Morning Shootaround

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.”

*** (more…)

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.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant willing to help Lakers’ youngsters | Report: Pierce likely to play next season | Holiday organizes Pelicans’ team workouts in L.A.

No. 1: Bryant talks Lakers’ future, next steps in career — Kobe Bryant couldn’t have written a better farewell to the NBA than his final game: a 60-point showing on April 13, 2016 against the Utah Jazz. Since then, Bryant has kept a fairly low profile, popping up here and there but for the most part easing into his retirement life. In an interview with Mike Bresnahan of TWC SportsNet, Bryant — who now sports a beard — opens up about what he’s been up to lately, the Lakers’ offseason (and rookie Brandon Ingram), and his willingness to help L.A.’s next generation of stars:

On Team USA: “I’m around for them and I still speak to several of them. I think they’ll be fine. It’s tough competition and basketball is a global game now. It’s not going to be easy.”

On he and his wife expecting child No. 3: “What a blessing. If I look at the month after retirement and all that kind of happened and all the blessings we’ve been enjoying to find out we’re having another baby girl coming, its icing on the cake.”

On transitioning from NBA life to retirement life: “It’s always hard for athletes to transition out of something that you’ve been identified with your entire life. Being able to transition into what comes next. That’s always a big challenge. Hopefully, I can kind of lead the charge there and show other athletes that it is possible to have something that you love and transition into something that you love equally.”

On the Lakers’ offseason and future: “They have a really young core and a really good core. Now it’s just a matter of them growing together and having those pieces mesh. I think It’s a great opportunity. Now at this age where their games are still developing, they can develop their games and their strengths around each other. They have a lot of potential. Hopefully they can put it together sooner rather than later.”

On Brandon Ingram: “I think he plays with great tempo, great pace. I like his length. His ball-handling ability is very good, he can get to spots on the floor. I think defensively he has the potential to be fantastic — he has long arms, long legs. So, hopefully he starts really paying attention to that just as much as the things he can do offensively.”

On D’Angelo Russell: “There are certain things he’s really picked up: body positioning, using his size to get to places, recognizing defensive packages and where to position guys on the floor. He’s developed very nicely over the summer.”

On new coach Luke Walton: “He’s going to have them play the game the right way. He’s going to have the foundation of the team is going to be a championship foundation.  It’s not going to be isolation ball. It’s going to be a lot of ball movement, but ball movement with purpose. Players are going to understand why they’re moving the ball in certain situations, which then makes you a very dangerous team. Because now you have players on the floor that can think on the fly and think together.”

On helping the Lakers’ youngsters develop their games: “If I can, yeah. I’m certainly busy doing a bunch of other things, but I would love to come by. I’ve spoken to Luke several times and B-Shaw [assistant coach Brian Shaw]. I let the players know I’m always around, man. I’m always around. If they want to come out and work out, we can get up early in the morning an work out, walk them through some things. The Lakers are in my blood. It’s family to me, so I’m always around.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers’ Jordan, Warriors’ Durant share deep bond | Report: LeBron to host team workouts in L.A. | Young, Russell mending relationshipReport: Grizzlies tried to sign Teodosic

No. 1: Durant, Clippers’ Jordan share deep bond — In just about every sense of the word, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are rivals in the NBA. With Kevin Durant moving from Oklahoma City to Golden State this summer, that rivalry takes on added spice as the Clippers were one of the teams attempting to woo him. Yet despite the added aspects to that rivalry, Durant and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan remain as close as ever. Michael Lee of The Vertical details that bond as he catches up with the pair of Team USA teammates in Rio:

“If I were to get married today, he’d be in my wedding,” Durant told The Vertical about Jordan. “That’s how it is. That’s my brother.”

Numerically, Durant and Jordan were bound to be attached at the hip at some point during these Olympic games. Number 5 and No. 6, respectively, in your program for Team USA, the tallest players on the roster – don’t bother looking at the height listings in your program – are always side-by-side during the pregame introduction and national anthem.

But they have also been almost inseparable off the floor since the games began. They were seated next to each other, pumping their fists and cheering, and using their cellphones to record Michael Phelps collecting a couple more gold medals. They’ve joined teammates on trips to the Ipanema Beach to play volleyball, to Copacabana Beach to watch volleyball, to Olympic Stadium to see Usain Bolt scorch the track and to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue to admire one of the world’s great wonders.

