Posts Tagged ‘Pau Gasol’

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2010.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Blogtable: The U.S. vs. the World

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: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not U.S. players are too dominant on the international stage

> What’s your takeaway from the whooping the U.S. put on the rest of the world at the FIBA World Cup? Is the gap widening again? Time for America to call off the dogs, let even younger guys play? Other thoughts?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To heck with global supremacy and to heck with calling off the dogs. I favor a young-player Team USA and FIBA tournament in general so as to not expose franchise stars to undue risk of injury or fatigue. Basketball is a worldwide sport, the NBA is a league of nations, and it doesn’t turn on which country in a given year puts together the winningest roster. The Olympics doesn’t even move my needle on this. I’m a big believer in putting the day job first, and the NBA’s investment all around — for owners, for fans, for players — ought to be the 800-pound priority.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The gap has always been wide and likely will be for many years to come just as the U.S. men’s national soccer team remains miles away from contending for the World Cup despite making obvious gains. As for allowing the younger guys to play, I’ve always taken this side. To me it makes little sense for the NBA’s elite players to risk injury in a tournament that, frankly, holds little meaning in this country. Look, the World Cup championship game went up against Sunday NFL games. I haven’t seen the ratings, but I’m guessing they weren’t pretty. Now, having talked recently to Chandler Parsons and hearing his real disappointment at not making the team, I’m not here to tell anyone they can’t participate if they want to. But outside of the Olympics — and even then I’m not beholden to the drum beat that our best players must compete so the U.S. is guaranteed of winning gold — we should open the field to a much wider pool of players who can proudly represent the U.S.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No calling off. Send the best team possible and see who wins. It’s the world championships or the Olympics, not AYSO. If the United States wins for the next 20 years, then the event has served its purpose to determine the best. If someone else wins, the victory will have much more meaning than if it came against the D-League All-Stars or a mix of college players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It just seems that way. There are a lot of reasons why USA never got challenged. The next four or five best teams were all on the other side of the bracket. Spain would have provided a tougher matchup, but crumbled under the pressure of a close game in the quarterfinals. While Serbia was a good team, it had never played the U.S., so that was the first time most of its players had faced that kind of speed and athleticism. And finally, the gold medal game would have been more competitive had the U.S. not shot ridiculously well from 3-point range on that particular night. There’s still a gap in regard to both top-line talent and depth of talent, and Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have done a better job of making the most of that talent than previous regimes had. But the rest of the world certainly isn’t getting worse.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My biggest takeaway is that this rush to judge the team that USA Basketball sent to Spain was as twisted and relentless as anything I’ve seen in two decades in this business. The narrative about this team that was spun before they even left these shores for Spain was pretty comical. No stars = USAB, and more specifically the NBA, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewskiall getting their commeuppance from the rest of the world was pretty much the way I read it. Foolishness. Complete foolishness. The U.S. team was clearly better and deeper than anyone else in the field, including Spain. (I said it here last week.). Even the haters have to face the reality that the U.S. program is once again the measuring stick. The same built-in advantage certain nations have when the FIFA World Cup rolls around is the same decided edge the (wrongly stereotyped ugly) Americans have now when the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics pop up on the summer schedule. The pool of human resources at USAB’s disposal is as deep as it gets and arguably as deep as it has ever been. And some of these so-called future NBA stars or guys who have dominated internationally and could and would do whatever in the NBA are getting hype they don’t deserve. And it showed when they faced the U.S. “C-Team” that quite frankly trounced the competition in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The more I think about it, the less I understand these international competitions. I get it in soccer, when national teams are assembled every few years for the World Cup, because at least in between in soccer we get the Champion’s League, where we see the world’s best teams all compete against each other. And I think that might be a more interesting concept in basketball than a Basketball World Cup, where the Olympics are still considered the marquee tournament. With that said, just because the US breezed through this tournament without much trouble, using a banged-up roster, it’s probably too soon to say the US is beyond reproach. We never did, for instance, have to play against Spain or France, and we came through the tournament’s easier bracket. If there’s anything we should have learned from recent USA Basketball history, it’s as soon as you start thinking you’re untouchable, watch out.