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Posts Tagged ‘Rio Olympics’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 245) Featuring Michael Lee

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant called it therapy, his time this summer with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team at the Rio Olympics.

We couldn’t agree more. Durant needed something to free his spirit after what turned out to be a tumultuous free agent summer that saw him leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the rival Golden State Warriors.

Durant will have to deal with more drama when the NBA season begins and the furor over his summer decision cranks up again. But winning that gold medal certainly helped ease Durant’s mood, something The Vertical‘s Michael Lee captured in the aftermath of the Olympic team’s domination of Serbia in the gold medal game.

Lee got off of his flight home from Rio and immediately jumped on with us on Episode 245 of The Hang Time Podcast to discuss Durant and his wild summer, gave us some inside scoop on his experiences both covering Team USA and attending other events while in Rio. He highlighted his surprise performer (DeAndre Jordan) from the Olympics and gave us his take on the John Wall-Bradley Beal dynamic in Washington.

Lee, a longtime friend of the program, also provided us with a superb dinner recommendation, should you decide to head to Rio anytime soon, while also reminding us that there will be a positive (MVP-level perhaps) bump for someone who suited up for Team USA this summer.

You get all of that and more on Episode 245 of The Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Michael Lee of the The Vertical.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

USA’s Rio Gold Rush | Popovich takes over Team USA | Gasol not ready to end international career | Wall continues making an impact off the court

No. 1: USA’s Rio gold rush With an experienced coaching staff and roster stuffed with NBA All-Stars, the United States Men’s Basketball Team entered the 2016 Rio Olympics as heavy favorites to win the gold medal. And with yesterday’s 96-66 blowout win over Serbia, Team USA did in fact win gold, although the journey may have been bumpier than many expected. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, several lessons were apparent along the way:

This team had some bad defenders, and too many of them were in the starting lineup together until head coach Mike Krzyzewski changed things up before the quarterfinals. On this team and in years past, we’ve learned how important it is to have an Andre Iguodala or a Paul George to complement the guys who can put the ball in the bucket. Kawhi Leonard, you have a 2020 roster spot if you want it.

This team also fell victim to an exhibition schedule that was too easy. That wasn’t necessarily a mistake, because they were only able to play teams that traveled through the U.S. on their way to Rio. But it was clear that the Americans weren’t prepared for a step-up in competition after cruising through the exhibitions and their first two pool play games.

And as much talent as the U.S. has, it’s impossible to make the most of it over the course of five weeks. The national team is made up of stars who aren’t used to playing with one another, and they were playing their first elimination game less than a month after they began training camp.

Other teams don’t train for much longer than that, but almost all of them have more roster continuity than the U.S. does. The U.S. had just two players back from its last Olympic Team, as well as four from the team that won the World Cup of Basketball in 2014. Serbia, meanwhile, returned nine players from the team that lost to the U.S. in ’14.

And that’s concern No. 1 for USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. He knows that it’s always going to be difficult for the U.S. to flow freely offensively and play on a string defensively when they only have three weeks to prepare a brand new roster.

“Basketball is the ultimate team game,” Colangelo said. “And when you have 10 new people and you only have them for a few weeks, it’s not enough time. For me, I’m glad we’re past this. It’s justification for all that we’ve done. But it also says to me we need to continue with the continuity. We can’t go back again with 10 new players. It’s not going to happen.”

This year, the Americans were fortunate to have the two Olympic vets that they did. Durant put the team on his back in the gold medal game. Carmelo Anthony, who retired from the national team after Sunday’s game as the only player with three Olympic gold medals in Men’s Basketball, turned into a leader for the younger players to rally around.

Those younger guys will be asked to keep coming back. And continuity will become even more important down the line, because the rest of the world is continually getting better. While this tournament saw the final games of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in their national-team uniforms, there is more talent coming up behind them.

The 46 NBA players in these Olympics was an all-time high. Australia took a big step forward, put itself on the second tier of national teams, and has the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft in its pipeline. Serbia isn’t going anywhere, France has good, under-30 players in the backcourt and on the frontline, Croatia and Lithuania have young NBA talent, and it’s just a matter of time (and participation) before Canada breaks though.