The newest Golden State Warrior and the longest-tenured Los Angeles Clipper are proving that players from those hated rivals can get along. It helps that they’ve been friends almost a decade – beginning when Durant failed in recruiting Jordan to Texas, growing stronger a few years ago when Durant decided to make Los Angeles his offseason home and continuing through now, as they try to bring a third consecutive gold medal back to the United States.

When relayed Durant’s comments about being in his whenever wedding, Jordan nodded and told The Vertical, “For sure, he’s going to be in mine.”

Durant first met Jordan shortly after he committed to Texas and tried to convince Jordan, who was a year younger, to join the program. Jordan wasn’t swayed because he had little confidence they’d ever be college teammates, and signed with rival Texas A&M.

“I said, ‘Why would I come there, when you’re going to leave after your first year?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m going to leave. I think I’m going to stay.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘I’m telling you.’ And obviously, you know what happened,” Jordan told The Vertical with a laugh. “Ever since then, we’ve been really, really cool and he’s one of my best friends in the world.”

This summer, Jordan was on the other end, heading up to the Hamptons, along with Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Lawrence Frank, to make a recruiting pitch for Durant to join the Clippers. “I tried every day,” Jordan told The Vertical. “We had a shot. And if you ask him, he’d say we had a shot. People can be happy for him, mad at him, but at the end of the day, he did what was best for Kevin, and he can live with that.”

In addition to hanging out with Durant, the Olympics have also given Jordan the chance to connect with players whom he’d always viewed as the enemy. Those differences have been put aside in pursuit of a similar goal, quarrels that become more difficult to maintain once those guys have been to your home, dining on your mother’s cuisine. Before leaving for Brazil, Jordan invited his Olympic teammates over for dinner at his mother’s home in Houston.

“Six months ago, I never would’ve thought I would’ve invited Draymond [Green] to my house,” Jordan told The Vertical, adding that his relationship with Durant had no influence on befriending the other Warriors on the Olympic team. “Once you’re around these guys you realize, ‘Oh, they’re cool.’ Before, I only looked at Draymond as Draymond who played for the Warriors. We always clashed. So, now that we’ve been together for over a month, it’s been amazing. We hate each other during the season, but it’s bigger than those two teams. Winning a gold medal, representing your country. We don’t even think about that anymore. Which is crazy. I’m happy to be playing with these 11 guys and we’ll be bonded for life after this.”

With Griffin missing most of last season with a nagging quad injury and a broken hand from a fight with a former team employee, Jordan was able to earn some of the appreciation he has long sought when he made first-team All-NBA despite never making the All-Star team. “I could care less about the All-Star team now,” Jordan told The Vertical. “Yeah, I really don’t care about it anymore. I’d rather go on my week vacation, to be honest. And being an Olympian, and potentially a gold medalist, that’s better than that. It’s cool to be appreciated and highly valued by your peers. That, to me, is the biggest thing.”

Durant believes the recognition was long overdue. “As a basketball player, you an appreciate what someone like him does, he sets screens, does all the small things, rebounds, blocks shots, talks out there, he’s an anchor on defense,” Durant told The Vertical. “If you’re really into the game of basketball, you can really appreciate him. That’s why he’s paid like a max player, because the Clippers know what he brings and how he helps the team. He helps everyone win.”

Fom the Donald Sterling fiasco, to Paul and Griffin both getting injured in a first-round loss to Portland last season, the Clippers haven’t been able to catch many favorable breaks, but Jordan is undeterred.

“Every team goes through ups and downs, and some dark times, but you’ve got to keep fighting through and find a way,” Jordan told The Vertical. “That makes for a better story for me. This is my ninth season, and I definitely want a chance at winning something that’s never happened before, with the Clippers. It’s big. I want a chance at the title.”