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The crazy thing about this World Cup was that this USA team was arguably second or third string and they still cruised. As someone from outside the U.S., representing a country that would receive a beat down if they faced off, I’m not concerned that they cruised through the tournament! I want to see the best players on the planet playing together. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant playing together at 2012 Olympics was incredible to see. I don’t want to see younger guys play to level up the playing field, I want to see the best team come together.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I wrote about this at large for NBA Brasil. The gap is wide again because the rest of the world is in transition from the end of its first true NBA generation to the next wave. Just two years ago, a U.S. team with LeBron, KD, Melo and Kobe took all they could handle from Lithuania and Spain. Guys that have given trouble to the Americans in the past 10 years, like Ginobili, Jasikevicius, Kleiza, Papaloukas and Spanoulis are either retired from their national teams or took the summer off. Also, USA Basketball has done a remarkable job with its program, which sets it apart from everyone else. The rest of the world will come back: France, Serbia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia all have quality generations developing for the next Olympic cycle. But, as long as USAB keeps doing things right, the US will stay on top of it.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although I had expected the US to win the tournament, I was genuinely surprised that a young team without so many of America’s best talents were able to sweep through their competition with such ease. The gap has widened between the USA and the rest of the world for sure, but that is no need for alarm; basketball is a cycle and as a new generation of young international talents mature mature and improve, the gap will be narrowed again. The rest of the world is simply going through a phase where the old ranks (Ginobili’s Argentina, Gasol’s Spain, etc.) haven’t yet made room for the new. I don’t agree that America should call off the big dogs; on the contrary, I want USA to send their best players to the World Cup (which is ALL basketball) instead of the Olympics (where basketball is just one of dozens of sports). The more the US invests in the World Cup, the more the rest of the world will care about it.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: First of all Team USA was lucky not to face Greece, because everybody remembers that “Big in Japan” Greek team back in 2006. Sorry, I had to underline somehow the fact that we were the last country to beat the NBAers. Now, as for the gap-talk, it’s tough to say. On one hand we saw Team USA cruising through the gold medal. On the other hand there is no argument that this was the most FIBA-geared team the Americans have ever assembled. They didn’t thrive playing NBA game style, but they beat the world playing international basketball.  Team USA was so effective because it took bits and pieces from the entire world. These days when international players have become part of the NBA core and more and more European coaches are sitting on NBA benches, we cannot talk about “the gap widening”. The gap is closing in terms of talent, size, coaching and athleticism, but it’s still wide open when referring to administration, planning and management. We really like watching NBA stars on the floor every other summer, so I believe that nothing have to change.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Well, at first sight, it seems like there is no chance that we will see an international team beat the USA in the near future. And I guess that’s true at second and third sight as well. To me, Team USA simply got underestimated this time. People just saw who did not come to Spain and thought, “Well without all the big stars they might be in trouble.” Unfortunately they forgot that the NBA does not only consist of the LeBrons and Durants of this world. The team Coach K took to Spain was still miles deep and incredibly talented. I mean, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are among the best players on their respective positions. So that was no Team USA Lite even with LeBron, KD, Paul George and Chris Paul missing. But, I guess you have to keep in mind that the draw kind of twisted the facts. Until the final, Slovenia was the toughest opponent Team USA had to face. At least on paper. All the other big nations played in the other half of the bracket. No one knows if the U.S. had beaten Argentina, Brazil or France as convincingly as they beat the Dominican Republic, Finland or Slovenia. I’m not saying they would have lost, but the games might have been closer. And maybe a final against Spain would have come down to the final minutes, although that’s something we’ll never find out. Nevertheless I don’t think the gap is widening. There’s always been a certain gap as soon as the U.S. sent some of their best players. The athletic advantage is huge. But to me it would be the wrong move to stop sending the best players to a world championship or the Olympics. The big tournaments should have the toughest competition possible. And who knows, maybe one day the United States do get beat by a team like Spain.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I think the United States has re-opened the gap and that has been confirmed during this World Cup. I could see them heading into the Olympics with this group from 2014.

