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Posts Tagged ‘Dario Saric’

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. (more…)

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.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Okafor hoping to re-enter NBA this season | How good can Saric be? | USA ready for stiff challenge in next game

No. 1: Okafor seeks NBA comeback — Just 10 or so years ago, Emeka Okafor was a former Rookie of the Year winner and one of the promising young big men in the NBA. Fast-forward to today and Okafor has been out of the NBA for three seasons and last played in an NBA game on April 12, 2012 as a member of the Washington Wizards. A herniated disc in his back has kept Okafor from playing in a game since that date, but in an interview with ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan, Okafor is working toward a return to the league:

Emeka Okafor, the former No. 2 overall pick who has been out of the NBA for three seasons, has decided to attempt a comeback with an eye toward joining a “contending team” in December or January.

Okafor’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, confirmed that Okafor, who last played for the Washington Wizards in 2012-13 before suffering a herniated disc in his neck, is in the gym training and working on his conditioning.

“He’s probably five or six months away,” Schwartz said. “He’s been working hard rehabbing. For some guys that means one thing. To Emeka, who understands his body as well or better than some trainers that have worked with him, it means something else. He’s healthy. He feels great, but he’s a perfectionist, and he wants everything to be right.”

Okafor, who had back surgery in college, struggled with neck pain, and when doctors discovered he had herniated the C4 cervical disc, the injury forced him to step away from the game. In October 2013, Okafor and his expiring $14.5 million contract were dealt to Phoenix in a five-player swap that netted the Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Okafor never played a game for the Suns.

His best years were with the Charlotte Bobcats, the team that drafted him as the second pick after Dwight Howard in the 2004 draft. Okafor averaged 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a rookie and posted double-double averages in all five of his seasons in Charlotte.

Retired University of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said he spoke with Okafor last week. According to Calhoun, his former player, who helped UConn win a national championship in 2004 (while leading the nation in blocks), is “really excited about getting back.”

“He’s in great shape,” Calhoun said. “He had offers last season from teams for $6-7 million to play just a portion of the season, but you have to know Emeka. He’s only coming back when he feels the time is right.

“He’s not going to make a decision based on money. He doesn’t need it. This is a kid who graduated with a 3.9 GPA. He wants to play a couple more years then go to business school at Harvard. He’s only going to play for a contending team.”

Warriors general manager Bob Myers, whose club lost big men Andrew BogutFestus Ezeli and Marreese Speights in the purge to make room for free agent Kevin Durant, said he had “a conversation” with Okafor a couple of months ago and will monitor the big man’s progress.

In the meantime, the Warriors have signed veterans David West and Zaza Pachulia to fill the void.

“We have 14 players right now, but you learn every year that someone you didn’t expect to be available becomes an option,” Myers said. “Ideally, you try to have the flexibility to keep a spot open in case that happens.”

The biggest hurdle for Okafor will be to prove to teams he’s both healthy and durable. Aside from his back and neck injuries, Okafor missed a chunk of 2005-06 with an ankle injury and part of 2011-12 with a knee injury.

San Antonio lost center Tim Duncan to retirement after 19 seasons and is likely in the market for big man insurance, but general manager R.C. Buford stopped short of expressing interest in Okafor.

“We always pay attention to whatever is out there,” Buford said. “But Emeka is three years removed from a time when his body was letting him down.

“It’s just hard to get enough information to evaluate a player like that, who won’t be in training camp, who hasn’t had game action for a prolonged period of time.”

Calhoun said the long layoff has not only rejuvenated Okafor physically, but also mentally.

“He misses the game,” Calhoun said. “Hey, he’s 6-10 and was a double-double guy in the NBA. He’s also the greatest guy you can find in the locker room. He’ll have plenty of teams lining up to talk to him.”

***

No. 2:

How will Saric’s game translate to NBA? — In NBA lore, the list of players from Croatia who have had success in the league includes former standout players such as Toni Kukoc, Peja Stojakovic, Dino Radja and Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic. The Philadelphia 76ers are hoping they have one of the next players in line in that lore in rookie forward Dario Saric. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe is covering the Olympics and reported on how Saric’s abilities might work in the NBA:

As Pau Gasol reared up to launch the hook shot NBA fans have seen many times, it seemed a cinch he would loft it into the basket and force overtime between Spain and Croatia.

Suddenly, under the rim, a tall man launched himself, raising his right hand to meet the ball at the apex and swat it away. Dario Saric’s block of Gasol’s layup in the final second secured a 72-70 upset win for the Croatians and let the rest of the basketball world know what his homefolks already do.

Saric is headed to the Philadelphia 76ers this fall, and for the first 39-plus minutes Sunday at Carioca Arena he looked as if his transition to the highest level would be difficult. Yet, that block secured a momentum-boosting win for Croatia and perhaps answered some questions about the guile of the 22-year-old, 6-foot-9-inch power forward after being a draft-and-stash for the past two years.

Saric spent two years with his Turkish team after he was drafted 12th overall by Orlando and then acquired in a draft-night trade by the 76ers in June 2014. He took that trip to New York for the draft two years ago, participated in all the activities with the fellow lottery picks — including the Celtics’ Marcus Smart — and walked the stage to shake hands with commissioner Adam Silver, knowing full well he was headed back overseas.

The Croatian signed a two-year deal with Anadolu Efes in Turkey, finally agreeing to opt out of his deal and join the 76ers for next season.

And the pressure is coming from all sides. Philadelphia fans, after years of putrid play in former general manager Sam Hinkie’s “Trust the Process” philosophy that resulted in 47 wins in the past three seasons, want Saric to become an impact player. In Croatia, there also is pressure from his countrymen and the media to become the next Drazen Petrovic or Toni Kukoc.

“Maybe you guys are not aware,” Croatian guard Roko Ukic said. “But whoever comes from our country to the NBA is like our next big thing [in Croatia], so much pressure from the media and for us, if we are like sixth in the Olympic Games, it’s not great. It’s pressure for those kinds of kids [like Saric], so this kind of game can give him a push in the back for his career.”

In a key sequence late in the fourth quarter with the Croatians trailing by 1 point, Saric used his ball-handling skills to get to the basket, only to be tied up by Spain’s Felipe Reyes and Croatia lost the possession.