Jordan said there wasn’t any more urgency to win next season, simply because Paul and Griffin can both become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2017. “They’re both extremely talented players,” Jordan told The Vertical. “I believe whatever decision they make is going to be a great decision. I’m not worried about it right now. I don’t expect it to be a distraction during the season. I can’t speak for them, but at the end of the day, they’ve got to make the best decision for themselves and their families. Whatever happens, happens.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? | Group B gets crazy in Rio | Lebron’s new deal about more than money | Thomas convinced rest of the league knows Celtics are on the rise

No. 1: Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? — All it takes is a couple of close calls in Olympic competition for the legion of doubters to appear for Team USA in Rio. That aura of invincibility vanishes with each and every tight game survived by this current group of All-Stars led by superstars Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving. Michael Lee of The Vertical shines a light on the turning tide in Rio as Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff continue to search for an identity for this particular group (perhaps in time for today’s game against France, 1:15 p.m. ET):

The hilarious Snapchat prank sessions, Facebook sing-alongs and Instagram video shenanigans were much more entertaining than the actual games for the United States men’s Olympic basketball team through a barnstorming exhibition tour and two effortless but sloppy beat-downs to start these games in Brazil. But just as this group was headed toward earning the playful title of the Meme Team, the Americans have encountered some genuine adversity in their past two games that – if mistakes aren’t corrected or adjustments not made – could find them on the wrong side of the joke.

Team USA might survive these Olympics unscathed. Ten All-Stars, including a former MVP, might prove to be all that the Americans need to escape the Rio games with gold medals around their necks. Getting shoved around by Australia and gasping for air until Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic’s potential tying 3-pointer drew iron, however, should give anyone pause that “the real world” – as coach Mike Krzyzewski has dubbed his team’s current predicament against superior opponents – is theirs to dominate. The Americans won’t be beatable until they actually lose, but the veil of invincibility has been exposed in too-close-for-comfort wins against Australia and Serbia.

“They are just players,” said Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the promising Denver Nugget who bludgeoned the U.S. for a game-high 25 points in a 94-91 loss. “If you think about who they are, you are not going to be good at this. Maybe Australia showed us they can get beat. They can get beat.”

Even without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Chris Paul, the talent on Team USA is overwhelming in comparison to the other teams in this tournament. The performances have been extremely underwhelming, though, exposing the vulnerabilities and deficiencies without those aforementioned stars.

The off-court camaraderie that this group has developed appears authentic, as players have repeatedly discussed the bonds that have been formed in less than a month. But they are still learning to play with each other. Before confronting a fearless group from Australia, Team USA’s games were played at All-Star Game-level intensity and provided little in the form of preparation for what would be in store against legitimate competition outside the United States. The ease with which won made it easy to overlook that the team has 10 players making their Olympic debuts, including six who have never played any international competitions.

The Americans have all been asked to assume roles that are different than the ones they play on their NBA teams and the adjustment has been far from seamless. On the previous two Olympic gold medal-winning teams, Paul or James controlled the floor, Kobe Bryant embraced the role as defensive stopper, Dwyane Wade and later Westbrook came off the bench as cold-blooded assassins and Chris Bosh and later Tyson Chandler served as the defensive anchor protecting the rim and covering mistakes.

Through four games, this team is still waiting for those positions to be filled. Wins over Australia and Serbia were claimed in disjointed, grinding fashion. 

Team USA hasn’t looked sharp. Winning the past two games by a combined 13 points makes it obvious that something is amiss, but before trouncing Venezuela by 43, the Americans were tied with one of the worst teams in Group A after the first period.

“We got to expect this,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “Every time we step on the floor, guys are going to give us their best effort, everybody wants to beat Team USA. We know that coming in, but at the same time, we can’t crumble the way we’ve done the past two games. Right now, we’re hurting ourselves. Not taking away credit of how Serbia played, because they played amazing tonight. But we’ve got to be a lot stronger mentally.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 13




NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA talent prevails | Schmidt not shy | Noah still loves Chicago | Kobe changed Team USA culture
No. 1: U.S. talent survives teamwork — Sometimes it just pays to have more raw talent than the other guys. So many times in international competition that’s what enables the Americans to survive and advance and stack up gold medals. That’s what happened again when Serbia threw a big scare into Team USA Friday at the Olympics. The Americans got another lesson in teamwork, but survived, Paul George told our John Schuhmann:

“We relied on natural talent to get us over this one,” Paul George said after the U.S. escaped vs. Serbia, needing Bogdan Bogdanovic’s open 3-pointer to miss long to avoid overtime.

Sometimes, stats can deceive. On Friday, the U.S. made 27 field goals and was credited with 28 assists, because FIBA gives out assists for passes that lead to made free throws. But the ball moved much better on the other end of the floor.

With the U.S. having less than three weeks to prepare for the Olympics, they’re typically better defensively than offensively. With their superior speed and athleticism, along with the ability to shuttle new players in every five minutes, the Americans can overwhelm inferior opponents.