International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID – Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA. (more…)

Favored U.S. keeps focus on Lithuania


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

BARCELONA — That fine line between confident and cocky, the one the favorites always walk, is being navigated carefully by the U.S. National Team here at the FIBA World Cup. Upsets have a way of forcing reality onto teams, even one filled with NBA stars who believe, no matter the odds, that they won’t come all this way without leaving with gold.

Mike Krzyzewski‘s unyielding respect for the process and the rest of the field makes much more sense now that France has toppled Spain on the other side of the bracket, leaving a golden opportunity in front of the U.S. as the Americans square off with Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the right to advance to the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

“We know what a great team Lithuania is and how well they’ve played the whole tournament,” U.S. guard Steph Curry said during a Thursday morning news conference alongside Coach K. “We obviously knew what happened (to Spain) but it didn’t affect in anything in our preparation. Nobody  really expected it, they beat pretty well in pool play. But that’s the beauty of the tournament. Everybiody gets another chance to get to the medal round and then it’s a one-and-done process. And that makes it even more important for us to come out and focus and take care of our business. Everybody knew about it (France upsetting Spain). But our job is to beeat Lithuania and worry about who we’re going to play in Madrid. That’s the mentality, it was yesterday and it stays the same today.”

During pool play, any mention of Spain drew a polite but curt no comment from Coach K, who  dutifully reminded anyone willing to listen that a place in Madrid had to be earned. Ask about a potential opponent two games away and Coach K wouldn’t let the questioner finish. He’d reiterate that his and his team’s sole focus was on the team they’d face next.

Peppering the players with similar questions resulted in similar responses.

“We’re not focused on Spain or anyone else but … “

It doesn’t seem so strange now, not after seeing Spain crumble under the weight of expectations Wednesday night in Madrid.

In the moments after their quarterfinal win over Slovenia, after TNT’s Charles Barkley picked Spain to win it all and just before Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard and Slovenian catalyst Goran Dragic did the same, Coach K made it clear that his team is not invincible.

“We’re beatable,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That wasn’t posturing. Coach K knows as well as anyone — Pau Gasol and his Spanish National Team teammates included — just how humbling it can be to live that reality.

The failures of the U.S. team in 2006 is fresh in the minds of those involved with USA Basketball at all levels.

“We’re not an arrogant group that thinks we don’t have to come out and play our hardest and our best every night. That’s just not who we are as a team,” James Harden said. “We respect all of the other teams here. We’re not the only group of NBA guys here, we know that. This is a tournament, a competition, and that means it’s wide open and anybody has a chance to win.”

Having a young team, relatively speaking, that doesn’t include the usual complement of superstars that was expected (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, etc.) won’t save the U.S. from expectations now that Spain is out. The Americans go back to the top of the heap as the unquestioned favorite to capture gold.

And that means this team must compartmentalize in short order the new dynamics. Serbia and France both sprung upsets on the other side of the bracket. Who’s to say that either one of them couldn’t do it again?

So those slow starts and energy-deficient stretches this U.S. team has struggled through cannot be a part of the process any longer.

“I think we’ve played well,” Coach K said, defending his team. “I don’t know what everybody has been watching, but you know, our guys have played their butts off. They have great camaraderie. You all, some of you, think that flipping the switch, or whatever, is when we start hitting shots. If any team just had to wait for that, then they are flipping that switch all the time, because you don’t hit shots all the time. What you can do is play hard, play defense and rebound. And you can do those things all the time, and our team has done that all the time. So, then when you start hitting shots, everything looks good when you hit shots.”

Krzyzewski said he’s pleased with his team’s growth and maturity throughout the course of training camp and competition. The U.S. has maintained a sense of calm on the floor when things don’t come quickly. “So far they’ve been great about it, and I think part of it is how we handle things,” he said. “Like the mood we try to create. You want to be serious, but not to an extent where you become tight. They need to be loose.”

That was easier to do before France turned this competition upside down with that 68-52 beating of Spain. The seriousness of it all, the fact that if you don’t play your best in this one-and-done scenario could be the difference between playing to capture back-to-back titles or playing for third place.

There’s no extra motivation needed then.

“To play to get to the gold medal game, that’s the main motivation,” Klay Thompson said. “And [Thursday] is September 11, an infamous day in American history, so we just want to honor our country in that aspect.”

France shocks Spain, giving Team USA clearer path to gold


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

MADRID – The dream of a Spain-USA final at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is dead.

France ended it Wednesday with a stunning, 65-52 defeat of the Spain in the quarterfinals, playing a near perfect game to keep the hosts from even playing for a medal.

The USA’s chances to win its fourth straight international gold increased dramatically with Spain’s ouster. The Americans still have to get through Lithuania in the semifinals on Thursday and the winner of Serbia-France in the gold medal game on Sunday.

