The other top contenders at the World Championships

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Thumbnail image for fiba-turkey.gifYou’re ready. You’ve read up on Team USA and its group. You’ve watched the warm-up games. Even your Facebook profile picture is a USA jersey.

You are set to watch Team USA destroy the world as is its manifest destiny….

Except they could lose.

It is possible — and not a slim possibility, but a real one — that the USA will come home with a bronze medal. Or worse. We haven’t won the World Championships in more than a decade and remember four years ago Greece embarrassed us.

Who could embarrass us now? Let’s take a look. (Again thanks to the Painted Area for the scouting reports that we count on, and you should too.)

Spain. Even the most casual of sports fans know Pau Gasol is the guy Kobe needed for more rings, and that he’s from Spain and likes tapas. (Well, we all like tapas.) We know Spain pushed the USA’s biggest stars hard in the Beijing Olympics.

But when Gasol said he wasn’t playing, a lot of Americans thought Spain’s chances took the summer off, too. Wrong. Very wrong. Most international basketball writers think Spain still beats the USA (which would be a semi-final game, if both teams sweep through group play as expected, so one team here may get the bronze).

They roll out a lineup of proven stars — Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol and others. Like the USA they know they have more talent than just about anyone so they play pressure defense and want to run. They have guards who can handle the USA’s pressure — Rubio made a great drive and kick that got Fernandez a look at a game winner in these teams game last week (but Fernandez hesitated a little on the shot and Durant recovered and got a hand on it).

That other Gasol gives Spain a better inside player than the USA has. They have players that better fit and are more used to the International game. They will face the USA in the semi-finals on Sept. 11 in what will be the real gold medal game.

Argentina. Sort of like Spain, plenty of fans heard Manu Ginobili was not playing and figured that Argentina was no longer a threat. But they still have a roster with Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and Fabricio Oberto along with a bevy of guys who are good international players.

The Argentinean offense looks a lot more like an NBA offense with a ton of pick-and-rolls that the USA would be forced to defend — and Scola is good at it because he can roll or pop. He’ll be running the P&R with Pablo Prigioni, and if you’re a fan of the game you’ll enjoy watching those two together. Mike Krzyzewski will enjoy it less.

The loss of Andres Nocioni will hurt this team, but they are still a team with a fluid offense that could really test the USA’s defense, and in a one-and-out tournament they need just one shot.

Greece. Remember it was Greece that beat the USA in the World Championships four years ago and started the current push by USA Basketball. And don’t read anything at all into the USA easily handling Greece in a warm-up this week — the Greeks sat their two best inside players and ran vanilla sets. Their offense had looked great up until the USA game. They sandbagged. It will not be so easy next time.

They lost two players to suspensions for the fight with Serbia — Antonis Fotsis and “Big Sofo” Schortsiantis — and that could cost them against a pretty good Puerto Rican team. They get back for the big game against Turkey.

They have a good group of shooters and will go pick-and-roll (something that worked against the USA in the prep game) but also used a lot of off-the-ball movement. Two things that would test the USA defense. They have experienced international players who may not give up the ball. This is as good a team as beat the USA four years ago; the USA will need to be better to win.

Turkey. Think they got in only as the host? Wrong. They have a lineup that includes Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova, plus a number of seasoned international players. Being the home team helps — there will be raucous crowds, just watch that pool play game against Greece — but they would be a threat on any court.

They have one of the best front lines in the championships — Omer Asik (signed by the Bulls) is a quality center surrounded by the versatile forwards in Turkoglu and Ilyasova. They also have Semih Erden, who just inked with the Celtics, up front. (If Mehmet Okur was healthy they would be a huge threat.)

Being good inside does not win in international ball like it does the USA, but it can and does win. Turkey, if playing well, could win Group C and be on the path to the finals against the USA or Spain.

My prediction: the USA will beat Spain and Argentina will beat Greece in the semifinals, with the USA walking away winners. But if any of those four teams win it would not be a shock.

PBT Podcast: What does Magic’s return mean for Lakers, with Mark Medina of the LA Daily News

In this Aug. 23, 2016, file photo, former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for a stadium which will be home to the Los Angeles Football Club in Los Angeles. Johnson is returning to the Los Angeles Lakers organization as an adviser to owner Jeanie Buss. The Lakers announced the reunion Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, with Johnson, one of the most beloved players in franchise history. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
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Magic Johnson has a statue outside Staples Center.

He’s now also in control of the product inside it — Magic is head of the Lakers’ basketball operations after Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were let go on Tuesday. The shakeup was expected, although the timing caught the league off guard.

