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.”

***  

Spain reaches semifinals, ends Parker’s national team career

RIO DE JANEIRO — From an 0-2 start to a berth in the semifinals, Spain has turned into, maybe, the best team in the Olympic Men’s Basketball tournament. The European champs are certainly the best defensive team at this point.

A French team that scored 97 points against the United States on Sunday was held to just 67 points on 39 percent shooting in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Spain rolled into the semis and a potential matchup with the U.S. with a 25-point victory over their European rivals.

To get the rematch of the last two gold medal games, the U.S. will need to beat Argentina Wednesday night. Spain (4-2) took care of business by outscoring France 50-33 over the middle two quarters.

Pau Gasol took a back seat in the offense and looked to get his teammates going early. The strategy worked and some pretty ball movement led to an open Nikola Mirotic corner 3-pointer that gave Spain the lead for good at 9-8. France was within three at the end of the first quarter, but the Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez scored six points on an 8-1 Spain run to start the second.

Mirotic had 16 points by halftime. He was matched up with Boris Diaw most of the afternoon, but switches allowed him to score inside against Nicolas Batum or drive around Rudy Gobert. And the passing of Spain’s guards allowed him to consistently get open beyond the arc.

“I felt like Spain was the Spurs tonight,” Tony Parker said afterward, “and I was on the other side.”

The game marked the end of Parker’s national team career.

“Tony Parker,” French coach Vincent Collet said, “is the best French player for ever.”

Mirotic finished with a game-high 23 points, shooting 5-for-8 from 3-point range.

“When he learns when to shoot and when to play for the team,” Ricky Rubio said of Mirotic, “it’s unstoppable. He had an amazing game today. He was the key. But not just that, I think he’s really learning to be important on defense too.”

France couldn’t get things going offensively like it did against the United States on Sunday. Parker scored 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting, but Batum (0 points, 0-for-2) was invisible on offense. Credit the Spain defense, which has allowed less than 92 points per 100 possessions in its four games against teams that made the quarterfinals.

“We didn’t lose control at any moment,” Rubio said about his team’s recovery from its 0-2 start, “even though our situation wasn’t the best. We played as a team. Nobody stepped up as an individual and everybody stepped up as a teammate.”

LeBron James dreams of owning NBA team

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James recently admitted that chasing “the ghost” of Michael Jordan has provided him with career motivation. That pursuit apparently extends off the court as well.

In an appearance on the “Open Run” podcast, which was recently acquired by LeBron’s own multimedia company Uninterrupted, James said that owning an NBA team is his dream.

As James said …

“I feel like my brain as far as the game of basketball is unique and I would love to continue to give my knowledge to the game. And I would love to be a part of a franchise, if not at the top. My dream is to actually own a team and I don’t need to have fully hands on. If I’m fortunate enough to own a team, then I’m going to hire the best GM and president that I can.

“But I feel like I have a good eye for not only talent, because we all see a lot of talent, but the things that make the talent, the chemistry, what type of guy he is, his work ethic, his passion, the basketball IQ side of things, because talent only goes so far.”

James already holds a minority stake in the Premier League’s Liverpool Football Club. Jordan is currently the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, and is the only former NBA player to serve as a franchise’s majority owner. Several other former players, including Grant Hill (Atlanta Hawks) and Shaquille O’Neal (Sacramento Kings), are NBA franchise minority owners.

Australia is pretty good in routing Lithuania; Valanciunas: ‘I was pretty bad’

RIO DE JANEIRO — Australia (5-1) continued it’s strong run at the Olympics, advancing to the semifinals with a blowout, 90-64 win over Lithuania (3-3). The Boomers have become the clear favorite to reach the gold medal game from the side of the bracket opposite the United States, and need one win in their next two games to earn their first Olympic medal.

“It’s a hard and long road to go,” Patty Mills said afterward. “I can tell you this is one hell of a group that I’m very happy and proud to be a part of.”

Matthew Dellavedova started Wednesday’s game with two 3-pointers and Australia never trailed. It led by nine at the end of the first quarter and by 18 at the half. Mills led all scorers with 24 points, hitting five of his 11 3s. The guards’ aggressiveness opened up things for everybody else and the Aussie offense, which ranked second through pool play, just kept clicking.

