NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Team USA continues rolling — With the Olympics now a week away, Team USA continued their exhibition schedule last night in Chicago, where they squared off against Venezuela. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Team USA managed to overcome poor shooting to still coast to an easy 80-45 win…
A miserable shooting night by both teams kept highlights to a minimum, but the USA Basketball men’s national team beat Venezuela 80-45 Friday night at United Center.
A sellout crowd eager to see both the Chicago Bulls’ Olympic representative, Jimmy Butler, and newest acquisition, Dwyane Wade — watching from the front row after his Bulls introductory news conference earlier in the day — did most of its noise-making during introductions.
At least, that’s how it went until DeAndre Jordan‘s alley-oop throwdown of a pass from Kevin Durant gave them something to roar about, putting Team USA up 62-37 with 6:47 left. Then Butler threw one down with 1:47 left to satisfy the locals.
Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson scored 13 points each for Team USA.
Heading into that final quarter, though, the teams had combined to shoot 29-of-104 (27.9 percent). The Venezuela team was pesky enough defensively to disrupt Team USA’s offense, which had purred along shooting 49.8 percent in its first three tuneups.
The Americans won those games — the opener against Argentina, followed by two against China — by an average of 45.3 points, outrebounding those opponents by an average of 21.0. By halftime Friday, they were on pace in both those categories — leading by 18, with a 37-12 edge on the boards — but their scoring was way down due to abysmal shooting.
Their 36 points through two quarters came the hard way: 12-of-40 on field-goal attempts, including 2-of-18 on 3-pointers. The NBA stars even missed six of their 16 free throws.
The Venezuelans hung tough deep into the first quarter, trailing 13-12, before USA ran off the game’s next 12 points across the quarter break. Venezuela’s John Cox, who led all scorers with 12 points in the half, got his crew as close as 28-18 before Team USA closed the half with eight unanswered points.
No. 2: Wade, Bulls a convenient fit — One of the more surprising signings of the NBA free agency period was Dwyane Wade leaving the only team he had ever played for, the Miami Heat, in order to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Wade met with the media in Chicago on Friday, and Wade said that this was not about money as much as it was a return to where he watched the Bulls play as a kid…
Wade was introduced Friday — wait, that’s the wrong word for one of the NBA’s most familiar faces, so let’s say reacquainted with Chicago media at a news conference at the Bulls downtown practice facility. The theme of the 45-minute “presser” was hometown-kid-returns, and strictly speaking, there’s no denying the truth of that. Wade was born in Chicago, grew up in the south suburb of Robbins, and went to Richards H.S. in neighboring Oak Lawn.
But he left Chicagoland after graduating to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee. After leading that school to the Final Four, the 6-foot-4 guard was drafted fifth overall in 2003 by Miami. And over the past 13 years, Wade established himself as the face, heart and soul of the Heat, stacking up 12 All-Star appearances alongside those three Larry O’Brien trophies.
Because Wade’s Miami teams were in direct conflict with the Bulls for much of his career, his roots mattered less to the fans at United Center than the city and logos on his uniform. He routinely was booed and, more than once, rather awkwardly, he was cheered when he fell or was knocked to the floor and it appeared he might be hurt too badly to continue. Wade even let on how that stung, coming in the building where he once had dreamed of playing and winning.
That was the dream-come-true of which he spoke Friday.
“I’m a Chicago guy, Chicago kid. I grew up here,” Wade said, before a fleet of cameras, a gang of reporters and lots of family. “I remember sitting on the floor when I could sit Indian-style and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was 9 years old.
“We had this little-bitty TV — it’s about as big as an iPhone now — I remember looking at it and saying, ‘That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be. I want to be a champion and that’s who I want to do it with.’ My dream of becoming an NBA player started here in my hometown.”
No one wants to be overly cynical, so if Wade really is scratching an itch — and maybe extending his brand to another major market for the growing conglomerate that he and many of his peers have become — by playing next season in Chicago, good for him.
That doesn’t paper over suspicions, though, that he signed with the Bulls out of spite when the Heat and president Pat Riley didn’t make him a higher priority when free agency opened July 1. Or that the Bulls had ulterior motives in their own right besides landing a player whom they’d had in their sights twice before.