It also raises questions about how the Lakers’ front office will now operate with Magic and former agent Rob Pelinka in charge, and what direction do they want to take a team with a quality young core?

Mark Media, the Laker insider and beat reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News joins me to break down all the questions around the Lakers moves, from why now to what next. He has some great insight into where the Lakers are headed.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Rockets making push for Iman Shumpert, teams ask Rockets about Patrick Beverley

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers jokes during warmups prior to the game against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The moves you see teams make at the NBA trade deadline are the best indicator of what they think their chances are come the playoffs. Do they stand pat and decide to wait a year, or are they aggressive going for win-now moves?

Based on that, the Rockets think they can make a deep run this season. They have already traded for Lou Williams from the Lakers, who should thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s system and add scoring punch to the bench.

But the Rockets may not be not done, they have been talking to the Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

LeBron has been asking for depth at the point guard spot, Beverley would be a great fit for them. He could shoot the three and score, plus he defends very well.

He’d be a great fit for a lot of teams, which is why the Cavaliers are not the only team with their eyes on Beverley, reports Calvin Watkins who covers the Rockets for ESPN.

According to a source, several teams have expressed interest in Rockets guard Patrick Beverley. Chicago, New York and Cleveland are the main suitors. Rockets front office and coaches value what Beverley brings to the team and that’s being noticed by others. Beverley, according to a source, has a desire to remain with the Rockets.

The Rockets have played have played much better defense since Beverley returned from injury, and they should be hesitant to move him. Watkins tweeted this:

How much of that is a bluff trying to drive up the price and how much of that is serious remains to be seen. The Rockets like Beverley and don’t want to move him, but there is a price for everyone in the league and if some team comes in over the top the Rockets have to listen.

I just don’t think Shumpert is far enough over that top.

Reports: Cavaliers to work out Larry Sanders Wednesday

Larry Sanders
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Let this be a reminder: If you are 6’11” with impressive athleticism, you are going to get second (and third, and fourth, and…) chances in the NBA.

Larry Sanders has been out of the NBA for a couple of seasons after a mutual parting of the ways with the Bucks, a buyout of his contract that let him get away from basketball. He had personal demons to deal with and checked himself into a hospital program for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.

He’s said now he wants to make a comeback, and the Cavaliers are going to at least take a look, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

A solo workout implies this is not going to lead to him being signed soon, it’s just more of a progress check. Sanders reportedly has looked in some previous settings like a guy who has been out of the league for a couple of years.

Sanders averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, which led to him getting a big extension with the Bucks (and that’s the Sanders teams hope to see in workouts). Sanders wrote later he struggled with the pressure and how to cope with it after signing that deal, which led to things such as a nightclub brawl left him with an injured thumb in need of surgery, being charged with animal cruelty, and being suspended a couple of times by the league for marijuana use.

 

Hopefully, Sanders has found the balance he sought in his life. He’s trying to turn that into a return to the NBA.

Report: Clippers, Thunder may make run at Nuggets’ Wilson Chandler

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Wilson Chandler #21 of the Denver Nuggets looks on from the bench during the second half of a game against the LA Clippers  at Staples Center on December 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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As teams return from the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets are holding on to the eighth seed in the West. They have an underperforming Trail Blazers team two games back, and a Pelicans team two-and-a-half back that just added DeMarcus Cousins.

Which leads to the question, how eager will Denver be to move players that can help them hold on to the eight seed? There have been trade rumors around veteran forward Wilson Chandler for a couple of seasons, but will they move him at the deadline?

At least a couple of teams are interested, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video about trades (video below).

“Watch both of those teams with Denver’s Wilson Chandler. Oklahoma City had been very much in pursuit of Rudy Gay before his season-ending injury. They’d love to get a four-man, a versatile forward, as would the Clippers. Both teams think that kind of player maybe gets them over the hump in a first-round series.”

The Thunder simply need more playmakers and guys who can score around Russell Westbrook. Chandler can do that, he’s averaging 15.6 points a game playing 30 minutes a night in Denver, he has to be respected from three, can score inside, and overall he’s a slightly above-average (or above replacement level, if you will) NBA forward who can play the three or the four.

For the Clippers, he could slide right into the three, which has long been a weak spot in their rotations.

Of course, the real question is what does Denver want in return? And this is where it gets tricky because the Nuggets want to win and Chandler is part of that, so the price has gone up for him in Denver’s estimation. Neither the Clippers or Thunder have obvious players that they would be willing to move that the Thunder likely want, and would either team give up a future first rounder for Chandler?

This trade may well not happen, but it’s something to watch.