After a 2-3 performance in Group A, Serbia has played fantastically in the knockout rounds, beating 5-0 Greece and 5-1 Brazil by a total of 46 points to reach the semis. And if France continues to play the defense that it played on Wednesday, it can beat anybody.

But Spain was obviously the biggest threat to the USA’s winning streak, now at 43 games after Tuesday quarterfinal win over Slovenia. In fact, Spain looked like the World Cup favorites, with a full roster and a raucous home crowd behind them. Group A was the toughest pool in the tournament, as evidenced by its 4-0 record against Group B in the round of 16, and the hosts rolled through it, beating Brazil, France and Serbia by an average of 19.7 points.

On the other half of the bracket, Australia made a clear effort to avoid the U.S. until the semifinals and better its chance for a medal with who and how they played in their final pool-play contest. France had the opportunity to do the same with Spain, but played its final Group A game to win.

“We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals,” France coach Vincent Collet said after his team’s win over Iran last week. “That’s basketball.”

Australia played to lose and then lost to Turkey in the round of 16. France played to win and pulled off the biggest upset that we’ve seen in a long time in international basketball. They simply outplayed Spain on both ends of the floor.

“For Spain, it was not that easy to play against us a second time,” Collet said afterward. “I think the big spread (24 points) of the first game was something important for us, because it was more motivation. We used it. We showed the players how bad we looked during the first game sometimes.”

The French players said they came in with a nothing-to-lose attitude and felt that all the pressure would be on Spain if the game was close down the stretch.

“It’s tough sometimes for a team to play at home,” Boris Diaw, who led France with 15 points, said. “I think we had the motivation to win and they had the motivation to not lose.”

But the pressure wouldn’t have been on the hosts’ shoulders down the stretch had France not played terrific defense. It started in transition, with France holding Spain to two measly fast break points.

In the half court, the Spanish guards mostly got nowhere on pick-and-rolls, as the French bigs hedged and then recovered quickly to their man. France’s rotations were sharp, keeping Spain from getting clean looks at the basket. As a result the hosts shot a brutal 2-for-22 from 3-point range.

Inside, the Spanish frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka was neutralized by Diaw and France’s pair of young centers, Joffrey Lauvergne and Rudy Gobert, who both played the games of their lives.

Pau Gasol scored a game-high 17 points, but didn’t dominate like he had in earlier games. His brother and Ibaka both shot 1-for-7.

Lauvergne played the Gasols strong in the post, forcing them into tough shots away from the basket, and grabbed 10 rebounds in less than 17 minutes of action. Gobert outrebounded the Gasol brothers, 13-12, himself.

Gobert, the 22-year-old who played in just 45 games as a rookie for the Utah Jazz last season, has had a limited role on this team, backing up the smaller Lauvergne at center. But at 7-1 with a 9-foot-7 standing reach and a lot of bounce, he has a world of potential. He played a tourney-high 23 minutes on Wednesday and was, for the first time, on the floor down the stretch of a close game.

“He has a real desire to do good,” Collet said. “I think the dunk early in the game tonight gave him special energy and, for sure, he did an incredible job.”

Gobert had a strong Summer League. But this was a much bigger stage. He started to realize some of that potential on Wednesday, taking on the challenge of defending Pau Gasol and holding his own. He came up with one incredible block of an Ibaka tip-in and later swatted Gasol at the rim.

“He was incredible on defense,” France point guard Antoine Diot added. “When he plays like this, with his head, he’s fantastic.”

“For myself, I always knew I could help the team win,” Gobert said. “All my teammates played great offensively and I just had to guard Pau, because Pau is one of the best players in the world. If you stop him, they’re not the same team.”

Indeed, Spain played awful, and not just on offense. While France’s defense was near perfect, Spain’s guards got beat back-door countless times, leading to layups, open shots and offensive rebounds for France.

“We weren’t well prepared for this game,” Juan Carlos Navarro said.

Spain had looked determined to win this tournament on its home soil and to avenge gold-medal-game defeats to the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Both Gasols showed up in Granada for pool play in terrific shape, while Navarro looked sharper than he did for FC Barcelona last season. Spain was a juggernaut through its first six games, jumping out ahead early and bullying its opponents into submission.