The United States’ winning streak in international tournaments, which now stands at 53 games, will come to an end at some point. But this group of 12 didn’t let it happen on its watch.

There were close calls, but they still went 8-0, played their best game with gold on the line, and stood on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. Lessons were learned, but gold was earned.

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No. 2: Popovich takes over Team USA — After 11 years at the helm and a perfect record in the Olympics, Coach Mike Krzyzewski now hands over Team USA to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who will be Team USA’s new man on the sideline. As ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan writes, to truly understand Pop, you have to understand where he comes from and the disappointments that have helped shape him…

Gregg Popovich graduated with a degree in Soviet Studies in 1970 and joined the U.S. Armed Forces basketball team, touring Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, using his fluent Russian to brief his coach on helpful buzzwords.

His team won the AAU championship in 1972, and when he returned to the U.S., he learned the Olympic basketball trials would be held at the Academy. Jack Herron Jr., who was named to the 1972 U.S. Olympic selection committee, made it his charge to make certain Popovich received an invitation.

Herron, whose father Jack Sr. played for Olympic coach Hank Iba at Oklahoma A&M (later Oklahoma State), had just spent a year as an Air Force basketball assistant and recruiting coordinator. Popovich had earned rave reviews for his overseas performances, but they were neither televised nor publicized.

“It was a fight just to get him there,” says Herron. Back then the Olympic team was selected from a pool of players representing AAU, the NAIA, junior colleges, the Armed Forces, and both the university and college divisions of the NCAA. Players were split into groups of 10 to 12 and assigned a coach. Popovich played for Indiana coach Bobby Knight; one of his teammates was forward Bobby Jones.

Jones remembers that Popovich was in his group but could not recall particulars of his game, even though Popovich led all players with a .577 shooting percentage. What Jones recalls with clarity, though, was how, before the last scrimmage of the trials, Knight informed the group that only two of them had a shot at making the final Olympic squad and the rest should pass them the ball to enhance their chances.

“The two guys were Kevin Joyce and me,” says Jones. “I had never heard a coach be so honest. I don’t know how Gregg and the other players felt about it.”

Herron suspects the subtleties of Popovich’s game were lost among the other candidates who were jacking up shots and looking to put points on the board. “Gregg could have been more showy,” Herron says, “but he played the way Mr. Iba told him to play. It probably hurt him in the end.”

Herron says he attended every single Olympic selection committee meeting and that Popovich was among the top 14-16 players in each of those discussions. But as the committee began to vote on the final roster, members who hadn’t showed up at any of the previous meetings suddenly surfaced. When Herron asked why they were there, he says they told him, “We’re here to get our guys on the team.”

The process, Herron says, quickly dissolved into factions fighting for representation instead of choosing the top performers. When the final roster was announced, Popovich was left off.

“I’ve been aggravated about this for almost 50 years,” Herron says. “Gregg belonged on that team.”

Larry Brown was invited by Iba to attend the tryouts and was suitably impressed by Popovich’s moxie, so much so that he invited him to try out for his ABA team in Denver later that fall (Popovich was among the final cuts).

“Pop was real tough and tenacious, like [Cavs guard Matthew] Dellavedova, although a little more athletic,” Brown says. “But there were so many talented players there.”

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No. 3: Gasol not ready to end international career In other Olympic basketball action yesterday, Spain defeated Australia, 89-88, to win the bronze medal, behind 31 points from Pau Gasol. And while Gasol will be 40 years old by the time of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he’s not ready to say he’ll be finished with his international career by then:

Gasol, who will spend this upcoming NBA season in San Antonio and hasn’t committed to playing at Tokyo in 2020, and his teammates celebrated by piling on top of each other near center court. This wasn’t the medal they wanted, but after losing their first two games in Brazil, it beats nothing.

“Unbelievable,” forward Rudy Fernandez said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

It is a feeling Gasol wishes could last. He isn’t ready to shed his Espana jersey.