“We lead the tournament by far in assist-to-field-goal percentage,” Australia Andrej Lemanis said. “I think that reflects that fact that we play together as a group and we’re all prepared to do what’s in the best interest of the team.”

This is the fourth time that Australia has reached the Olympic semifinals. But on the previous three occasions (1988, 1996 and 2000), it finished fourth. On Friday, it will face the winner of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal game between Croatia and Serbia. It should be the favorite in the semis and certainly has a shot (especially with how poorly the U.S. has been on defense) to win the gold medal.

“We believe,” Andrew Bogut said. “I’ve been on teams where you say all that, but there’s that doubt still there. We believe we can beat teams. We come in with that mind set and a resilient group that plays hard.”

Lithuania’s Olympics started with three straight wins and ended with three straight losses. It hurt itself with 13 first-half turnovers on Wednesday.

“Everything slipped away,” Jonas Valanciunas said afterward. “We didn’t come away with the same energy, same focus. We were not playing basketball. We were just trying to, I don’t know, score, whatever. We were not enjoying basketball.”

Valanciunas was maybe the most disappointing NBA player in the tournament. He averaged just 6.7 points on 39 percent shooting over Lithuania’s six games. He scored just five points on 2-for-5 shooting in the quarterfinal.

“He and [point guard Mantas] Kalnietis were our focuses,” Australia assistant coach Luc Longley said. “We managed to get a lot of pressure on the ball early and a lot of Valanciunas’ looks come off Kalnietis. If he’s not rolling, it’s hard for Valanciunas to get rolling.”

Lithuania’s lack of perimeter shooting (it ranked last in 3-point percentage among teams that advanced to the quarterfinals) gave Valanciunas less space to operate, and he just never got going offensively.

“I was pretty bad,” he admitted. “I got to do something with my head.”

Blogtable: Who will have the biggest impact on the Knicks?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee or Jeff Hornacek? Who will have the biggest impact on the Knicks this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Joakim Noah. He’s crawling the walls eager for his chance to play in New York and to make a difference for the Knicks. The defense, rebounding, play-facilitating, energy and, off the court, camaraderie he brings will transform a rather dreary culture at Madison Square Garden. I hope all goes well for Rose, but I sense he’ll be managing his body for one more season, trying to show just enough while avoiding injuries so he can have a real market in free agency next summer. Lee is a role player. And while Hornacek – a fellow alum of Lyons Township High (LaGrange, Ill.) – is a solid coach and swell guy, he won’t be in line for much credit regardless sandwiched between a starry roster and Phil Jackson up above. Noah, if he stays healthy, is now the Knicks’ jumper cables.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Whichever one of Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose breaks down first. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m picking Rose because his impact could swing positively or negatively. Lee is a solid role player but nothing more, Noah is on the downslide and Hornacek an above-average coach. Rose is a serious wild card who can spring a bounce-back year or falter from injury or a prolonged slump. Neither would surprise me.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m not sure Noah is better than Robin Lopez at this point. Lee is an upgrade over Arron Afflalo, but not to the same degree as Hornacek and Rose are from last season’s counterparts. And since the talent on the floor is always more important than the coaching, Rose should have the biggest impact. This is a team that has been near the bottom of the league in shots near the basket over the last few seasons and has needed some quickness with the ball. Rose isn’t the finisher he was in years past, but he’ll still get defenses to shift a lot more than previous Knicks point guards did.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Courtney Lee and the rest of his family appreciate his inclusion on this question. You are so kind. But I don’t think there is any doubt that Derrick Rose will have the biggest impact, one way or another. If he’s as good as can be, the Knicks will benefit greatly from his arrival. If not, well … see the fallout in Chicago. All that said, I think Noah has the potential to big things for his hometown team if he’s back to full health this season. He can impact games in more ways that any of the new additions and cover the backs of both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis on the defense end.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The answer is Derrick Rose. The question is what kind of impact will he create? It will be positive if he can play 75 or more games at a high level, which will enable him to provide consistent leadership while bringing out the best in Anthony and Porzingis. If he’s sidelined for 20 games or more, and is working his way back into the lineup for much of the time, then he’ll be a drain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI don’t know if it’s fair to expect Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose to have a sizable impact at these stages of their careers. With their respective injury histories, the best-case scenario for the Knicks should probably be having them (and Courtney Lee) play supporting roles to Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Which is why I think Jeff Hornacek could and probably should have the biggest impact. This Knicks franchise needed a leader with a vision that fans can believe in, and Hornacek has a chance to be that guy. It’s been a while since New York City had a manager/coach the city celebrated, and perhaps Hornacek can break that streak.