But when it was forced to play from behind and feel the pressure of a nation of fans on its shoulders, the team crumbled under all that weight. After trailing by seven at the half, Spain forced turnovers on France’s first four possessions of the third quarter and took a one-point lead into the fourth. But France answered with a 7-0 run and put the building on high alert.

“We kind of knew if we stay close,” Nicolas Batum said,  “at the end of the game, they’re going to doubt, because they can’t lose that game.”

They did lose that game. There will be no USA-Spain final, because the hosts failed to do their part.

“It was a painful loss, disappointing,” Pau Gasol said. “This team had such high expectations. We had played an incredible tournament up to this point. It just wasn’t our night.”

Blogtable: The state of the States

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: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks



VIDEO: A “turrific” Spain team will not be intimidated by the U.S., says Charles Barkley.

> Charles Barkley is picking Spain at the FIBA World Cup. What if the U.S. doesn’t win gold? What does that say about the state of basketball in the U.S.?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comNo biggie. The whole Dream Team experience 22 years ago was intended, yes, to re-assert U.S. superiority in basketball but also to spread the gospel of the game around the globe. Well, mission accomplished on both fronts: That team shredded the competition but also upped everyone’s game internationally. If Coach K & Co. could just cake-walk over everyone in 2014, the second objective would have been a failure. Let’s not forget, either, Team USA doesn’t have the NBA’s very best participating.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: No time to panic and trade in your passport. It says what we already knew. The basketball world has changed dramatically since the 1992 Dream Team.  The talent gap has shrunk and the “awe factor” of Team USA is gone.  With a Spanish lineup of Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro, to name a few, it means the U.S. needs to put its very best — LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, etc. — to beat a first class Spanish team before a home crowd.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It says a group of Spaniards came together as a team better than this group of Americans, which, frankly, is our B/C team. These Spanish players are talented and many have played together for quite some time. This young American squad can’t say that. If Spain wins, great for them. The U.S. can begin plotting revenge at the 2016 Games when the American team will feature LeBron, KD, CP3, K-Love, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook … must I go on?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It would say Spain is definitely better than the United States’ backup squad. No LeBron James, no Kevin Durant, no Chris Paul, no Paul George, no Blake Griffin, no Kevin Love — there is no referendum on basketball in the U.S. if the Americans do not win the gold, as much as some people will pull a muscle straining to reach the conclusion. Maybe Spain would beat a Team USA at full strength, but we’ll never know. Based on actual events, if — if — the U.S. misses the gold, it will be more of a statement about the commitment of players to the program than the level of talent.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s no big statement about the state of the game in the U.S. Yes, there needs to be more practicing and less traveling at the AAU level. And yes, there needs to be more focus on the fundamentals, teamwork and passing skills that we see from some of these international teams. But the absence of both LeBron James and Kevin Durant makes such a huge difference that if the U.S. loses, it doesn’t mean that it’s not still the best basketball nation in the world.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAbsolutely nothing. As good as the 2014 FIBA World Cup team has been, and they are 40 minutes from playing or gold in Madrid on Sunday, the entire planet knows that the A-Team didn’t make the trip. Spain knows it. Lithuania knows it. Everyone knows that to the be the case. Coach K has made it clear that this team is no invincible. He learned that the hard way in 2006 against Greece. That’s why  I would argue that this team winning gold here would be as impressive a feat as any team under the Colangelo-Kryzyewski USA Basketball banner . No one outside of their own locker room expects them to win here. But let’s be real about this, if Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and a few other top flight NBA stars were here (I’m not even talking about LeBron, CP3, Carmelo and the guys who won gold in London), this discussion wouldn’t be taking place. And while everyone else is concinved the U.S. contingent cannot win here, I disagree. I think they can. All that said, I think the better question is what does it say about basketball in the rest of the world, and Spanish basketball in particular, if this U.S. team defies the odds and does walk away with gold against a better and more seasoned foe on its home soil?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It says we didn’t have our best team on the court. Not to take anything away from Spain or the other teams in the World Cup, but a Team USA with, oh, let’s say some permutation of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan, Russell Westbrook or even Paul George, I think it’s safe to say we would have a more powerful team. Are other countries catching up to the United States? Yes. Have they caught the United States? No. Not yet, at least.