“I’m getting older and at some point I’m not going to be able to play,” said the 36-year-old. “So when that day comes, I’ll accept it. It’ll be hard, but I had an incredible run. I can’t ask for anything else. Everything I gave, everything I lived as a basketball player, it’s a plus. It’s a gift.

“I’m just enjoying the ride.”

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No. 4: Wall continues making an impact off the court Washington’s John Wall wasn’t able to participate with USA Basketball this summer because of offseason knee surgery, but his rehab from the injury hasn’t kept him from being involved off the court in D.C. As the Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner writes, Wall recently gave out backpacks at a local elementary school, his latest attempt to make a difference in his community…

John Wall remembers how as a child he had to strap on the same backpack from elementary age until seventh grade. It’s one of the reasons why Wall showed up in Southeast Washington on a blazing hot afternoon to give away 250 backpacks.

On Saturday at Malcolm X Elementary School, the John Wall Family Foundation hosted its third annual Back to School Block Party. The event featured local organizations that donated back-to-school items, a DJ blasting up-tempo tunes, a bouncy house, face painting and free food. However, the main attraction was Wall, who personally placed backpacks on children and posed for photographs.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to meet my favorite player or an NBA player [when] I was growing up,” Wall said. “But [now] I can see the smiles that I put on these kids’ faces.”

Wall arrived at the event with little fanfare — though the DJ dropped the beat to welcome the guest of honor with “Teach Me How To Dougie.” Wall then walked the perimeter of the parking lot and basketball court to shake hands with every volunteer.

Following his gratitude lap, Wall took the microphone and addressed the crowd.

“I’m excited to be at Malcolm X Elementary school to give back to the community,” Wall said. “Like I told a lot of people before, we’re not forced to do this. I do it because I want to. I do it to be involved and be involved with the kids.”

School Principal Zara Berry-Young said Wall’s foundation reached out to her school because it specifically wanted to help in the Southeast Washington community. Wall echoed this sentiment, saying he picked an area “where people and the kids are going through tough times. . . . It’s kind of easy because it’s kind of over here by where our practice [facility] is going to be. I’m going to be over here a lot and seeing these people.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In an emotional interview following the gold medal game, Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement from Team USACatching up with Brazilian hoops icon Oscar SchmidtYao Ming reflects on his Olympic experiencesAllen Iverson picks his top five players of all-time … The Heat and Chris Bosh are reportedly still discussing his returnKobe Bryant today will announce a venture capital fund for investing in technology, media and data companies …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 244) Summer Games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Patriotism. Drama. Intrigue. Tom Foolery (Ryan Lochte). World class competition in every sporting endeavor, familiar and foreign.

We’ve gotten it all and more from the Rio Olympics, and that includes plenty of drama and intrigue from the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in their quest to win gold (they face Spain in Friday’s semifinals).

Will they or won’t they make it through? The basketball world awaits the answer from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the NBA stars who made the trip.

Meanwhile, those of us not in Rio are left to ponder the possibilities, beyond Rio and what’s in store for the stars there and those who are watching from afar. LeBron James (who has been extremely busy this summer after ending Cleveland’s 52-year title drought in June) has already admitted that he wishes he was in Rio playing and has not ruled out future Olympic competitions. He’s also talked about his dreams and aspirations beyond his playing career, things we’ve rarely heard him speak on in the past.

Listening to LeBron reflect on the bigger picture inspired us to do the same this week here at headquarters. How many guys have done what he’s done, lived up to the hype, really exceeded by most estimates, while maintaining some semblance of order in their lives?

How many guys have gone from phenom/can’t-miss-prospect to the future Hall of Fame/all-time great heights LeBron has scaled and conquered during his career?

The list is short in any sport (with decorated Olympians Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and others representing this summer), and LeBron might sit at the very top, even with plenty of years in his playing career still ahead of him.