Wade tamped down a few questions Friday about the breakdown in his negotiations with the Heat. Reminded that Riley later expressed — sincerely or not — some regrets that he hadn’t been more involved in the talks, Wade said he had been fine hashing out particulars with owner Mickey Arison and son Nick.
“This year, the direction and focus for that organization in Miami — which I have nothing but respect for and love for — was a little different than it has been in years past,” Wade said. “My focus and direction was a little different than it’s been in years past. … I had a contract offer in Miami I could have took. I decided not to take it. It was my decision to be selfish and live out a dream of mine.”
“So let’s clear up the notion that Pat Riley orchestrated me getting out of Miami because he didn’t offer me the money I wanted,” Wade added. “This was not a money deal for me.”
No. 3: Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs — After his head coaching gig ended with the New Orleans Pelicans, last summer Monty Williams joined the Oklahoma City Thunder as their lead assistant coach. But tragedy struck midway through the season, when Williams’ wife was killed in a traffic accident. Williams took off the rest of the season to focus on their five children, but he recently returned to work with USA Basketball, and as ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, Williams is expected to return to the NBA next season as an assistant for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.
Sources told ESPN that Williams — who left the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench in February after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid — has been urged by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to take as much of a role with the organization as he feels comfortable for the 2016-17 campaign.
The specifics of what role Williams would fill and how much time he could commit have not yet been determined, but sources say San Antonio has opened the door to either a coaching and player-development role or a front-office position (or a hybrid), depending on what he prefers.
One source close to Williams told ESPN that the 44-year-old “absolutely” intends to be a head coach in the league again after his expected stint with the Spurs. The source also said numerous teams, including Oklahoma City, have made similar offers to Williams for next season.
Williams’ in-laws live in San Antonio and have been assisting him with the couple’s five children in the wake of Ingrid Williams’ death after a Feb. 9 collision in which a car crossed over onto the wrong side of the road and struck her vehicle head-on.
The children also have been traveling with Williams during Team USA’s domestic stops on the road to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The team has played exhibition games in Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Oakland, California; and Chicago entering the final warm-up game in Houston against Nigeria on Monday.
The start of USA Basketball’s preparations for the Rio Olympics on July 18 in Las Vegas marked Williams’ return to the sport after five months away in the wake of the accident. In a SportsCenter interview with Hannah Storm that aired Friday, Williams said he’s “so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”
“I’ve only had peace about a few things,” Williams told Storm. “I knew I had to take care of my kids and stop coaching, but also knew that I wanted to be a part of USA Basketball, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
“I can’t wait to get back and start coaching. I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to. My kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back.”
Last season was Williams’ first as the lead assistant in Oklahoma City under Thunder coach Billy Donovan. Williams previously posted a record of 173-221 in five seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. After the Thunder’s seven-game exit to Golden State in the Western Conference finals this postseason, Donovan confirmed that Williams would not be returning to the Thunder bench.
Williams got his start in coaching under Popovich as a Spurs intern in 2004-05 before making his debut as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Reflecting on the accident that claimed his wife’s life, Williams told Storm, “I got the call that nobody wants to get. And I knew when I was talking to my daughter, because she answered the phone, I knew at that moment that my life was going to change. I can’t explain it, but I knew that everything was going to be different. I didn’t know what was going on at the hospital; I just knew that my life was going to change. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I just felt that in my heart like this phone call was different.
“It’s one of those things you never get rid of. You never forget where you were. You never forget what you were doing. It’s the phone call you don’t want anybody to ever get. Certainly [it] could’ve broken me to the point of quitting. But God and his graciousness has given me the strength and good people to help us go forward.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Atlanta Hawks starting point guard Dennis Schröder joined this week’s Hang Time Podcast … The Warriors will reportedly offer JaVale McGee a chance to make the team in training camp … Nets guard Greivis Vasquez has withdrawn from the Olympics and the Venezuelan National Team … Jarrett Jack says he’s about a month away from returning to full-contact workouts …