Until the final seconds, Saric appeared to be another European product not quite ready for the rigors of the NBA. And then that final play happened, and his international image soared.

“This last play from Saric, that’s like a picture of our team,” Ukic said. “Everybody thinks he needs to get the medal by himself. It’s not easy to play the first time in Olympic Games and things didn’t go well for him offensively, but the effort he made and saved the day with the last block, that shows character.”

Croatia is seeking to return to respectability. They did not qualify for the 2012 London Games and finished 10th in the FIBA World Cup in 2014. They needed three consecutive wins, including in the FIBA qualifying tournament final against host Italy, to clinch an Olympic berth.

So his comrades are accustomed to such clutch plays from Saric, and that block against a six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion perhaps catapulted Croatia to the favorite in Group B.

“He has no fear of anything,” Croatian coach Aleksandar Petrovic said. “[Sunday] he just wasn’t able to gain offensive rhythm, but he’s a guy who brings us a lot of different [things] so he maybe misses five shots but he [does] so many little things that makes my team better. I’m not afraid at all [that he won’t play well], not here, not in the future with his NBA team in Philadelphia.”

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No. 3: True test lies ahead for Team USA on Wednesday — The U.S. men’s national team is 2-0 in their first two games in the Rio Olympics, having won both of those games by a combined 101 points. Those victories combined with how the team looked in its exhibition slate has left many wondering just how good the team is given the gap in talent and ability between it and its opponents. That will change in USA’s next game as it faces a solid Australia team, writes our John Schuhmann who is on hand for the Olympics:

The U.S. plays its final three pool play games against Australia, Serbia and France. And suddenly, Wednesday’s opponent looks like it will be the Americans’ toughest test in pool play … and maybe in the entire tournament.

Before the last few days, you might have overlooked Australia as a medal contender because it only had to outscore New Zealand in a two-game series last summer to qualify for the Olympics. Other teams, especially those in Europe, had a much tougher route. And before action tipped off on Saturday, the next tier of teams behind the United States appeared to be France, Lithuania, Serbia and Spain. In fact, Australia was below those three teams, Argentina and Brazil in the latest FIBA rankings.

But Australia has begun the tournament by beating two of Europe’s top four. It opened with an easy win over France on Saturday and followed that up by outlasting Serbia on Monday afternoon. Australia doesn’t just have six more NBA players than the Americans have faced in their first two games (zero), it’s been playing the best of any team not wearing “USA” on its chests. And there should be no intimidation factor on Wednesday.

“It’s the ultimate test,” Australia’s Andrew Bogut said. “They’re the best team in the world, best players in the world. I think if we go out there with the mindset that we can compete with them, win or lose, we will be happy with that. If we go out there and we’re intimidated by them, try to get our shoes signed before the game, and a signed jersey, we won’t win with that mindset.”

Australia will have two ball-handlers — Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills — who run the pick-and-roll better than anybody the U.S. has faced in its five exhibition games or its two games in Rio. Mills (47 points in two games) has been Australia’s leading scorer, while Dellavedova has tallied 23 assists and just one turnover in the two wins. They’re bench guys in the NBA, but they’ll still test a defense that has only been together for three weeks.

“Delly’s ability to read defensive coverage and systems over the course of games,” Australia coach Andrej Lemanis said, “is really, really impressive.”

“Offensively, we started to understand what was required in order for us to put some heat on the rim and find different ways to exploit their defensive schemes,” Lemanis said. “We got some really smart players and over the course of the game, they figure out what are the best offensive opportunities for us.”

Though he usually focuses on one opponent at a time, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has clearly been paying attention to what Australia has done so far. In talking about Dellavedova and Bogut, “two of the better passers in the tournament,” Krzyzewski said that they have “maybe 35 assists” and “four or five turnovers.” He almost nailed it, as the pair have combined for 34 assists and only four turnovers. The preparation for this particular opponent started early.

The U.S. beat Australia in the quarterfinals of each of the last two Olympics, winning by 31 points in Beijing and by 33 in London. But this will be the best Australia team the Americans have ever faced.

Australia has already put itself in position to finish second in Group A and be placed on the opposite side of the Americans in the elimination-round bracket. After Wednesday’s game against the U.S., it will complete pool play with games against China and Venezuela.

It’s playing its best basketball at the right time, both to compete for an Olympic medal, but also to give the Americans a much tougher challenge than they’ve faced thus far.

“They can beat us,” Krzyzewski said. “We know that, and we’ll prepare accordingly.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay is reportedly interested in being traded to the Miami Heat … Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons could end up taking on some point guard duties next season … LeBron James has his own locker in Ohio State’s locker room … Former Sacramento Kings forward Kenny Thomas is opening a new restaurant near the Kings’ new Golden 1 Center … Former Utah Jazz big man Kyrylo Fesenko may be nearing a deal with an Italian league team … The Oklahoma City Thunder may have Ronnie Price on their radar

Morning shootaround — Aug. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” | Gores: Pistons are in a good place | Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run | Ray Allen may not be finished yet

No. 1: Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” The Golden State Warriors clearly hit the jackpot in free agency this summer, bringing in Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a move that not only made the Warriors stronger but also weakened the rival Thunder. But according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in an appearance on ESPN Radio, calling Durant (or any of the Warriors, for that matter) villains would be “absurd.”:

“To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd. Especially Kevin,” Kerr said Sunday in an interview on ESPN Radio’s TMI with Michelle Beadle and Ramona Shelburne. “This is one of the most likeable people in this league. He’s just an awesome human being. What he did in Oklahoma City was just amazing for that community.

Kerr added: “Circumstances kind of dictate, I guess, that some people are going to see him as a villain. But it’s only because he decided to go elsewhere to play. He wanted to change his scenery, he wanted a new challenge. More than anything he wanted to play with our guys. He loves Draymond [Green] and Steph and Klay [Thompson] and Andre [Iguodala]. Seeing those guys in New York, he loved seeing the chemistry that exists and he wanted to be a part of it.”

Durant said last month that he didn’t leave the house he’d rented in the Hamptons for 48 hours after he announced his decision because he knew how strongly fans would react to him leaving.