We go off the map on this and so much more, including a mention of volleyball’s greatest competitor and one of my favorite all-time Olympians, Karch Kiraly, on Episode 244 of The Hang Time Podcast … Summer Games.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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Morning Shootaround — Aug. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blogtable: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA?

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.


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BLOGTABLE: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA? | Should teams pursue Ray Allen? |
Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?


> We’re getting a good look at international (FIBA) basketball rules during these Summer Olympics. Which, if any, FIBA rules would you like to see implemented in the NBA?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Shouldn’t this be reversed? FIBA is coming a lot more toward the NBA’s style of play and rules in recent years than vice versa. But, to the question: I don’t like the closer three-point line in Olympic/FIBA competition; God knows we don’t need to encourage the world to shoot more threes. I could be persuaded to think about the 10-minute quarters as opposed to the 12-minute ones in the NBA, if only to make the games a little more compact for fans both in the arena and watching at home. And I’d like to hear smart people make an argument about the efficacy of being able to touch the ball while it’s still on the rim, as FIBA rules allow. But there is one FIBA rule I would instantly implement in the NBA: so-called “unsportsmanlike fouls,” which include fouling players away from the ball, are penalized by two free throws and possession for the fouled team/player. The NBA is the only basketball league in the world that doesn’t penalize “Hack-A” fouls this way. Insanity.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Allow shots on the rim or over the cylinder to be swatted away by defenders. All recent rule changes have favored the offense. Let’s give defenders a break. Also, on offensive rebounds reset shot clock to 14 seconds instead of 24. Speed up the game.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: How about “none?” I love the differences between international and NBA play. And besides, the players adapt quickly to the international and NBA rules. I see no reason to have a one-size-fits-all rulebook for basketball.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I love the rule that you can’t call a timeout when the ball is live. A timeout can only be called with a dead ball or after a made basket. Adopting that rule would reduce the number of timeouts called late in the fourth quarter or overtime and shorten the length of games, which would be a great thing. I’m also in favor of adopting the FIBA rule that there’s no basket interference once a shot has hit the rim, mostly because that’s a difficult call to make in the NBA. It would make officials’ jobs easier if they didn’t have to try to figure out from 30 feet away if the ball was or wasn’t in the cylinder. And I wouldn’t be opposed to the league adopting the rule that there’s only 14 seconds on the shot clock after an offensive rebound, because it would increase pace a little bit.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The FIBA rule that allows players to touch the ball on and above the cylinder is the one I’ve always wanted to see in the NBA. It would make things extremely interesting around the basket, particularly on free throws. It would mean no more relaxing and catching a breath while someone is shooting free throws. And it would also change the way goaltending is called. But those are things I could live with in the name of seeing the world’s most graceful large athletes being able to use their gifts on and above the rim on both ends of the floor.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’d love to get rid of the NBA rule that prohibits goaltending on rebounds above the cylinder. Let both teams fight over that airspace in the final seconds of a 1-point game. The potential setbacks in terms of scoring and efficiency would be offset by excitement and unpredictability. Free throws would be more volatile than ever.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDid you see the clip of Paul George sitting on a bench during a timeout, drinking from a cup of water, and then handing the cup over his head to … nobody? George is used to existing in an NBA world where there are dozens of people jammed around the benches, taking care of everything, and he suddenly found himself in an entirely unpopulated area. And I know that in the NBA there will never be that much empty space so close to the court, but it made me wonder if there weren’t some ways we could make things at NBA games a little more minimalist?

Morning shootaround — Aug. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

***

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 — July 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B | Careful challenging Michael Jordan, even now | Waiting paid off for Lue, Cavaliers

No. 1: Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been one to hold his tongue in matters of business, basketball or politics. So when he talks about the Mavericks getting “lucky” with their free agent contingency plans this summer, he means what he says. The Dallas Morning News provides some highlights of Cuban’s recent discussion with ESPN Radio 103.3 in Dallas, where he discussed the departure of Chandler Parsons, the acquisition of Harrison Barnes and more:

Chuck Cooperstein: Unfortunately the Plan A [in free agency] didn’t work out the way you had in mind, didn’t work out the way you hoped it would. Even you knew that it was going to be an uphill struggle to make it work. Yet again, you’ve been able to sort of cobble something together that looks just a little bit more than interesting.

