Team USA takes care of Lithuania… eventually


That was almost very very bad.

Team USA played disastrously bad against Lithuania for a half, trailing by multiple scores before turning the jets on in the second half and riding their athleticism to a 77-61 win Sunday afternoon.

The big problem for Team USA? You can take your pick, but shooting is likely the biggest culprit. The team simply could not make a jumper, shooting worse than 25% at one point before starting to attack the basket. To be clear, though, there were problems all over. The interior defense struggled, a result of the lack of depth thanks to injury on the squad, as well as a long, athletic Lithuania team that was staying aggressive on the offensive glass before they ran out of steam.

Finally, Russell Westbrook got things going from the outside and wound up with the MVP for the game with 12 points and 5 rebounds, while Rudy Gay (14 points and 5 rebounds) and Andre Iguodala used their size and athleticism to capitalize on turnovers, leading to multiple breakaway dunks. Not that that always worked out, considering both Gay and later Eric Gordon missed those same breakaway dunks.

Linas Kleiza predictably lead Lithuania, showing why he’s returning to the NBA this season with a flurry of mid-range jumpers and solid drives. But eventually, USA’s pressure full-court defense and length was just too much for the green team.

The contest does lead to several significant questions going into tomorrow’s exhibition against the arguable favorite in the FIBA tournament, Spain. Spain is going to have better shooters, better bigs, better defenders, and better ball athletes. If USA comes out in a shooting slump like they did today, often lost on rotations inside and struggling to contain the boards, that game likely won’t right itself like today did.

Durant scored 15 points for another strong showing on the stat sheet, but his shot was off the whole day long, and questions continue about his ability to carry the load for USA.

All in all, though, Team USA was up 15+ late, and came through when they needed to. But in a year with so many questions, we’ve yet to get answers as the exhibition season has continued. We’ll let you know how tomorrow works out.

LeBron James posts photo with Tristan Thompson, sends message to Cavs

2015 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.

Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.

But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.

LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.

However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.

For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.

Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.


Hezonja throws down one-handed dunk in preseason debut

Orlando Magic Introduce 2015 NBA Draft Picks
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Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:

Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.