But aggressive perimeter defense can be susceptible to good pick-and-roll play and ball movement. And that’s exactly what both Australia and Serbia brought in the last two games. Matthew Dellavedova and Milos Teodosic got things started with smart pick-and-roll decision-making, and the ball didn’t stop moving until it found the open man.

“These international guys, they really know how to move and really know how to cut,” George said. “It’s more so about how they run their offense that’s wearing us down.

“In [the NBA], there’s movement, obviously. But with these guys, it’s constant. You don’t ever sit still. In our game, there’s moments when you sit still, you can have a rest period. There might be an action that guys just run on one side. [Here] you’re constantly moving from side to side and it’s like they don’t get tired. And that’s new to us. That’s very new to us.”

***

No. 2: Oscar Schmidt ranks self top 10 — If you were ever fortunate enough to see Oscar Schmidt play for the Brazilian national team, you know he was not at all shy about shooting. Anytime. Anywhere. Any situation. Now 58, the Hall of Fame guard hasn’t changed at all. He told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports that if he had chosen to make the jump to the NBA during his career, he would have ranked among the best to ever play in the league:

At age 26, Schmidt declined playing for the New Jersey Nets after going in the sixth round of the 1984 Draft. Instead, Schmidt elected to continue racking up his more than 49,000 points, across four countries, until he was 45. Had he decided to come to the NBA and tested his talents against the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, Schmidt is fairly confident in what he would have done.

“I would be top 10. Ever,” Schmidt said, waving his hand near his chest for inflection. “For sure. One guy can’t defend me. You need two. At least.”

Schmidt will forever be revered in this futebol-crazed but basketball-hugging country, but he is somewhat envious of this current Brazilian national team, which has a chance to play Olympic games on their home soil. “That was my dream to play a competition like that,” Schmidt said.

The thirst to wear a Brazil jersey over one with the NBA logo has at times put Schmidt at odds with current players with different dreams and opportunities who delicately tried to balance both responsibilities. When Schmidt was coming up, the riches that came from being in the league weren’t nearly as lucrative, nor were the risks that come from participating with the national team in the offseason. Even if the pride and love for country were always there, to Schmidt, bypassing a summer spent playing for Brazil was reason to question someone’s patriotism.

***

No. 3: Noah ready to tangle with Bulls — While he harbors no ill will toward the Bulls after spending the first nine years of his NBA career in Chicago, Joakim Noah told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that he’s already looking forward to his first trip back to the United Center with his new Knicks teammates:

“I think the Bulls-Knicks games are going to be good ones,” Noah said, smiling. “I’m looking forward to it. I think everybody is. It’s going to be a very competitive game with a lot of emotions. I’m trying to stay in the moment and focus on being as healthy as possible.”

It was clear during an interview last week in his Chicago residence, with its sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the skyline, that leaving the Bulls in the right way was important to him.

“I have no anger towards nobody,” Noah said. “If we had a couple rough years at the end, I’m just still so grateful for the opportunity the Bulls gave me. It’s like a family to me. Even though it’s a new chapter for the end of my career to be in New York, I think Chicago is always going to be a home to me.

“Everywhere I go in this city, it’s always love. If I’m walking in the airport, wherever I am and someone’s from Chicago, it’s never animosity or negative or why did you leave us? It’s always very appreciative. And it’s humbling. I know free agency is a business. But I feel I always show a lot of respect for this city and its people. And I get love back for it. And it feels good.”

***

No. 4: Kobe restarted U.S. gold rushCarmelo Anthony is the team leader, now playing in his fourth Olympics. Kevin Durant is a driving force. Paul George and Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green and the rest are all key parts. But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo still credits Kobe Bryant with changing the culture and attitude of the club and getting it back on the gold track, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News:

“His work ethic, approach and how he appreciates the game is infectious,” Team USA forward Kevin Durant said last month in Las Vegas. “He’s someone who loves to play so much. He’s competitive when he steps in between those lines. He wants perfection.”

Bryant logged ridiculous hours in pursuit of that perfection, just weeks after having poured himself into an NBA regular season that ended with a six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. Watching Bryant work left Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh shaking his head, mindful that the future Hall of Famer had just logged extended minutes during that playoff run.

“I thought I was working hard,” Bosh said. “Now I have to get back into the gym.”
After training for three weeks together before heading to Beijing, former U.S. Olympic teammate Carlos Boozer noticed the entire roster had adopted Bryant’s routine.