Mark Cuban: Yeah, you know I keep a whole trunk full of rabbits so I can put them in my hat. We got lucky. There’s not other way to say it. We knew we were long shots with both Hassan [Whiteside] and with Mike Conley. We knew Mike Conley wasn’t going to turn down the largest contract in NBA history. But we also know that it’s not just about the short-term, it’s the long-term. We wanted to introduce the Mavericks, our style and our organization to both of them because you never know when they’re going to be available in a trade. You never know next free agency. So many things can happen over a period of time in an NBA.

Look what happened with D-Will [Deron Williams]. I think our presentation to him from coach and Donnie [Nelson] in particular really set the groundwork for him understanding who we are. On one hand, we didn’t expect to get them to come to the Mavs, but we still think it served a function. From there Harrison [Barnes] reached out to me at 12:01 like, ‘Dude I want to come there. You’re my first pick, my only pick.’ I went back-and-forth with him like, ‘Yeah, we’d love you too but you’re a restricted free agent. Here’s our course of action. Here’s what we’re going to do.’ I laid it all out for him. He was like, ‘Okay, we’ll see what happens but you guys are my team.’ Fortunately it turned out the way it did.

Matt Mosley: Mark, why did you essentially pick Harrison Barnes over Chandler Parsons? Parsons ends up getting very similar, if not the same money, from Memphis. Y’all had a great relationship. I saw quotes recently [where] you said, ‘It continues to be a great relationship.’ Did it simply come down to the knee, the medical, as comparing Barnes to Parsons or do you just feel like maybe Barnes has more upside?

Mark Cuban: Can’t go into any details, but I’ll just say it wasn’t a basketball issue. Chandler obviously is a very, very skilled player. There’s a lot of great things to his game. But he’s, in essence, a different player from Harrison. Harrison is longer, more athletic, younger. Just like Chandler really didn’t get a chance to have his game blossom when he was with the Rockets. He just showed glimpses of it because of Dwight [Howard] and James [Harden] being there. I think Harrison was kind of in the same role. I think we’re going to give Harrison the opportunity and I know he’s excited about the opportunity to really shine and be a featured guy for us.

Chuck Cooperstein: I don’t know if you saw the ESPN piece…about the summer ranking of the Western Conference teams in which they had the Mavericks ninth. I said something, ‘Well, here we go again.’ Right?

Mark Cuban: You never know until you know. That’s why we play the games. If you look at last year you look at New Orleans, you look at Houston, you just don’t know. I would have told you last year, and I think I did tell you guys, that we’re about eight sprained ankles away from being a top contender. Now we’re probably only three, maybe four. You just don’t know. Look at Portland and what happened there. You just don’t know.

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(more…)

Curry opts out of Rio Olympics

OAKLAND — Stephen Curry is a two-time KIA MVP and could finish this season as a back-to-back NBA champion, but the Golden State Warriors’ superstar won’t finish the summer as an Olympic gold medalist. Curry, citing recent injuries, has opted of the player pool that the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team will use to select the team for this summer’s Rio Olympics.

“After a great deal of internal thought and several discussions with my family, the Warriors and my representatives, I’ve elected to withdraw my name from the list of eligible players on Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil,” Curry said in a statement released by the Warriors. “I recently informed Jerry Colangelo of this decision.”

“My previous experiences with USA Basketball have been incredibly rewarding, educational and enjoyable, which made this an extremely difficult decision for me and my family. However, due to several factors – including recent ankle and knee injuries – I believe this is the best decision for me at this stage of my career.   It’s an incredible honor to represent your country and wear ‘USA’ on your chest, but my primary basketball-related objective this summer needs to focus on my body and getting ready for the 2016-17 NBA season.”

Curry won a gold medal at the 2014 World Cup in Spain and in 2010 in Turkey but has not played on an Olympic team.


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