“For a few days after, I didn’t leave my bed, because I was like, ‘If I walk outside somebody might just hit me with their car, or say anything negative to me,'” Durant said last month at Team USA training camp in Las Vegas.

“I mean, I’ve been somewhere for so long, and then to make a change like that, [which] nobody knew was coming, that nobody didn’t think I would do, of course I didn’t know how it would be received afterward. But at some point, I just said, ‘Look, man, life goes on. Life moves on, and I can’t hide forever,’ so I just had to face it.”

***

No. 2: Gores: Pistons are in a good place The Detroit Pistons won an NBA title in 2004, but rebuilding following that title run proved to be a tough task. But since becoming owner of the Pistons in 2011, Tom Gores has presided over a building project that finally has the Pistons a perennial postseason contender, with aspirations of much more. As Vince Ellis from the Detroit Free Press discovered in a wide-ranging Q&A with Gores, despite the solid foundation finally in place, Gores isn’t satisfied with just being a playoff team and talks about that, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s future and more:

Q: The Pistons appear to be on the rise. With downtown Detroit becoming more of a destination, it appears the time could be ripe for a move. You’ve never closed the door, but can you quantify the importance of the next year for the franchise?

Gores: “I think last year was the beginning of the important years. I think we began to set the course last year. We proved a point. We got into the playoffs. I really like the way we finished with the roster with (forward Tobias Harris) coming in. This year, everybody’s a year older, we’ve got the core set with our folks, so it’s an important year that we prove that we are making progress. I’ve always said patience with progress, so this is an important year because they really just jelled last year, if you think about it. Tobias was new, what a steal with (forward Marcus Morris), (point guard Reggie Jackson) as a true starter in his first year. (Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) is still a young man. (Forward Stanley Johnson) just turned 20. This a very young team and very, very talented. … It’s an important year for everybody to keep developing, and that’s what Stan’s been focused on, not sitting still to make sure everybody’s got a place to improve. … We have a very focused group. There’s nobody in the locker room that’s a problem for us. These are good guys.”

Q: What can you say right now on the potential to move downtown?

Gores: “We’ve always been open-minded. I’ve always respected (Mike and Marian Ilitch) in terms of what they’re doing. We do have an understanding of some of the things they’re developing down there. There’s a lot going on downtown. …”

Q: Dan Gilbert is doing a lot of business there.

Gores: “Dan (Gilbert), as well. Dan and I have been talking about the soccer team. Whatever we do, I’d like to be that third piece of the triangle between Dan and the Ilitches and then myself to really finish bringing the city together. I think we can do that. I think we have a lot of value to add. Not just the basketball team, but our business expertise. There’s a ton going on and Detroit is getting close to being in the red zone. I don’t know if we’re there quite yet, in terms of the city coming back, but we’re not on the other 20. (Detroit is) getting close, and I think I can be helpful there. We’re staying open-minded and I’ve always said in terms of the Ilitches and what they’ve meant to the city, I think definitely we could be good partners for each other. So we’re evaluating everything and I think we should. I’ve been paying attention to a lot going on in downtown Detroit.”

Q: With a possible KCP extension, you could threaten the luxury tax line (an NBA mechanism to curtail teams’ spending). Thoughts on being a luxury taxpayer?

Gores: “Look, if we weren’t building a core, there’s really no point in paying the luxury tax. Because we are building a core, would I do it? Yeah, absolutely. This is a tremendous team. If you go down the line, player by player, and especially our young folks, these are real players. You look at KCP as a very diverse player. He keeps working at his game and you look at his improvement and just like anybody else, he will improve in other areas. Part of Stan [Van Gundy]’s coaching philosophy obviously is defense. So you say go into the luxury tax for nothing, then that would be silly because then we’re putting the franchise behind. But given that we have such a good core, if that’s what it took, and we feel we’ve made such progress this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it because we want to keep getting better.”

***

No. 3: Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has historically been critical of NBA players playing in the Olympics, rightfully reasoning that NBA teams have huge financial investments with little upside from Olympic success. But in the case of newly signed Mavs center Andrew Bogut, Cuban signed off on Bogut’s appearance with the Australian National Team, telling the AP that they view Bogut’s Olympic appearance as an important part of his comeback from the injury he suffered in the 2016 Finals:

Mark Cuban has been opposed to NBA players competing in the Olympics, but the Dallas Mavericks owner gave Andrew Bogut the clearance he needed to play for Australia after injuring his left knee in the NBA Finals.

And Cuban is pulling for his new center, who scored 18 points to lead the Aussies to an 87-66 victory over France on Saturday in the opening game of the tournament.

“We obviously were nervous and I’m still not a fan of NBA players in the Olympics, but Andrew was going to have to go through a process to get back on the court anyway,” Cuban wrote Sunday in an email to The Associated Press. “Our staff has communicated with him and we knew he would be cautious in his approach to returning.”

Bogut suffered bone bruises in Game 5 while playing for Golden State. Players need a release from their NBA teams to compete internationally if they have a pre-existing injury, and Bogut said he was a little worried he might not get it from the Mavs, who acquired him last month in a trade.

“They were very, very nervous obviously because my prognosis was six to eight weeks and this is right on six weeks right now, but I was open with them and honest,” Bogut said. “I said, ‘Look, if I know I’m not ready and the knee’s swelling up, I’m pulling the pin.’ And they said fine, we trust you.”

Bogut said he even received an email from Cuban before the Olympic opener.

“I told him make sure he has his green-and-gold jersey on watching the game, and he threw a couple of other words I can’t repeat and said let’s go,” Bogut said. “So it’s been a good relationship by email so far.”

***

No. 4: Ray Allen may not be finished yet — Sharpshooting guard Ray Allen hasn’t played in the NBA since the Miami Heat lost to the Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. But speaking to the Hartford Courant at a basketball camp this weekend, Allen said he may still be interested in playing if the situation was right:

“I worked out the other day in New York with a friend of mine,” Allen said Saturday, during a break from his annual instructional camp at East Granby High. “I was shooting, I was going through my routine just like I’d always done. Yeah, I was a little winded, but I was able to go through my routine like I’d always gone though my routine and I didn’t feel like I’d missed any time in doing what I was doing. For me, it’s not ‘Can I do it anymore?’ It’s how I feel after I do it. And yesterday, I felt great.

