Argentina's LuisScola goes for a basket against Martinez of Dominican Republic during their FIBA Americas Championship basketball game in Caracas

FIBA Americas results and recap, featuring Jack Michael Martinez vs. Luis Scola

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The 2013 FIBA Americas tournament finished its second day of action on Saturday night. The games that were supposed to be the best ended up being the most lopsided but, on the bright side, even those games were relatively fun to watch for a weekend in August.

Saturday’s featured game, according to your’s truly, took place between Argentina and the Dominican Republic. Both squads are expected to qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup and therefore a step closer to a bid in the 2016 Olympics. Saturday’s game showed that Argentina is going to need their big guns back if they want to make noise on the national scene, however, as Luis Scola struggled and the Dominican’s dominated en route to a 91-72 victory.

Dominican Republic captain Jack Michael Martinez is known for his gritty play, nifty passing and seemingly-fun attitude and, surprisingly, he’s usually able to back up his bravado on the court. He did that Saturday, anyway, to the tune of 12 points, 14 rebounds and three assists (and that’s not counting a few nifty behind-the-back passes that didn’t result in points). Martinez was matched up against the Indiana Pacers’ Scola while wearing a crazy mask after a gnarly scratch he sustained in a game last week at the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup:

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The average NBA fan has likely never heard of Martinez, but that’s not because he’s not talented. The big man’s basketball prowess is likely going to earn a few headlines over the course of the FIBA Americas tournament and then again next summer, too, meaning it’s probably time for a quick history lesson:

The 31-year-old Martinez was, at one time, the best player on the top-ranked high school team in the USA. Reporters eventually learned that he’d falsified his age on some immigration documents, however, and the older than average senior was shipped back to the Dominican Republic. There were apparently some NCAA opportunities and a few reported NBA training camp invites that came in the years to follow, but Martinez was unable to obtain a visa and instead has spent the majority of his professional career playing in Central America.

Martinez isn’t the only talented Dominican, though: The Republic’s only NBA player, Houston Rockets swingman Francisco Garcia, scored nine points to go with five rebounds and four blocks to offset a 3-for-11 shooting performance. Newcomer James Feldeine, a former standout at Quinnipiac before taking his talents to Spain, led all scorers with 21 points thanks to a smooth stroke from beyond the arc. Point guard Juan Coronado added 18 points, former Louisville standout Edgar Sosa scored seven as he attempts to overcome injury issues — including the gruesome knee injury suffered at this event in 2011 — and former Kentucky backup big Eloy Vargas added eight points and 11 rebounds in the starting role that usually belongs to Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks.

Argentina’s day didn’t go so hot, however. Scola began the game with a pair of errant three-point attempts, having both carom off the front of the rim  — an unsurprising stat considering he’s 4-for-33 from beyond the arc during his entire 468-game NBA career. It didn’t get any better for the new Pacer, either, as he finished the game 13 points and seven boards after going an abysmal 4-for-18 from the field (he missed two more three-pointers along the way, for what it’s worth). 23-year-old point guard Nicolas Paprovittola helped Scola by tying his team-high 13 points, but this iteration of the Argentinean team is in desperate need of some scoring.

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There was a second solid Saturday game featuring a pair of potential champs, too, as Puerto Rico took on a Canadian squad featuring four current NBA players. Despite their tournament-high cont of NBAers, however, Canada is missing Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk. All three would’ve been welcome on Saturday while Canada was overmatched en route an 83-67 defeat. The United States’ neighbors to the north stuck close for the first three quarters, but Puerto Ricoe overtook them in the final stanza, outscoring Canada 24-9 score on the backs of their four best-known players.

Carlos Arroyo, J.J. Barea, Renaldo Balkman and Larry Ayuso were the only Puerto Ricans to score in the fourth quarter as they pulled away for the big win. The first three aforementioned players all have extensive NBA experience … and Ayuso is notable for being a 36-year-old chucker out of USC, though he has a couple of NBA training camp appearances in his past. Arroyo finished with 20 points, Ayuso 19, Balkman had 18 to go with his 11 rebounds and Barea finished with an inefficient 11 points on 10 shots.

Canada’s two young NBA bigs played best for them, but the frontcourt didn’t get enough help from the backcourt to keep the game competitive all the way to the final buzzer. Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Cleveland Cavaliers post Tristan Thompson added 20 and nine, but the rest of the roster failed to score in double-digits. San Antonio Spurs backup Cory Joseph was particularly disappointing, scoring just four points on 10 shot attempts while his brother Devoe was actually worse, adding a pair of points on seven shots after getting the start. Miami Heat backup big man Joel Anthony played sparingly, picking up two points and three fouls in nine minutes on the court.

The other two games weren’t as important on the world stage, but we’ll give them the quick recap treatment anyway.

Uruguay 68, Jamaica 66 — This was essentially a matchup to decide whether it’d be Uruguay or Jamaica being the team eliminated in the first round of pool-play in Group A and, barring something strange happening, it looks like Jamaica will be on the outside looking in when it comes time to begin the next round. That’s a shame, too, considering they actually have a decent team with a few recognizable names.

