Team USA vs. Lithuania: 5 Things to Watch

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Team USA continues its exhibition schedule against international competition in advance of the FIBA World Championship today with a game against Lithuania. It’s an opportunity for USA to test their progress against a better team than the China squad they faced last weekend. Lithuania’s team may be made up primarily of second-tier players (like Team USA, oddly enough), but Linas Kleiza has the Lithuanians in a position to make a run. It’s a good matchup, with most of their strength on the wing and not down low. Here are five things to watch for in today’s exhibition.

1. So About Those Guards: Well, we know the remaining won’t be coming from the bigs, but USA’s got a glut of guards. Eric Gordon’s likely on the bubble, but he’s at least a pure shooter versus the obscene number of point guards being carried on the roster currently. Russell Westbrook is the other candidate, but more important than the final cut, honestly, is how the guards work together. Determining who’s best for managing the offense and who should work off-ball is a trick Coach K has to figure out. It’s just not as simple as “toss ’em out there and let ’em play.”

2. Tread Lightly, Tyson: No one really wants to criticize Coach K’s decisions, because, well, it’s Coach K. Beyond his endless accomplishments, he also won the Gold two years ago. But I mean, Tyson Chandler? That’s your center? That’s the hill you want to die on? The guy that’s missed 68 games the past two seasons and has a bum foot? Chandler is the only true center on the team, and while Kevin Love will surely help out with the rebounding, Coach K has been experimenting with things like Kevin Durant at center. Which is cute, and nice, but also a really bad idea in actual basketball terms. Chandler simultaneously has to be out there for the team to maintain rebounding advantage and not wear down the other players playing bigger than their size, and has to be careful because he absolutely cannot get hurt.

3. What’s Good, Iggy?: Andre Iguodala has impressed the coaches and fans alike with his play, being the versatile guy he is on the Sixers. He’s in his comfort zone on this squad, and has taken on a leadership role on the court. The coaches will be looking for more of that from Iguodala. The coaches clearly want to see more aggressiveness from the players, and Iguodala has been the model of that. It’ll be interesting to see if he continues that theme against a better team defensively in Lithuania, especially since he may be guarding star Linas Kleiza for some time.

4. Go Get It Durant: If Iguodala has been the model of assertiveness, Durant has been the opposite. It hasn’t been concerning, because he’s mostly been helping get teammates involved and has still been the primary scorer. But the feeling has been that Kevin Durant has held something back during the exhibitions and practice so far and is still trying to get his feet under him. The coaches have stressed the need for him to feel comfortable scoring and being who he is, the best player on the team. Today offers him a prime chance to take over and do what he does best. Get buckets.

5. Downtown Work: The key to this FIBA run will be three-point shooting, the experts have agreed. While NBA fans wonder how in heaven’s name this team will consistently rebound, the experts have been focused on the team nailing, and defending, three-point shots. There are some ace defenders on the perimeter for Team USA, but the pull-up and spit-shot threes of FIBA are a different level and approach from what they’re used to in the NBA. Likewise, this is not known as a crack three-point shooting team. The best shooters may be at the wing spots, and Rondo and Derrick Rose are simply not terrific perimeter scorers, though Rose has clearly worked on his shot. Eric Gordon could cement himself on the team after a strong week of practice with a strong shooting performance from downtown today.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.

Report: Michele Roberts to seek second contract as players’ union head

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Michele Roberts entered the NBA’s player union in a tumultuous time — long-time union president Billy Hunter had been ousted in a rancorous fight, the union felt adrift, and negotiations with the NBA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement were looming (and players felt they had been screwed in the last CBA, following the lockout).

Roberts, the first female head of a professional sports labor union, settled things down. She cleaned up the union finances and made them more transparent to players, she worked hard to establish relationships with the players, and while she rattled some sabers with the NBA in negotiations, she also worked in a non-combative way with Adam Silver and team (unlike the Billy Hunter/David Stern relationship) and got a deal done the players liked without a lockout or labor mess.

Roberts’ contract with the union is up, but she is going to ask for a new deal — one she likely gets — reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With an original four-year agreement set to expire in September, Michele Roberts plans to seek a new contract as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sources tell ESPN…

Roberts had strongly considered staying in the NBPA’s executive director role for only the length of her original contract — and expressed that to the union’s senior membership — but has recently decided to pursue a longer tenure, sources said.

NBPA president Chris Paul played a significant part in Roberts’ hiring in July 2014 and he has built a strong working relationship with Roberts.

Roberts also has a good relationship with the star-heavy executive committee of the union — CP3, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and others — making it likely she gets a new deal.

As for what’s next, at the front of that list Roberts is working with Silver and others on reforming the NBA’s one-and-done rule (it was supposed to be part of the CBA negotiations but was too big and complex an issue to fold into that timeline).

Neither the owners or players can opt out of the CBA for four more years (and if neither side does it runs a couple more beyond that) so labor peace will continue in the NBA for a while.

Isaiah Thomas rewarded on epic flop with offensive foul call vs. Heat

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Why do NBA players flop on defense? Because it works.

While there is less of it than there was a couple of years back — when the NBA made a big show about calling more flops and warning (then eventually fining players a pittance) for the move — it still exists. Case in point, this impressive one from Isaiah Thomas of the Lakers on Tyler Johnson of the Heat Friday night (hat tip AminElHassavag at NBA Reddit).

Was there a little contact, sure, but Thomas fell back like he was shot by the second gunman on the grassy knoll. He exaggerated the contact, which is the definition of flopping. Thing is, he got the call (the ref who made the call, from his position, might only have seen the contact and not necessarily the extent of exaggeration, but that’s where the other officials need to step in).

Not that everything went Thomas’ way Friday night.