“I could not have learned all that I’ve learned in 20 years of my life, dealing with coach [Jim] Calhoun, and how to sleep right, eat right, and then go to the NBA and do what I’ve done there and then afterwards just drop the ball and let everything go. I still weigh the same I weighed in college.”

Allen, 41, the former UConn star who won two championships and was a 10-time NBA All-Star, is gearing up or a comeback after two seasons out of the league. While he is not certain he will suit up again, he made it clear that this is not just idle chatter.

“My decision is predicated on what is available,” he said. “I said that I was interested because I never retired for a reason. I’ve been watching, seeing what teams have been doing and I’ve been waiting to see if the opportunity presented itself where I think I could fit.”

It has been assumed that Allen, who last played for the Heat in 2014, would be most likely to join the champion Cavaliers, reuniting in Cleveland with LeBron James, or the runner-up Warriors, who have added Kevin Durant to the team that went 73-9 in the regular season.

The Spurs and Clippers have been mentioned, also, but Allen said he has spoken with the Celtics, with whom he won a championship in 2008, and the Bucks, his first NBA stop.

“I would love going back to those places if it worked out,” Allen said, “because both teams are good, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be championship-or-bust for me to go back to the NBA.

“I want to be in a situation where I thought I could help, play a little bit and help where they have good young talent.”

Allen, who lives much of the time in Miami, has opened a restaurant called Grown, said he is not yet sure what direction the Heat are taking. How about the Knicks? “Spike Lee has been trying to recruit me,” Allen said. “We’ve been texting.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George is trying to set up a meeting with the French gymnast who suffered a broken leg in the opening days of Rio 2016 … Nick Anderson made it out of the violence in Chicago, and wants to help bring it to an endJoel Embiid was excited by the game-sealing block in Croatia’s win over Spain from his potential 76ers teammate Dario Saric

Saric seals Croatia’s upset of Spain

RIO DE JANEIRO — In the Men’s Basketball competition at the Olympics, Group B is the tougher group, with five good teams, one that won’t make the quarterfinals. And the group’s depth and quality was on display in its first day of action, as Croatia upset Spain, 72-70 on Sunday night.

Incoming Sixers rookie Dario Saric, who had a quiet night statistically (five points, seven rebounds, five assists, 1-for-7 shooting), sealed the game by blocking a short jump hook from the Spurs’ Pau Gasol at the buzzer.

“It’s a gift for the whole team,” Saric said of the final play. “That block was like cherry on the cake, because the team fought all the time.”

Spain led by as many as 10 points late in the first quarter and by as many as 13 early in the third. But twice, Croatia was able to chip away at the lead when Gasol went to the bench, a symptom of the absences of bigs Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

The Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic hit two huge shots in the last five minutes and led Croatia with 23 points. Gasol led all scorers with 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting, but fouled Bogdanovic on a 3-pointer on a critical play late.

The Wolves’ Ricky Rubio was on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, as the Sixers’ Sergio Rodriguez and Rockets’ draft-stash Sergio Llull finished the game in the backcourt. But both of those guys had costly turnovers down the stretch, with Rodriguez also missing two important 3-point attempts when Gasol was double-teamed in the post.

Spain has lost early in big tournaments before. In the 2012 Olympics, it lost to both Russia and Brazil in pool play before recovering to scare the U.S. in the gold medal game. And in last year’s Eurobasket, Spain lost its first game to Serbia and its third game to Italy before going on to win the tournament.

“This year, hopefully, it’s going to be the same,” the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic said after scoring 19 points in the loss. “We started [last year with a loss], but most important is how you finish. I trust in this team and I know that we’re going to play much better next game.”

Lithuania survives vs. Brazil

The first game of the day was almost as much of a thriller, though it looked nothing like one early on. Lithuania led by 29 at halftime and by as many as 30 midway through the third, but Brazil cut the lead to 18 by the end of the period and was within four with just over two minutes to go.

The home crowd was loud, chanting “We believe!” in Portuguese. But incoming Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis sealed the win for Lithuania with a tough, reverse and-one off a pick-and-roll feed from Renaldas Seibutis. Sabonis finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, while incoming Knicks rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas added eight points and five rebounds in Lithuania’s 82-76 win.

Jonas Valanciunas (six points, three boards) had a pretty quiet afternoon, but it was a team effort as Lithuania shot 21-for-29 (6-for-9 from 3-point range) in the first half. Brazil’s starting backcourt of Marcelo Huertas (Lakers) and Alex Garcia couldn’t keep Lithuania out of the paint and played a total of 23 seconds (all from Garcia) in the second half.

With Group B so competitive, the first day of action was huge for Croatia and tough for the hosts. If things hold to form, the final spot in the quarterfinals could come down to a game between rivals Argentina and Brazil, who play on Saturday. But with what happened on Sunday, it’s probably best not to look too far ahead.

Argentina takes care of business

In Sunday’s final game, Argentina handled its business against Nigeria, Group B’s weakest team. Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili combined to score the game’s first nine points and Argentina led by as many as 29 on its way to a 94-66 victory.

Facundo Campazzo led five Argentina players in double-figures with 19 points. Incoming Spurs rookie Patricio Garino had 15 points on just six shots, adding six rebounds.

Blogtable: Rookies eager to watch in Rio

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: NBA rookies eager to watch in Rio | Team with best shot to defeat U.S.? | Best five U.S. Team players for offense | Best five U.S. Team players for defense