Uruguay was led by Esteban Batista, a former backup big with the Atlanta Hawks and an absolute double-double machine when it comes to international basketball in the Americas. The 6’10 center led the game in both scoring and rebounding, piling up 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds (seven on the offensive end). The only other considerable contribution on Uruguay’s side came from Leandro Garcia as the 6’2 guard scored 20 points thanks to 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.

Jamaica’s roster features a pair of former NBA bigs, but they haven’t been able to get both to play well in the same game yet. Saturday was Samardo Samuels turn as the former Cleveland Cavaliers big man racked up 19 points and six boards, but former Knicks backup Jerome Jordan was held scoreless and missed all six of his shots in the game. Point guard Akeem Scott added 18 points while Weyinmi Rose (known as Weyinmi Efejuku during his time at Providence) added 15 points and four rebounds.

Venezuela 75, Paraguay 70 — Paraguay isn’t expected to win a game this tournament and, if the USA wouldn’t have turned down its bid, they wouldn’t have even been eligible for the tournament. The underdogs were still able to give the host team a scare, but their upset bid ultimately fell short in Saturday’s nightcap.

Venezuela misses the contributions Greivis Vasquez, Gregory Echinique and Oscar Torres, but the healthy members left on the roster have been together for a few years now. 35-year-old Axiers Sucre led the team in scoring with 15 points to go with nine rebounds and Gregory Vargas added 14. The player that was supposed to be  a star has yet to be spectacular, however, as former Atlanta Hawks swingman Donta Smith had a rather quiet 14 points while going just 1-for-5 on his shots from beyond the arc.

Sunday’s schedule includes Canada playing Brazil along with three likely blowouts: Mexico vs. Paraguay, Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela and Puerto Rico vs. Uruguay.

Lakers name Magic Johnson President of Basketball Operations

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15:  Magic Johnson attends a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Magic Johnson essentially publicly anointed himself in charge of the Lakers’ front office.

Now, the Lakers are actually giving him the job.

Lakers release:

Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss announced today that the team has named Earvin “Magic” Johnson as President of Basketball Operations. In addition, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Furthermore, Jim Buss will no longer hold his role as Lakers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

“Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect,” Jeanie Buss said. “Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness.”

“It’s a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family,” said Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

Jeanie Buss added, “I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again.”

Regarding Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss stated, “We are grateful for the many contributions Mitch has made to the Lakers over the years and we wish him all the best.”

With regard to fellow owner and brother, Jim Buss, Ms. Buss said, “Jim loves the Lakers. Although he will no longer be responsible for basketball personnel decisions, he is an owner of this team and we share the same goal: returning the Lakers to the level of greatness our father demanded. Our fans deserve no less.”

In addition to the changes made within the basketball department, the Lakers also announced they have parted ways with John Black who had been the Lakers Vice President of Public Relations. Chief Operating Officer Tim Harris will immediately begin a search for a replacement. Jeanie Buss added, “We thank John for his many years of service.”

This closes an ugly chapter in which Jeannie Buss named Johnson as an advisor, and then he went about publicly trashing Jim Buss and Kupchack while evaluating them for her and clamoring for their front-office power.

Now, the real work begins. And that doesn’t mean calling Kobe Bryant.

Johnson inherits a team with plenty of young talent: D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac. That’s a great starting point.

But the Lakers also face significant hurdles back to the top.

They lose their 2017 and 2019 first-round picks if their 2017 first-round pick doesn’t land in the top three. The Lakers have the NBA’s third-worst record. In the past, Johnson has expressed an affinity for tanking.

The Lakers also have the burdensome contracts of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Those make it tough to clear cap space to sign a star.

At least they can trade Lou Williams, who’s having a special season. The deadline is Thursday, so Johnson must hit the ground running.

These conditions are the effects of Jim Buss’ misguided pledge to jolt the Lakers back to contending. Their shortsighted moves and even bigger dreams backfired so spectacularly, they backed into several high draft picks — and at least chose well. While Kupchak’s overall tenure was positive, his approach had grown stale.

The Lakers needed a change in management. I’m just not convinced Johnson was the solution.

Would they have hired him if he didn’t play for them? Probably not. Does his playing experience with the Lakers specifically, as opposed to any team, better prepare him for this job? Probably not.

But even if Johnson were hired for the wrong reasons, he can still succeed.

He thrived in business after retirement by putting the right people around him, and he can do that here. Johnson obviously knows basketball, but managing a roster and all the salary-cap complexities is a different animal. He needs staff, including a general manager, more familiar with that.

Johnson will be the franchise’s new smiling face. But, for this to truly work, Johnson will have to build a winner the old-fashioned way: With savvy drafting, trading and signing.

Reports: Bulls telling teams they won’t trade Jimmy Butler

Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler, top, shoots over Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during the overtime of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Chicago. The Bulls won 123-118 in overtime. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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The Bulls reportedly weren’t making Jimmy Butler available for a trade last month.

As the trade deadline approaches, it seems that hasn’t changed.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The teams that talked to the Chicago Bulls today were told, “Just about everybody on our roster is available, but Jimmy Butler is not.”