Blogtable: Ranking the starts

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: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks


Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

> Rank, from the roughest to the smoothest, the start that these re-worked teams face this season, and why: Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, Houston.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll go Houston, Golden State, Chicago and Cleveland. The Rockets are dealing with offseason loss and dashed ambitions, a lousy way to open any new season. Golden State faces a learning curve under Steve Kerr and his staff and apparently some bruised feelings for Klay Thompson and David Lee. The Bulls didn’t get Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love but they’ve done this depth-and-new-parts thing before, assuming Derrick Rose flakes off his rust. The Cavaliers face all sorts of adjustments, but the big-risk, big-reward payoff is so enticing, their growing pains will feel like a brawny chiropractor’s adjustments, well worth it when they’re done.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Depending on the conditioning and the game feel of Derrick Rose after missing virtually two years of NBA play, the Bulls potentially have the roughest start just to get him back in the lineup, up to speed and meshing with everyone else.  I’d slot the Rockets next, because after Dwight Howard and James Harden they have a glaring lack of depth that the addition of Trevor Ariza doesn’t cover.  Houston will be relying on many young faces — Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Troy Daniels, Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson — to step up and deliver.  The Warriors roster is not re-worked — add Shaun Livingston — but they’ve got a new coach.  It always comes down to the health of Andrew Bogut.  But either way, they’re still likely in the mid to bottom of the West bracket.  Not much changes.  Then comes the Cavs.  A bump here, a loss there and, of course, every time it happens the world will panic.  But LeBron is back in Cleveland and that makes things smoother than a baby’s bottom.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I put the Rockets at the top of the list. There’s been a ton of turnover and I’m sure the remaining players at some point had to be shaking their heads at what had gone down. I’m not sure the Rockets really ever developed a true identity last year (they sure couldn’t close out a game regardless how big the lead), and now it’s up to Dwight Howard and James Harden to handle the pressure of expectations and lift the team even as it might overall be weaker. Next I’ll go with Chicago because of the Derrick Rose factor. I think he’s got double-duty in the sense that he has to get himself right, regain his confidence, find his shot, etc., while also figuring out his team. Cleveland is next as three All-Stars try to come together under a first-time NBA head coach. As for Golden State, I just see a pretty smooth transition here with Steve Kerr. The core roster is the same and I think Kerr’s style is going to be a fun and quick learn for his players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Chicago (roughest), Houston, Cleveland, Golden State (smoothest). The Bulls are in the hardest position because so much of their success will depend on a player, Derrick Rose, coming back from a long injury absence. That will take time, even if he is doing well physically. The Warriors are in the best position because they basically return the same roster. New coach, so the system might be different, but Steve Kerr isn’t going to make dramatic adjustments that will cause players to grind gears. He isn’t going to install a slow-down, half-court brand of basketball. The Warriors are not that re-worked. Take Golden State out, and the Cavaliers have the smoothest start. A lot of new players, yes, but veteran players, unselfish players, mature players. There may be an adjustment period in Cleveland, but if you have to go through one, go through it with the best player in the world.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors will have the roughest start, because they hired a guy who has never coached before. The Rockets lost two of their playmakers, so they will take a step back offensively. The Cavs have a new coach and new starting lineup, so it will take some time for them to be the juggernauts that we think they’ll be eventually. Derrick Rose won’t be at his best in October and November, but the Bulls have that defense to fall back on. This is now Year 5 for Tom Thibodeau, who will have his foot on the pedal from the start.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comCleveland should have the toughest time because they have the most change to adjust to from new stars to a new coach who is new to the NBA. Chicago is next with Derrick Rose coming back and Pau Gasol coming into the fold. Houston lost an important piece in Chandler Parsons but replaced him with a guy in Trevor Ariza who has played a similar role in a couple of spots, so his transition should be relatively smooth. Golden State’s major change came in the coaching ranks, so if Steve Kerr is as ready as people think, the Warriors should have the smoothest start of anyone on this list.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland — They aren’t adding just one new player, they’re adding several starters, as well as a coach with zero NBA head coaching experience, plus expectations will be sky-high, despite LeBron doing his best to tamp those down. Golden State — There may be a moderately difficult adjustment period, but as they’re returning mostly the same roster, the level of familiarity between players will help as they adopt Kerr’s system. Chicago — Adding Pau Gasol may cause a bit of a wrinkle, as they lose Carlos Boozer who’d spent years in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system. But Gasol is smart and versatile enough that it shouldn’t be a major disruption. Houston — They may be swapping out Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza, but it’s essentially that, a swap. Houston pivots on Dwight Howard and James Harden, and as they go, so goes everyone else.