> Several incoming NBA rookies will be suited up for the Summer Olympics, which begin next week.  Which of these rooks are you most eager to see in action in Rio? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m curious about Domantas Sabonis with Lithuania. I missed seeing his old man, Arvydas, until he was an older, thicker and different player with Portland (1995-2003) than he had been in international competition. If his offspring can make the transition from Gonzaga to the NBA as effectively as Arvydas did when he arrived at age 31, the Thunder will have something special. Arvydas Sabonis was so gifted, and had such great finesse for a huge man. It’ll be interesting to see how much Domantas relies on guile as he’s adding strength to compete in the paint against the NBA’s grown men.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAs a resident of Houston, I’ll be most interested in Rockets second-round draft pick Zhou Qi of China.  The 7-foot-2 center has a tremendous wingspan, demonstrated athleticism, touch around the hoop and a decent jumper. But he is downright skinny and I want to see if he can hold his own against physical play. I’ll also have an eye out for Domantas Sabonis of Lithuania.  The son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis could get big minutes this season for the relaunching Thunder.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAlex Abrines. I’ve been on the bandwagon for a few years, since before the Thunder took him 32nd in 2013. His previous experience at major international tournaments has only been in the junior events. Now the swingman has extensive experience in Spain, will finally be joining Oklahoma City this season and is scheduled to play for Spain in the Olympics. The Spanish roster is crowded enough that Abrines will not be handed minutes, but his play, especially if a matchup with the United States materializes beyond pool play, will be a measuring stick heading toward his NBA debut. The same goes for Dario Saric as he nears the move to the 76ers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTwo of them — Domantas Sabonis and Dario Saric — are lottery picks. Even though Sabonis played college basketball in the States, I’ve seen more of Saric. So I’m more curious about Sabonis, who has been playing a decent amount of minutes in exhibition games for a veteran-laden Lithuania squad. His skills could be a good fit on the Thunder frontline and it will be interesting to see if he gets a chance to contribute as a rookie on a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Seeing his highlights doesn’t do justice to the game so many talent evaluators insist resides in the body of Dario Saric. I’ve been waiting anxiously to see him go all out in a competition like this, just to see if he can justify some of the hype (and there has been plenty). He’s such a critical piece for the Philadelphia 76ers going forward. I want see for my own eyes what he brings to the party in Philly.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comFor two years we’ve been hearing about 6-foot-10 power forward Dario Saric, the No. 12 pick of the 2014 draft who will add to the glut of big men in Philadelphia next season. Will Saric be able to earn meaningful minutes alongside Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor? Which skills will he bring to the 76ers? The best clues will be provided by his play with Croatia in the weeks ahead.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWait, Ben Simmons is playing? Oh, well then, my options are severely limited. In that case, out of the rookies playing in Rio, I’ll do with Domantas Sabonis, who may end up playing a bigger role than anyone suspected this season for the Thunder following the departure of Kevin Durant.

Morning shootaround — July 17



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Owner Taylor likes Wolves | Sixers have “big” problems | Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls

No. 1: Owner Taylor likes Wolves— It’s all paper optimism right now, but there are plenty of reasons for the Wolves and their owner, Glen Taylor, to feel excited about the upcoming season. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns, a solid young core and incoming rookie Kris Dunn, the pride of the Vegas summer league. Taylor discussed the state of the Wolves recently with longtime Twin Cities columnist Sid Hartman, who filed this report for the Star-Tribune:

The Wolves didn’t make a splashy move in free agency like the Warriors, but they did make a number of smart moves, signing centers Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill and shooting guard Brandon Rush to low-risk contracts.

Taylor said those moves should help a team that believes its young core already is in place.

“We have some young guys that we see as our potential starting team, but we need players coming off the bench to hold us competitive with the other teams,” Taylor said. “I think both Thibs and Scott are looking at other players that can come in and play competitive minutes.”

While the team has started to take some shape, Taylor wasn’t ready to give his expectations for 2016-17 quite yet.

“A lot of people have asked me that and I just think it’s premature,” he said. “I’d like the coach to get to know his players better, I’d like to have him work with them, I’d like to have him decide who’s going to be on the team, and then that might be the appropriate time to put out expectations.”

One thing Taylor did say is that he doesn’t believe point guard Ricky Rubio will be traded at this point.

“I don’t see that as a likely possibility,” he said about a Rubio trade. “I just think the coach, everybody, likes Ricky. I think we want him to come in and improve on his shooting. But his other things, he plays defense, he gets assists, he helps the others get better. He has some wonderful qualities.

“I think the coach wants to bring an assistant coach to help Ricky on his shooting and I think that’s where we’re going to start out and go and we’ll see how good Kris Dunn is.”

Injured big men

With Aldrich and Hill signing, there have been some rumblings about what that means for both Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic, who struggled with injuries last season and are due combined $20 million next season.

“I know that he was going to get married this summer,” Taylor said of Pekovic. “I know he’s back at home. I know that we’re going to try to get him in here early to make sure he’s in physical shape and look at that foot and make sure it doesn’t reoccur again. But I don’t have any definite information other than that we’d like to have him in here early so the doctors and everybody can work with him.”

Has the team put any timetable on Garnett? “We haven’t,” Taylor said. “I think it’s more up to Kevin, a little bit. The sooner we know it’s helpful to us, but I mean Kevin is an important part of our past and came back last year to help us, and we all know Kevin was having some difficulty with his knees and legs or things like that.

“I think he’s the only one that can tell us if he can play or not play, and I don’t think we have put him under time frame. I mean we still have time on that, and we have some options. We have some options. But I think at the appropriate time when Kevin is ready we’ll have that discussion.”

Increased interest

There’s no doubt that the Wolves have become one of the most talked-about teams in the league because of players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Taylor said that excitement mixed with some moves this offseason should bode well for ticket sales.

“Yes, the season-ticket thing, I think because of bringing in Thibs as a coach and then everybody seeing the improvement we made last year has sparked renewed interest,” he said. “We look forward to a good season sale on tickets this year.”

Taylor has also been able to attract investors, bringing in Linzhang (John) Jiang and Meyer Orbach as minority owners, and while he said he isn’t planning to sell a large stake in the team at this point, that doesn’t mean he won’t listen to interest.

“We don’t have any plans on doing that today, but I wouldn’t want to say yes or no to that because I think if the right person came along and they had the right opportunity and they wanted to come in — like these fellows did on a limited base, and I still run the team and just have them help me — I might do that,” Taylor said.

***

No. 2: Sixers have “big” problems — The revamping of the Sixers has been a long time coming, and suddenly, there’s a level of hope not seen in Philly since Allen Iverson left. The influx of young talent coupled with the on-hand returnees bodes well for a team that has spent the last three seasons in the basement. That said, how are the Sixers going to find time up front with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and now Dario Saric? All four are forwards or center-forward combos. Of course, it sounds funny: Philly has too much intriguing talent. Anyway, the subject was raised and analyzed by Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor at the center position are at least one too many, and the rest of the league knows it. Each player brings a different mix of promise and peril. Which to choose? It is a quandary that, if solved properly, will set the team on the path to true contention. If botched, well, that path will still be lined with good intentions, but it will lead back to the nether world from which the team is slowly emerging.