The Bulls are not obliged to stand by that, and there’s no indication they’ve assured Butler anything. If they’re offered a package more valuable than Butler, they’ll trade him.

But that’s a lot of value.

Butler is playing like a superstar, 27 and locked up for two more seasons after this one. Not many teams have the assets to trade for someone like that.

Plus, Chicago could use the designated-veteran-player rule to re-sign him. No other team would hold that advantage if it trades for him.

So, Butler is probably valued more by the Bulls than any other team. But if another team with significant assets makes a suitable offer, I doubt Butler remains unavailable.

Lakers’ Lou Williams provides smooth scoring, trade intrigue

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 22:  Louis Williams #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 22, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Lou Williams declared for the 2005 NBA draft out of high school and proclaimed, “The second round is not an option.”

He was drafted with the 15th pick of the second round.

“I used to have to run through everybody,” Williams said. “Now, I don’t feel like I do. Just trying to outsmart guys.”

The last guard drafted directly out of high school, Williams has quietly refined his game. His athleticism has declined with age, but gone too is a recklessness to his play. He largely makes the plays he can and doesn’t try to make the ones he can’t.

Williams is the Lakers’ best player. As a result, he’s also one of the league’s bigger trade chips as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.

He leads the Lakers with 18.6 points per game, and they come in just 24.2 minutes per game. He makes that time count with a historic combination of volume and efficiency.

Both his usage percentage (30.6) and true shooting percentage (60.9) lead the team. The only regularly-used players to produce full seasons with a usage percentage of at least 30 and a true shooting percentage of at least 60 are or will be Hall of Famers:

Harden (again), Isaiah Thomas and Kawhi Leonard are also on pace to do it this year. All three were All-Stars.

Williams flies under the radar, because he usually comes off the bench for Los Angeles — though that offers special opportunity for recognition later in the season.

Already a Sixth Man of the Year winner (2015 with the Raptors), Williams leads eligible players in win shares this season:

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Williams and Dwight Powell (Mavericks) are the only reserves leading their teams in win shares.

In fact, Williams has been so much better than his teammates, he could maintain his team lead even if traded. His 5.1 win shares rank well ahead of the 3.3 by Nick Young (another trade candidate) and 2.2 by Larry Nance Jr.

But there’s still a relatively high likelihood he gets moved. The Lakers are focusing more on player development, and the 30-year-old Williams could help a team ready to win now.

He’s locked in for a bargain $7 million next season. So, his more-than-just-a-rental status could help the Lakers land a first-round pick.

“I just go out and play,” Williams said. “I let the powers make deals or if they don’t.”

There’s a patience in Williams’ game that has developed in recent years. He attributes some of it to a torn ACL in 2013. No longer as quick, the pick-and-roll ace has been forced to play smarter.

Williams has mostly eliminated long 2s from his game, getting more shots at the rim, 3-pointers and free throws. His craftiness fits the modern game.

But there are still concerns about how he’ll translate to a better team.

He’s a defensive liability, and his size limits paths to reliability on that end. Not only is he 6-foot-1, he often needs to play shooting guard because his playmaking for others is only so-so for a point guard.

But as poor as he’s been defensively (400th of 450 players in defensive real plus-minus), he has been even better offensively (13th in offensive real plus-minus behind only All-Stars and Nikola Jokic). Still, he relies heavily on drawing fouls, and his tricks might not be so effective during a playoff series with plenty of time to scout him.

There are risks in acquiring Williams. But getting another player having a special season — like, say, Jimmy Butler — would be tremendously more costly. As long as a team has a plan to accentuate Williams’ strengths and hide his weaknesses, he might be one of the best bargains on the trade market.

Paul George says he’s not motivated by opportunity to earn higher max

Eastern Conference forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (13) reacts during the second half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
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NEW ORLEANS — The Pacers have already granted a standing max offer to Paul George.

So, if he wants to stay in Indiana, his potential paths look relatively straightforward:

If he makes an All-NBA team this season, he can sign a designated-veteran-player extension that would kick in in 2018-19 and projects be worth about $209 million over five years (about $42 million annually).

If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team this season, he can wait to sign and try again to make one next season. If he does, he can sign a new contract in 2018 that would be worth the same $209 million or so over the same five-year period.

I think it’s this simple: If he becomes eligible to become a designated veteran player, he’ll sign then. If not, 2018 free agency projects to offer a choice of about $179 million over five years (about $36 million annually) to re-sign or about $133 million over four years (about $33 million annually) to sign elsewhere — a more difficult decision.

George says he’s not thinking about earning the higher max.

“You want to be one of the best,” George said. “And that’s the only motivation. You want to be All-NBA. That’s what you strive for. That’s what you want to play for, to be recognized as one of the league’s best players.”

That’s no small challenge for George, who was one of 12 All-Star forwards this year, joining:

With only six All-NBA forward spots, George faces long odds this season — and no easy path next season.

But at least eligibility for the higher max coincides with one of his goals.

“It’s nice. It’s nice,” George said. “But that’s not the motivation you want to play for”