Blogtable: Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> Never in NBA history have the same two teams played each other in the Finals three years in a row. I know it’s only August, but are we destined for a historic Cavs-Warriors rematch next June?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I can’t see myself picking anything other than Cleveland-Golden State when we do season predictions in October. No team in the Eastern Conference closed the gap on the Cavaliers, and the Warriors’ biggest obstacle will be themselves. Fitting in Kevin Durant’s offense game, notably his “touches,” won’t be simple without sacrifice by others. Klay Thompson in particular might wind up texting and calling Russell Westbrook a bit seeking ways to cope. And let’s remember, Father Time catches up with all NBA players but Crazy Uncle Injury picks and chooses those he torments – if Steph Curry, Durant or Draymond Green comes up lame for any length of time, the West could split wide open. Well, for San Antonio and the Clippers, anyway.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes. And it will be spectacular.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No, and I say that only because history is against it. On the surface, those two are the Goliaths of their respective conferences and therefore it would make most sense if they’re the last teams standing. Still, I suspect LeBron James‘ 6-year run to The Finals will be snapped. I just can’t answer by whom, and how. Just a silly hunch that somebody else in the East — Toronto or maybe Boston — will sneak through.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s very difficult to imagine any other scenario. The Warriors took the best player off the roster of team that almost kept them from making The Finals last season. The Cavs, meanwhile, cruised through the Eastern Conference playoffs and no team behind them made enough changes this summer to be much of a threat.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: No one had won 73 games in a season before the Warriors pulled it off last season, so I’m choosing to believe that we’ll see a bit more history made in June of 2017. While I think an upset of either team along the way makes for an infinitely more interesting postseason, I’m just not sure I can identify the team that’s supposed to pull that upset off. The whole parity idea is lost on me. I want to see the best of the best battle it out for the title every year. If it happens to be the Warriors and Cavaliers for a third straight season, I’m fine with Round 3.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Cleveland will be there. I’m not so sure about the Warriors, who will need to go through some adjustment pains along the way. Can they figure it out in one season? We saw how the San Antonio Spurs were more talented last year with LaMarcus Aldridge and yet not as effective, in part because of changes to their style and a weakening of their bench. Golden State is going to win championships, that is a given, but Durant is not some plug-and-play component that can be added automatically. The guess here is that the Warriors are going to learn how to win multiple championships by way of losing in the Western playoffs next spring.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It may feel that way, but if we’ve learned anything from watching the NBA over the years it’s that expectations rarely manage to match reality. The Cavs and Warriors certainly seem like runaway favorites to end up in the Finals, and if I had to pick I’d probably go with them just to be safe. That said, there’s a little nagging part of me wondering about the Warriors. It’s not that I don’t think Kevin Durant won’t be helpful, it’s that I wonder if losing Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and assistant coach Luke Walton won’t completely be outweighed by the addition of Durant (and David West and Zaza Pachulia). The last two seasons, the Warriors built something of a dynasty with a lot of moving parts. This season, the parts have changed and I don’t think the Warriors will just waltz back to The Finals.