“We all clung to it,” said Boozer, who later played with Bryant as a member of the Lakers in 2014-15 and recently agreed to a deal to play in China. “It soon became our workout, not just his workout.”

Before Bryant signed up for Olympic duty, doubts emerged as to whether his heavy focus on scoring would resonate with a team of fellow superstars.

So shortly after Bryant posted a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, Colangelo met with Bryant and asked him a pointed question.

“What if I said to you, I want you to be a distributor and not a scorer?” Colangelo asked.

Bryant answered exactly how Colangelo hoped he would.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Bryant said. “I just want to be on that team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Monty Williams says he’s ready to coach in the NBA again … The Rockets might be interested in Rudy Gay … J.R. Smith got married, but still wants to get hitched again to Cavs … Oscar Robertson wants you to learn about another Dream Team … It looks like the NBA All-Star Game is heading back to New Orleans for 2017.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony takes solace in Olympic accomplishments | Hoiberg not expecting any issues with Butler | Wolves’ Dunn feeling fine | Report: Noel ‘very open’ to trades

No. 1: Olympic accomplishments lessen playoff sting for Anthony — As our John Schuhmann noted the other day, international teams far and wide know better than to mess with Carmelo Anthony in FIBA play (aka “FIBA Melo”). Anthony is the newly crowned all-time leading scorer in USA Basketball history, has two Olympic gold medals to his name and, if Team USA wins in Rio, will be the first U.S. player to win three golds. In an interview with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Anthony revealed how those overseas accomplishments help lessen the sting of his many, many playoff letdowns in the NBA:

As the accolades stack up for him in the international game, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony says he has no trouble tuning out naysayers who want to take issue with his NBA résumé.

In an interview with ESPN at the Rio Olympics, Anthony ‎insisted that the prospect of becoming the first U.S. male to win three gold medals in basketball more than eases the sting of an NBA playoff history that, to date, includes only one trip to the conference finals and just two trips total beyond the first round.

“Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals,” Anthony said. “I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have, knowing I played on a high level at every level: high school, college, won [a championship at Syracuse] in college and possibly three gold medals.

“I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.”

In his fourth Olympics, Anthony is now up to 293 points, 20 ahead of previous leader LeBron James, who has played in three Olympics.

David Robinson (270) and Michael Jordan (256) are third and fourth on the all-time U.S. list, respectively. Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt holds the men’s Olympic record of 1,093 points. But unlike Anthony, Schmidt didn’t have his minutes restricted while playing on powerhouse teams.

“He was wanting that moment,” Team USA forward Paul George said of Anthony’s performance against Australia. “He was special tonight. We joke about it, this being his farewell tour, but he was definitely special. He’s he reason we won this.”

A 13-year NBA veteran who has starred for the Knicks for the past six seasons, Anthony won gold with the United States in 2008 and 2012 after a disappointing bronze medal in 2004.

“Of course, because we play in the NBA that’s always the goal: to win an NBA championship,” Anthony said. “But every year [there’s] a new champion, so you have an opportunity to compete for a championship every year. This is every four years.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

George calls Australian team ‘dirty’ | Australia driven to win medal in Rio | Bonner’s days with Spurs likely done

No. 1: George calls Australian team ‘dirty’ — Team USA had a struggle on its hands yesterday in Rio in the Olympics against fellow 2-0 team Australia. Although the U.S. defeated Australia 98-88 thanks in large part to a monster game from Carmelo Anthony. Fellow Team USA starter Paul George finished with five points in the win and afterward had much to say about the Australians’ style of play, writes Tony Harper of Fox Sports Australia:

Team USA star Paul George said the Boomers lived up to expectation that they’d be a “dirty” opponent when his team ground out a tough win in a brutal battle at the Olympics.

“We knew we were going to get their best,” George said after the heavily-fancied Americans escaped with a 98-88 win.

“It was an adjustment for us. The game kind of got out of hand early with the physical play.

“We knew that coming in – this team has a knack for being a little dirty.”

George said the US team rose to the physical challenge after emerging from halftime.

“I thought the second half we did a good job of just matching them,” he said.

“We were doing the same stuff they were doing and we got hacked for it. We’re fine playing physical, that’s our game in the NBA, but if they going to allow us to play that way they got to play it both ways.”

Boomers legend and now assistant coach Luc Longley fired back in response: “Tell ‘em that’s international basketball.’’