If it is any consolation, the Sixers have seen worse. I had the great pleasure of covering every game of the Doug Moe era, a 19-37 slog that featured a roster with four centers, collectively referred to by Moe as “28 feet of [expletive].”

You haven’t seen dysfunction until experiencing the frontcourt stylings of Charles Shackleford, Manute Bol, Andrew Lang, and Eddie Lee Wilkins on one team. All four were gone when the following season began, as was Moe, who didn’t survive the previous one.

“He won 19 games with this team, and they fired him?” Wilkins said. “He should be coach of the year.”

That was a different problem for the Sixers, but deciding which of those guys to get rid of was easy: all of them. The current situation is a puzzler because the three centers are very valuable, each in his own way, or at least have potential value that could become enormous over time. Forecasting their futures is the first big test Colangelo faces.

“I think we could be a better basketball team if we could distribute the talent better and maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster,” Colangelo said on SiriusXM NBA Radio while attending the summer league in Las Vegas. “Right now, it’s best to say we like all of them and want to see if we can make the most out of them in terms of their contribution to the team. But at the end of the day, the reality says that one has to go at some point, but only when the deal is right.”

The reality, however, doesn’t say that one has to go before the season begins, or even by the February trade deadline. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he set his sights on rebalancing the roster at the 2017 draft. That could be the wisest course of action, particularly since what the Sixers don’t know about their team is still a lot greater than what they do know.

“We’re top heavy, but we’ve got some good talent there,” Colangelo said, “whether it’s Nerlens, with a certain skill-set in terms of being more of a defensive player. You’ve got Jahlil, more of an offensive player, a lot of post action and now steps outside and hits that 15- to 18-foot shot, and then you’ve got Joel.”

Figuring things out is a process, and while fans might like to see a choice made immediately to start the contending process this season, that would make choosing the wrong piece more likely.

Most of what we know about Okafor and Noel so far is that coach Brett Brown couldn’t figure out a way to play them together because both operate best close to the basket. Now he needs to determine what mixture will work as Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are placed on the court, and as Embiid finally gets into uniform. It could be there will be plenty of offense to go around and Noel is the better fit. It could be that on a team of slashers, the dependable low-post presence of Okafor makes the most sense. And, of course, it could be that Embiid limps off in the first week of the season.

***

No. 3: Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls — Take Jimmy Butler and add Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and what do you have? A very happy head coach. Fred Holberg‘s first season in Chicago was choppy; the Bulls floundered down the stretch and fell flat at the end of the season. Since then, the Bulls parted ways with Derrick Rose while adding another local player to assume his spot in Wade. Rondo comes from the Kings, where he enjoyed a rejuvenated boost to his career, and suddenly the Bulls have three proven players. KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune recently caught up with the coach about Wade, who made it official the other day:

“I’m really excited to get him on board,” Hoiberg said via phone from Las Vegas, where the Bulls played the Wizards in the NBA Summer League quarterfinals Saturday night. “Obviously, he’s a guy with championship experience and gives us another playmaker on the floor. I’ve been watching a lot of film to see how to best utilize the talents of the players on our roster.

“Dwyane is a tough matchup for opposing teams with him and Jimmy (Butler) on the wings and Rajon (Rondo) at the point. A lot of how we attack will be based on matchups and who the defender is and whose hands we’re going to put the ball in to make plays.”

Hoiberg left summer league to attend Monday’s dinner with Wade in Chicago, his first prolonged conversation with the 12-time All-Star. Hoiberg came away impressed, calling him a “rock solid person (with) great people around him.”

Hoiberg’s playing career overlapped with Wade’s for two seasons. In fact, Wade posted a picture on Instagram of himself from one of his two predraft workouts for the Bulls in 2003 at the defunct Berto Center. Now, Hoiberg will be coaching the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s so good at getting in the paint,” Hoiberg said. “He has a great floater and runner. He shot the 3 at a very high rate in the playoffs last year. He gives us another guy who can make plays. That’s huge.

“We have multiple playmakers now, multiple guys who can get in the paint. We do have floor spacing on this team. It will be important to have guys who can knock down shots.”

Hoiberg again referred to the 2003-04 Timberwolves, which he played for and featured Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell and advanced to the Western Conference finals, as an example of a team that can make three strong personalities work. He said he and his staff have been watching film of other teams that feature three players who need shots and touches.

“Great players always figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “It has to be about one thing, and that’s winning. Based on who has the hot hand on any given night, you play through that guy, and the rest of the team plays off him.”

Asked who gets the last shot in a tie game, Hoiberg laughed before answering.

“We’ll see who has it going,” he said.

Wade will turn 35 in January. He played in 74 games last season, his highest regular-season total since 2010-11. Wade averaged a career-low 30.5 minutes and then delivered a turn-back-the-clock postseason performance in which he averaged 21.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 14 games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: More on the death of Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, one of history’s underrated big men … Damian Lillard got skills with a mic in his hand … RC Buford loves him some Tim Duncan, and don’t we all? … Pelicans don’t expect Tyreke Evans will be healed and ready to go when season tips off …

Morning shootaround — July 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Early reviews of Saric | Free-agent impact around NBA | Buddy Hield is ready to go

No. 1: Early reviews of Saric — It will likely be a while before anyone gets a handle on the most mysterious rookie of the 2016-17 season. That’s because Dario Saric is two years “late” coming to the Sixers and played out of sight of most NBA fans in Europe. All we know is he’s a fluid big man who brings hope to a Philly team that suddenly is stockpiling young talent. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News took a sampling of scouts’ take and here’s what he compiled:

Acquired on draft night in 2014 when the Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, then traded him for Saric, who was selected by Orlando at No. 12, Saric played two seasons for Anadolu Efes in Turkey, as anticipation of his arrival to Philadelphia rose with each passing season. It really didn’t seem to matter what type of player he was or whether his game could translate to the NBA. He was someone former general manager Sam Hinkie had acquired – along with a first-round pick from Orlando – and the faithful couldn’t wait for his arrival.