Familiar matchups in Madrid quarters


VIDEO: FIBA: Round of 16, Day 2 Wrap

MADRID – The only teams possibly keeping Spain out of the gold medal game at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup are teams that Spain beat last week in Granada.

All four teams that advanced from Group A beat the four teams that advanced from Group B in the round of 16 on Saturday and Sunday. So the two Madrid quarterfinals on Wednesday will each be rematches of games that were played exactly a week earlier.

In the first game (12 p.m. ET), Serbia (3-3) and Brazil (5-1) will play a rematch of what was the wildest game in Granada, in which Brazil led by 16 at the half and Serbia led by seven in the fourth quarter, and Brazil won by eight.

All tournament long, Brazil has looked like the third best team in tournament. In fact, they ranked third in both offensive and defensive efficiency (behind USA and Spain in both categories) through the round of 16. Their three NBA bigs aren’t big scorers, but they’re the fulcrum of an offense that has recorded an effective field goal percentage of 66.7 percent over its last three games.

Serbia has had a below-average defense in this tournament, but played its best game on Sunday, holding previously unbeaten Greece to just 30 points in the second half and getting a break-out performance from Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Brazil has made it clear that it’s out for a medal, and a victory on Wednesday would put it in position to win one. But if there was a sleeping giant in group play, it was Serbia, which features both young talent like Bogdanovic and a group of veterans who have enjoyed a lot of success on this level. So there may not be a more interesting quarterfinal than this one.

“This team,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said after his team’s win over Greece on Sunday, “can compete against anybody.”

France was able to compete with Spain for most of the first half last Wednesday. But a 12-2 Spanish run spanning the second and third quarters put the game out of reach.

France lacks Tony Parker, but won’t lack confidence when it faces Spain again in the quarterfinals (4 p.m. ET), having beat Spain in this event four years ago and in the Eurobasket semifinals last summer.

France has had a top-five defense in this tournament and may have a matchup it can exploit on the other end of the floor.

Spain starts 6-foot-4 Juan Carlos Navarro at the two, where he was guarding either 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum or 6-foot-7 Mickael Gelabale. France didn’t do much to take advantage of that matchup in Granada, but Batum hinted this week that they may have been holding some things back in anticipation of a rematch in the knockout rounds.

“I don’t think we wanted to show what we can do,” Batum said Monday, “because we kind of knew we were going to meet them [again].”

But as much of an advantage that matchup might be for France, the European champs simply can’t match up with Spain’s frontline of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Joffrey Lauvergne has raised his stock in this tournament, but he’s still young, small (for a center), and inexperienced.

So France will have to play a near perfect game to have a shot of knocking out the tournament favorites.

“We need to [play defense] for 40 minutes and don’t turn the ball over,” Batum said, “because we’re going to be dead if we do that.”

Anything can happen in 40 minutes, and Spain still has two more games to play before it gets the matchup it wants, the U.S. for the gold in Madrid on Sunday.

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

Minor issues don’t slow down Spain


VIDEO: Spain wins easily over Senegal on Day 7 of World Cup action

MADRID – We are one step closer to what could be a riveting Spain-USA final at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The Americans took care of business against Mexico in Barcelona on Saturday, and the hosts did the same against Senegal in Madrid.

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

And the Americans were No. 1 at forcing turnovers. A more minor issue that Spain had on Saturday was dealing with Senegal’s defensive length. Some passes that they got away with in group play were deflected or intercepted.

Spain committed just 11 turnovers for the game and limited to just three offensive rebounds in the second half. So yeah, we’re picking nits here. But there’s little else to do when these two teams are on a collision course, with little resistance from the opponents they’ve seen so far.

Should they meet in the gold medal game on Sept. 14, the U.S. will provide more defensive pressure than Spain has seen until that point. Spain, of course, will have the best defense and the most weapons that the U.S. has seen. The pressure will be high in more ways than one and every possession will be critical.

For now, we look forward to the quarterfinals, where each team will face a tougher test than they had on Saturday. The U.S. will need to defend against Slovenia’s No. 1 ranked offense, while Spain deals with the French defense that shut down Croatia for much of their 69-64 victory in the early game in Madrid.

Come Tuesday and Wednesday, we can nitpick some more.