then, in game seven, it’s one game. It’s sudden death, and it doesn’t matter what’s going on at that point. I believe in one game, I’m going to take myself every time.

If you just give me one game for it all, I’m going to take it myself. And we were able to do something that’s never been done, like you mentioned, a comeback from 3-1. And to win it on their home floor — it was an amazing feat for our franchise.

Shontell: You told a great story on the Jesse Williams “Open Run” podcast you just launched about how you spent that night of game four. You sent a group text to your troops, and you said — what did you say?

James: We have a group chat throughout the season where we talk about everything, with all the guys. We talk about everything from “Hey, this is what time we’re doing dinner” to “This is what time the bus is” or just mentally preparing for games.

I was sitting at home with my wife, and we we’re watching Eddie Murphy‘s stand-up comedy [“Raw”] because I wanted to get my mind off the game and bring some more joy into the room. And then I sent a group chat text to my guys, saying, “OK, listen: It doesn’t matter what just happened. And I know we’re all down about it, but in order for us to accomplish what no one believes we can do, we have to refocus and we have to re-lock in. You guys do your part, and I promise you, as the leader of the team, I won’t let you down. Just follow my lead.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol thinks Spain may have squandered their best chance for Olympic gold … Dwyane Wade says he’s always embraced being the underdog … Will the All-Star Game in New Orleans help Anthony Davis find his mojo? … Randy Foye wants to give back this season in Brooklyn … The Denver Nuggets have reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Nate WoltersJames Harden was at Old Trafford yesterday for Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Southampton …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith: Call my agent about contract situation | Parker hoping to play five more seasons with Spurs | Report: Bucks, Terry talking deal

No. 1: Cavs’ Smith doesn’t want to talk about contract — For the most part, the big targets in the NBA’s summer free-agent signing period are off the market. A few known entities do remain in the job-seeking mix, one of whom is Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard/fan favorite J.R. Smith. While Cleveland has worked quickly to re-sign LeBron James, Richard Jefferson and James Jones, Smith is waiting on a deal … and not wanting to get into where contract talks are, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

J.R. Smith’s free agency has once again extended deep into the summer, as he remains one of the few players still without a deal.

After a rough last off-season where Smith eventually settled for two-year pact worth $5 million per season with a player option for the second year, the 3-point specialist changed agents. He joined the Klutch Sports Group, which is headed by Rich Paul, the same agent that reps Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Tristan Thompson.

Smith has been quiet about his contract situation, instead focusing on his wedding, honeymoon and golf. But he finally spoke up on Thursday, sending out a video courtesy ofUninterrupted prior to the J.R. Smith 10th Annual Golf Classic in Lakewood Township, New Jersey.

“I know you guys are going to ask me about my contract situation,” Smith said. “You’ve got my agent’s number so you all can call him. Rich Paul. You all know what it is. Klutch. You dig?”

Paul has a reputation for being a tough negotiator. Last off-season, he dragged conversations between the Cavs and Thompson into October before Thompson agreed on a five-year deal worth $82 million.

Smith and his reps understand the reality of the market following a wild summer. The enormous cap explosion has led to rotational players receiving around $10 million per season and Smith has earned a pay raise after proving to be such a valuable member of Cleveland’s title team.

However, he’s running into the same issue he dealt with last season. He doesn’t have much leverage.

His colorful personality and history of antics both on and off the court can’t be ignored. A contract is an investment, an agreement that involves trust.

Despite being on his best behavior since coming to Cleveland, he is still a risky investment, especially to other teams around the league that won’t have James to keep him in line or the winning organization that has contributed to his transformation. Those concerns have led to a lack of outside interest for the second straight off-season.

The Cavaliers are scheduled to join James for workouts in Los Angeles next month and training camp starts at the end of September. From that standpoint, there’s a sense of urgency to get a deal finalized. James even pointed that out when announcing his three-year contract with the Cavs last week.

“I’m ecstatic,” James said in his video. “I can’t wait to see my guys. I can’t wait to get back out there in the wine and gold and just get the band back together.

“Lastly, let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron on Olympics: ‘I wish I was out there’ | Rose stands by ‘super team’ talk | Ginobili bids adieu to Argentinian team

No. 1: LeBron on Olympics: ‘I wish I was out there’ — Shortly after his Cleveland Cavaliers wrapped up the 2016 NBA championship, star forward LeBron James let USA Basketball know he wouldn’t be suiting up for the 2016 Olympics. Although he already has two gold medals to his name, James revealed in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he wishes he were a part of this year’s squad and hasn’t closed the door on participating in the 2020 Olympics:

The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, who decided to skip his fourth Olympics after leading the Cavs to an NBA title in June, said in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he is keeping an eye on his teammates at the Rio Games.

“Every time I watch ’em, I wish I was out there,” James said in the interview, portions of which will debut Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and air subsequently during editions of ESPN’s SportsCenter. “I did not retire from Team USA. I just did not play this summer. So I still left the door open.”

The full interview with James will air Sunday on ESPN.

James joined USA Basketball for the 2004 Games in Athens, where the Americans lost their opener to Puerto Rico, dropped two more games and settled for bronze. He returned on the 2008 Redeem Team and won gold in Beijing and captured another gold medal four years ago in London.

After leading the Cavs to a historic comeback against the Golden State Warriors in June, James said he needed rest and would not play in Brazil. If he decides to return to the national team, he would be 35 at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

James also addressed the call for social change he delivered at last month’s ESPYS with Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.

“We wanted to start off the show with something that meant something, you know, that really was true to our hearts, and let our fellow athletes know where we stand,” he said.

He also talked about his work with the LeBron James Family Foundation and why building something in the Akron, Ohio, community where he grew up is so important to him.

“I’m similar to these kids in every way, every way, shape or fashion,” he said. “I walk the same roads as these kids. I breathe the same air as these kids. You know, I understand what they’re going through, growing up in an inner city and having people just — basically forget them. Like, there’s no way they’re gonna make it. I had days where I just felt like it was just me and Mom, you know, and no one cared, and there’s no way that we’re gonna be able to make it outta this.

“I definitely could’ve been a statistic. I mean, I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother was 16 when she had me. I grew up in the inner city, where there’s a lot of violence.”

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