The wait is over: It appears his signing is imminent, as he arrived Thursday afternoon to meet with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.

Sometimes, the anticipation is better than the event. Could that be the case with Saric, or might he turn out to be a big piece of this process moving forward? Fans who haven’t seen Saric will get to during the Olympics. He led Croatia to a win over Italy in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament last weekend by posting 18 points and 13 rebounds, garnering him MVP honors. He is a Philly player through and through, with plenty of toughness in his game that undoubtedly will make him a fan favorite.

But to look deeper into how he might fit into the NBA, I talked to numerous people who have seen him play since he became property of the Sixers. There are mixed reviews on just how good he will be in the league and how he might fit with the Sixers’ roster.

“I don’t see it,” said one executive. “To me, he’s a below-the-rim player who is going to be way behind, as far as speed and quickness. His shot isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good enough for defenses to really respect it yet. So to begin with, they’ll be playing him to get to the basket. Once he does that, he’s looking to draw contact more than anything else.

“He does have good passing skills. He’s a capable ballhandler where he was, but I’m not sure that he’ll be quick enough in the NBA to do what he wants when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Another executive saw it much differently: “He has great handle for his size, is a solid to good rebounder, is a special passer, is tough and is a winner.”

When broken down from the handful of people who have watched Saric in person, here is the kind of player the Sixers appear to be getting:

Offensively

There is little doubt Saric’s best offensive ability is passing the basketball. Like Ben Simmons, he can grab a rebound, start a break and hit long outlet passes, throwing bounce passes when necessary and hard chest passes at other times. He has a flare to his passing game, also; the no-look, over-the-shoulder pass seems to be a favorite. Oftentimes, his good ballhandling skills will get him to where he needs to be to make the pass. When standing on a wing, he often will send a soft, quick touch pass into the post when the ball comes his way.

One characteristic Philly fans will love about Saric is the physicality he brings at both ends of the floor. In that previous game against Italy, his team basically gave him the ball, put four guys down on the baseline and let him go to work. He got to the lane and, more times than not, was able to draw contact.

Defensively

This is where Saric’s struggles will begin right away. As one scout said, “He’ll be way better at the offensive end than he will be at the defensive end, where he could be a liability.”

The reasoning is twofold. One is his lack of speed and quickness. The other is that he’s not very long. He’ll have to play power forwards on defense because he simply doesn’t have the speed to chase small forwards. He is a very physical player, and the thought is that when he is getting beaten by speed, he will look to slow down opponents with contact, which could lead to a lot of fouls – especially as a rookie.

The plus side is that Saric possesses a strong basketball IQ, which leads many to think he will be able to overcome deficiencies with his mind and translate it to his style of play.

His best asset at the defensive end could wind up being rebounding. If he can rebound on the move defensively and start a break, whether himself or by getting the ball out to the likes of Simmons, that is where Saric could be at his finest.

***

No. 2: Impact of NBA free agents for 2016-17 — The free-agent spending spree is nearly over and, billions later, we don’t know the scope of the impact and what’s in store for the immediate and distant future. Trying to make sense of it all is Bobby Marks of The Vertical; the former league executive takes a educated look at the decisions made and the ramifications that could and should follow:

ROSTER TURNOVER
One of the goals of the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011 was to incentivize teams to retain their current free agents by allowing them to add extra years along with percentage salary increases.

Although player movement certainly occurs every summer, the cap rising to $94 million eliminated the incentive for players to remain with their own team as more than 70 percent of players switched franchises.

Had the players association agreed to the NBA proposed cap smoothing and not for the cap to jump from $70 million to $94 million, Kevin Durant likely would have remained with the Thunder.

THE $100 MILLION DOLLAR CLUB
The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets sent shock waves through the NBA with their $100 million-plus payroll.

Fast-forward three years and now there are 10 teams with $100 million payrolls with five more hovering north of $95 million.

The new TV money will certainly off-set player salaries in the future, but the financial picture of the NBA, with 15-man rosters, now looks more like the NFL’s with 53-man rosters.

LUXURY TAX BECOMES A NON-FACTOR
The days of the Cavaliers’ $54 million tax bill this past season and the Nets’ $90 million one in 2013-14 are long gone.

The rise in the cap, for at least one year, has eliminated the luxury tax that teams such as the Miami Heat once feared.

A major sticking point in the 2011 work stoppage was for the NBA to implement a progressive luxury tax that would penalize teams for overspending along with creating rules that would hinder player movement for tax teams.

Since going into effect in the 2013-14 season, the NBA has collected over $300 million in luxury tax with 50 percent of that amount distributed to teams that fell below the tax threshold.

Although teams such as the Clippers and Cavaliers, repeat offenders from last season, hover around the $113 million tax threshold, the rest of the NBA has little to worry about.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS STAYING PUT
Although the cap jumped $24 million from the previous season, restricted free agents continued the path of past summers and remained with their teams.

Even the large offer sheets the Nets agreed upon with Miami’s Tyler Johnson and Portland’s Allen Crabbe were matched.

The rise in the cap certainly played a role in the salary amounts each player agreed upon and could have lasting financial repercussions for Miami and Portland.

ROOKIE SCALE EXTENDED
From a headline perspective, a player drafted in the first round certainly has appeal. Along with the label of being a first-round pick also comes two years of guaranteed money.

The additional cap relief teams received this summer however unofficially extended the rookie scale into the second round.

Out of the nine second-round picks currently signed, eight mirror the rookie scale of a first-round selection.

Although there is no scale for players selected in the second round, teams have taken advantage of the additional cap space to lock up players to cap-friendly contracts.

Grizzlies second-round pick Deyonta Davis, for example, signed a three-year, $4 million contract that is similar to one signed by a first-rounder selected in the early twenties of the draft.

THE IMPACT ON THE 2017 FREE AGENTS
The excessive spending this summer will have an impact with the excellent free-agent class next summer.

The field of 27 teams with $20 million-plus in cap space this past summer could be sliced in half by the time next July rolls around.

Even with the cap rising from $94 million to a projected $102 million, early projections forecast only 12 teams having $15 million-plus in cap room.

With unrestricted free agents LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, JJ Redick and Derrick Rose set to hit the open market, free agents could be remaining with their own teams.