George tangled with Matthew Dellavedova in one of the game’s first confrontations and admitted he had targeted the man known around the US as “dirty Delly”.

“We just had to match their physicality,” said George. “That’s what we had to do. That’s the only way a team is going to get us out of our comfort zone is to muddy the game, doing little stuff to get to us.”

His Delly clash was a way to “let them know it wasn’t going to go the way they thought it was going to go”.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bogut reinvigorated by Olympics run | Bird, Miller talk 3-point prowess | Jackson says Rondo, Butler want him on Bulls

No. 1: Olympics run lifting Bogut’s spirits after rough summer — A hyperextended knee kep Andrew Bogut from being anything more than a spectator for the Golden State Warriors in Games 6 and 7 of The Finals, both of which they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers to in turn lose the series. Then came the offseason for Bogut, who was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks as the Warriors cleared salary cap room to sign former MVP Kevin Durant from the rival Oklahoma City Thunder. Things were looking pretty down for Bogut until he got word he could play in the Olympics, writes Michael Lee of The Vertical:

That nasty collision with J.R. Smith in Game 5 of the NBA Finals set off a unsettling chain of events that put Andrew Bogut on crutches, made him a helpless bystander as LeBron James dunked the greatest season in NBA history into the trash, and sent him packing for his third professional home as a casualty in Kevin Durant’s free-agent decision. Each situation was crushing in itself. Combined, they nearly sent Bogut into a funk this offseason.

“The first couple of weeks, it was rough waters,” Bogut said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

But what kept the 31-year-old Bogut from sulking through his summer were the only encouraging words he heard throughout that whirlwind month: six weeks. Bogut was given that as the earliest estimated timetable for his possible return from bone bruises and a hyperextended knee – which meant that Bogut could be ready just in time for the Rio Olympics if he dedicated himself to an intense rehabilitation program. Far-fetched as it seemed, the chance to represent Australia for possibly one last time in the Olympics was enough incentive, enough of a needed distraction to avoid dwelling on his sorrows.

“Mentally and physically, it was good to have another goal straight away,” Bogut said. “It was a freak play, like most of my injuries. It was frustrating, the way the whole thing played out. It wasn’t great. But it happened. The reason why we’re professional athletes and there’s all these big contracts is because we have to deal with that, we have to suck it up and move on. Move on to the next thing, and that’s the Olympics.”

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been one of the more vocal detractors of NBA players participating in international competitions but didn’t want to block the pursuit of his latest acquisition. And Bogut waited until last Friday – the day before Australia’s opening win against France – to declare himself fit to compete in these.

“If it wasn’t right, I’d put my hand up and I’m on a flight back home. It was good enough to play,” Bogut said, adding that Cuban “has been great. We have a great relationship via email and via text. The whole thing was, if you feel like you’re 100 percent, and you feel like your knee is a go, we’re going to support you. I couldn’t ask for a better organization to give me that confidence.”

Bogut will have a reunion with two former Warriors teammates (Draymond Green and Klay Thompson), a former Warrior turned current Mavericks teammate (Harrison Barnes) and the man who created the entire awkward situation (Durant) on Wednesday when Australia takes on the United States in an intriguing matchup of undefeated teams in the preliminary round.

“It’ll be all right,” Bogut said. “I’m in Texas, so I’m pretty pumped about it. Harrison is still my teammate, so we’re good. Those guys are guys I’ll always remember and have friendships with. You win a championship with a group of guys, it doesn’t happen very often, and you all remember that.”

After missing the London Olympics with an ankle injury, Bogut endured back spasms during the 2015 regional Olympic qualifier with the understanding that he might never get another chance to compete on the most recognized international stage. Australia has never medaled in the Olympics and has a decent chance after already recording wins against France and Serbia.

“He’s playing great. It’s good to see him out there healthy because he had a tough injury in the Finals. We definitely missed him,” Thompson said. “I knew this was potentially his last Olympics and I knew he didn’t want to miss it for anything and he was going to do everything he could to get back. You don’t want to be sitting at home, sulking on what could’ve been. We all wanted, obviously, to get that second ring, but it didn’t turn out that way.”

A medal won’t erase the disappointment of being absent when an NBA-record 73 wins wound up only being good enough to secure finishing as a championship runner-up. But just being at these games, being back on the floor, has already ensured that his summer wouldn’t be wasted with regret. “I didn’t want it taken away that easily,” Bogut said.

*** (more…)