Blogtable: Your level of concern for Team USA?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> As we head into the quarterfinals in Rio, what’s the level of concern for Team USA? And who do you see as the biggest threat to snap the USA’s gold-medal streak?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I ultimately think Team USA’s biggest concern will be the apathy that they’ll generate by winning gold again but not dominating the way the Dream Team did in ’92 or (in people’s memories at least) other editions of this NBA star-studded national squad did. There are reasons for the closer scores, some owing to the competition, some to holes in the U.S. team. But I think there will be a healthy mixture of respect for foes and fear of failure now for Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al that will see them through. Biggest threat? It’s all relative, but give me Australia, which has some brassy NBA players in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills; some healthy disrespect for a few of their pro peers, and a pesky defensive style that might already be in the U.S. stars’ heads.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It shocked me to read comments from Americans that essentially admitted surprise that many of the other teams are actually playing like teams, passing the ball, etc. If Team USA wants to stand around and play 1-on-1 “hero” ball, they could lose any game left to anybody. I wouldn’t have believed that before the Olympics began. I thought they had the proper mindset. But the team simply seems to have fallen back into many of the old, bad habits. Where the hell is the defense? Definitely looking more and more like time for a change. They could use a big dose of Gregg Popovich biting them in the butt right about now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The level of concern is cool. Not warm or hot. Yes, there have been some relatively close calls and the ride a bit bumpy, but here in the money round I don’t see the US exposing much vulnerability. The biggest threat to snap Team USA’s streak is Team USA. Only a sloppy performance would leave the Americans open to being upset by an opportunistic country such as Spain.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The level of concern is high. The defense is the worst it’s been under Mike Krzyzewski and the Olympic field is stronger than ever, with all eight remaining teams having hopes for a medal. Still, Spain is once again the biggest threat to beat the U.S. After a sluggish first three games, Pau Gasol and his team have found their gear, crushing Lithuania on Saturday and beating Argentina handily on Monday. They have a tough test themselves in the quarterfinals, with a France team that beat them in Madrid two years ago. But if USA and Spain meet in the semis, it may be a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My level of concern is significant. I hope it’s the same for the members of the team as they face a very real threat from Argentina first and foremost, and either France or Spain in the semifinal round. The U.S. is at its best when it treats every opponent like a credible threat, even the teams that we all know should not come close to touching the NBA stars. In London four years ago, that attitude was prevalent. That team attacked the opposition in a way that made clear that the U.S. would not leave the games without gold. There was always a feeling in the building that no matter how hard the other team played, they would ultimately come up short. I don’t know what it feels like inside the building this time around, but I know what it looks like from afar. And I haven’t seen that same sense of urgency in Rio.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The defense has been alarming. The USA has allowed 92 points over the last three games (equivalent to yielding 110 points over a 48-minute NBA game). Their opponents over the final three rounds – if the US gets that far – all know how to share the ball and move without it, beginning with the clever Argentines in the quarterfinal. The most dangerous opponent will emerge in the semis: France (Tony Parker) and Spain (Pau Gasol) each has the great player capable of leading and finishing the upset. For the Americans, assuming they can’t resolve their fundamental lapses on defense, the question comes down to which one or two of them is going to own this tournament in the way that LeBron James owned it in 2012. If they’re not capable of winning with fluid teamwork, then someone (Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and/or Kyrie Irving) is going to have to take on the responsibility of carrying them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: We’re not supposed to be concerned, right? After all, all we’ve heard is what a strong defensive team this is, and we know that the Team USA brass had their pick of dozens of players before curating this particular dozen, so why should there be any concern? Oh wait, I know why! Because this team seems awkwardly constructed. Or because their defense has never come together, and because the default offense seems to be clearing out and going one-on-one. This group is clearly talented, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. Even if they can’t get things figured out, they will probably still win gold. But to me, Team USA’s biggest threat is themselves.

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.”

***  

2016 Olympic quarterfinals preview

RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2016 Olympic basketball tournament is wide open. Eight great teams remain and every one of them has a chance at a medal.

The United States is the only undefeated team among them and carries a 50-game winning streak in international tournaments into the quarterfinals. But, it has looked vulnerable over its last three games, allowing Australia, Serbia and France to score more than 110 points per 100 possessions. If it doesn’t get enough offense in any of its next three games, the U.S. can lose.

And every other team can win. The only team in the quarterfinals that doesn’t have a quality win in Rio is Serbia. But Serbia lost to France by one and had a wide-open three to send its game vs. the U.S. to overtime. And, oh yeah, Serbia won silver at the 2014 World Cup, having beat Greece, Brazil and France to get to the final (after, just like this year, picking up no quality wins in pool play).

Here’s a rundown of each of Wednesday’s quarterfinals…

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Stats are from games vs. remaining teams. For full Olympic pace & efficiency stats, go here.  

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.”

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