***

No. 3: Buddy Hield is ready to go — Take Summer League for whatever it’s worth; the Pelicans aren’t sweating the inconsistent shooting of their top draft pick, Buddy Hield. There’s simply too much at stake for a franchise that’s trying to put important pieces around Anthony Davis to worry about 5-for-20 shooting in July; that was Hield’s first game. He has settled down somewhat since then, and the Pelicans love his aggressiveness. Here’s Justin Verrier of ESPN.com on the former Oklahoma star:

“Our message to Buddy all year was, ‘Don’t change, don’t change,'” said Lon Kruger, the Sooners’ head coach, in a phone interview. “When you start getting those national accolades and recognition and player of the year conversations, don’t change, don’t change.

“Even when he received the awards, we said don’t change anything. When you get drafted, don’t change anything. You’ve got something unique and special as a personality. When you get to the NBA, don’t change anything.”

Such a player would seem like an easy fit in a league trying to cash in on an everyman capable of superhuman shot-making. Like Stephen Curry, Buddy enters his pro career with a ready-made persona, a backlog of big-game highlights — including besting a “Mini-LeBron” in Ben Simmons with the almighty 3 — and the ability to walk the line between charm and confidence. He’s a supremely gifted athlete who also pulled himself up by the boot straps.

He’s your buddy, but he’s also an on-court killer who idolizes — and now shares an agent with — Kobe Bryant.

“The qualities Buddy has are the ones you’d want everyone to have,” Kruger said. “What I think balances it is sincerity and maybe the work ethic. His peers like him, the coaches like him, the administration likes him, the people in town like him. It’s not like he flaunts anything. It’s not like he gives off that he’s entitled. It’s not like he’s expecting anything back. Buddy’s a giver. Which is pretty rare when you think of a player with those abilities.”

The Buddy brand also comes complete with three self-given alter egos: “Buddy Fresh,” which he’s prone to belt out to spark self-motivation; “Buddy Love,” which is “for the ladies,” as he recently told The Starters; and “Buddy Buckets,” which on draft day lined his suit jacket in Bahaman colors.

“I’ve got good branding skills,” he said with a smirk. “Attracts the crowd a lot too.”

Even “Buddy” is an alias. His mother, in what is now Hield lore, saw a likeness between her infant son and the character Bud Bundy from “Married … with Children,” and so his given name Chavano became Buddy.

Those who know him well agree it fits.

“He’s always had that swag,” said Sacramento Kings rookie Isaiah Cousins, Hield’s former roommate at Oklahoma. “It’s just a part of his culture.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: How much can the loaded Warriors fetch from ads on jerseys? Early estimates have $15 million a season … Dwyane Wade said he has worn Bulls gear every day since signing.

Morning shootaround — July 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban on Warriors as NBA ‘villain’ | Report: Saric to sign this week | Howard returns to Hawks

No. 1: Cuban a fan of Warriors being an NBA ‘villain’ of sorts — A mere two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors pulled off perhaps the most envied free-agent signing of the summer — adding superstar and former MVP Kevin Durant to their already potent mix. Many are wondering how the Warriors will look next season with he, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in the mix. Success is all but certain to follow that group … and perhaps some disdain from non-Warriors fans who want to see this new super team beaten. As Tim McMahon of ESPN.com reports, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a fan of the Warriors being the new villains (his word, not ours) of the NBA;

Mark Cuban believes Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors will benefit the NBA from a business perspective, despite commissioner Adam Silver’s concerns about the forming of a superteam.

Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner who has never shied away from going against the grain, is confident that adding a former MVP to a recent championship team that already features two-time MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will drive interest in the league.

“They become the villain,” Cuban told ESPN on Wednesday, a day after Silver indicated that changes in the collective bargaining agreement are needed to prevent similar situations from developing in the future. “Just like when LeBron James went to Miami, I loved that there was a villain. They become the villain. I’m fine with that. Everybody’s going to root for them to lose.”

Cuban’s Mavericks benefited by Durant’s decision, allowing them to add former Warriors starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to the roster, with Golden State needing to let both players go to create cap space for Durant.

The Warriors declined their right to match the Mavs’ four-year, $94 million offer to Barnes, a restricted free agent who Golden State planned to keep if its recruiting pitch to Durant didn’t work. Golden State traded Bogut to Dallas in a salary-dump deal.

“It sure helped,” Cuban said of the impact Durant’s decision had on Dallas’ offseason.

Cuban also cautioned against assuming that the Warriors — who won the title in 2015 and lost in the NBA Finals this year after setting a regular-season record with 73 wins — will have an easy road to another title.

“It’s always been tough for superteams to stay super,” Cuban said. “When you congregate that much talent, one injury destroys the whole thing. They played by the rules, so it is what it is. It has always happened. It’s nothing new.”

***

(more…)

Serbia, Croatia earn trips to Rio

HANG TIME, N.J. — Serbia and Croatia earned bids to the 2016 Olympics on Saturday, winning their respective qualifying tournaments.

Serbia cruised to a 108-77 victory over Puerto Rico after a 37-11 first quarter on its home floor. They were led by the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (23 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (26 points, eight assists, 6-for-10 from 3-point range), whose draft rights are held by the Sacramento Kings. Jokic was named the tournament MVP.

After leading Italy by as many as nine points in the first half and by six with less than four minutes to go, Croatia needed overtime to punch its ticket. The Brooklyn Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic led all scorers with 26 points and hit the biggest shot of the night, a right-wing three with 1:14 left in OT off some nice ball movement. Philadelphia 76ers draftee Dario Saric was named tournament MVP and had 18 points, 13 rebounds and a big steal in the final minute.

Danilo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli combined to shoot just 9-for-28 for Italy. Gallinari fouled out in regulation and Italy (coached by Spurs assistant Ettore Messina) was left with little offensive firepower in the extra period.

The final spot in the Olympic field will be determined in the Philippines on Sunday (9 a.m. ET on Watch ESPN), when Canada and France face off.

Two of the qualifying tournament winners will be played in Group A with Australia, China, the United States and Venezuela. One will be placed in Group B with Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, Nigeria and Spain. The Olympic basketball competition tips off on Saturday, Aug. 6. The U.S. will be looking to extend its 45-game winning streak and earn its third straight Olympic gold.

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