A closer look at the USA’s opponents in Group A


Anything less than a gold medal will be seen as a failure by Team USA in London. So, no pressure. Just the American basketball legacy on the line.

But in reality, the pressure doesn’t ramp up until the final eight — the three knockout-round games. First, there is the group stage. There are 12 teams in the Olympic basketball tournament divided into two groups (the USA is in Group A). Each team plays five games of group play, the top four teams from each group advance to the lose-and-go-home final tournament.

So, what do Team USA’s Group A opponents look like? Well, the USA should go undefeated, but it’s not going to be a peaceful stroll through Hyde Park. Here’s a look at the American’s opponents (in order).

France (USA plays Sunday, 9:30 am ET): France is a team with medal aspirations, although they are going to have to play over their heads a little to likely land the bronze. And by “they” I really mean Tony Parker, who is the best player on their roster and the offensive catalyst. France has traditionally been a good defensive team that just needs to score, at EuroBasket last year Parker got them scoring but they will miss Joakim Noah for the games. They do have some NBA talent in Nicolas Batum, Ronny Turiaf and Boris Diaw on the roster.

Tunisia (USA plays Tuesday, 5:15 pm ET): The winners of the African tournament last year, they will be fortunate to win a game in this group. It was a huge win for them last year to upset African power Angola and win a trip to London. They are the “just happy to be here” team and have no NBA players on the roster.

Nigeria (USA plays Thursday 5:15 pm ET): They got to London out of the second chance Olympic Qualifying tournament last month, upsetting Greece to punch their ticket. They have a couple NBA players in Ike Diogu and Al-Farouq Aminu, and they bring a team with pretty good size and athleticism. We’d say they will not make it out of the group stage, but nobody expected them to beat the Dominican Republic or Greece to get to London.

Lithuania (USA plays Aug. 4, 9:30 am ET): This is a team that can score, with NBA players Linus Kleiza and Jonas Valanciunas (the fifth pick of the Raptors in the 2011 draft). This is a team that passes well and moves off the ball, things that will test the American’s pressure defense. This is going to be a high scoring affair when they face the USA.

Argentina (Aug, 6, 5:15 pm ET): They are a legit medal contender — and they are the team I’m rooting for to get the bronze. This is the last run for the “golden generation” of Argentinean ballers — Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and more — a group that won the gold in 2004. They play a pretty brand of basketball, with crisp passing and player movement. Against the USA, they knew how to grind the game down and make it close (Team USA won 86-80 in a recent friendly). They likely finish second in the group.

Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

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.