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What if Dennis Rodman isn’t all that wrong?

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This Dennis Rodman saga just keeps getting more and more unbelievable. Unless you live under a rock and/or are otherwise disconnected from modern technology, you’ve heard at least something about the former Bulls forward’s North Korean activities backed by Irish oddsmakers Paddy Power, PLC.

Not only has the guy visited North Korea twice, referring to dictator Kim Jong-un as “a very good guy“, he is now saying he plans to return in January to host two exhibition games with former NBA players. He calls it “basketball diplomacy”, indicating at least some knowledge of Nixon’s 1971 ping-pong diplomacy campaigns between the U.S. and China in the midst of the Cold War.

The media is having a field day: here is one of the most colorful (literally, too) players in NBA history, financed by Irish bookies, cozying up to the world’s most brutal dictatorship, then showing up to the press conference in classic Rodman fashion complete with cigar, booze*, chains, oversized shades, and more piercings than I can count. Ridiculous, wouldn’t you say?

But here’s the thing – what if Rodman isn’t so wrong? Beyond all the media hoopla, what if somehow, someway, this ridiculous drama thaws the ice-cold tension with the North Korean regime? Personally, I think it’s a slim chance at best. BUT, consider this: Dennis Rodman isn’t flying solo. He and Paddy Power have the support of the independent non-profit NGO International Crisis Group, whose stated objective is to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. Dr. Daniel Pinkston directs the North East Asia arm of the ICG, and spoke at Rodman’s press conference. Earlier that day, Pinkston published his reasoning for why “basketball diplomacy” could work.  An excerpt:

“The Rodman visit was very important to [North Korean] leadership. Kim Jong-un snubbed former US presidents and other heads of state, as well as a former high-level US government official and the executive chairman of Google, but Kim turned out for Rodman and appeared giddy as they sat next to each other and watched the game.  …

The Rodman visit is subversive because the image of Kim embracing Rodman can be perceived as the leadership tolerating or accepting someone who is different. South Korea’s Daily NK reported that North Koreans in the provinces were stunned to see Kim embracing an American with numerous tattoos and body piercings and likened it to Kim embracing a ‘goblin or gangster’.  …

North Korea’s leaders want their system to survive, and any changes they make are intended to strengthen the system, not to reform it. They have learned from Gorbachev’s ‘mistakes’ of seeking political reforms and restructuring to improve the Soviet system. The North Korean leadership apparently views sport exchanges as furthering its own agenda.  …

However, ‘basketball diplomacy’ could have unintended consequences for the regime, just as Gorbachev’s perestroika did for the USSR and the lifting of travel restrictions did for East Germany. Personal exchanges are probably the best way to expose North Koreans to different types of governance and social organisation, which is the first step in the thought process that results in questioning the regime.”  (see Pinkston)

Basically, Pinkston says that before North Korea can change, we must make inroads into the North Korean thought process. Dennis Rodman represents a new approach, an attempt to breach the norm and create a measure of goodwill. Who’s to say if it will go smoothly – the North Korean regime is erratic and unpredictable, and events could spiral wildly out of control.** Rodman & Co. might be right, might be wrong. But Paddy Power and the International Crisis Group have a very good point: in order to make positive change, the door must first open. It’s just curious this is who they chose to try it.

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* Visible as he makes his entrance at the 6:20 mark.

** Example: Dennis & Kim.  (Sounds like it could be the name of Comedy Central’s next big thing)

DeMarcus Cousins says right now he wants to play in 2020 Tokyo Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  Demarcus Cousins #12 of United States reacts in the first half while taking on Argentina during the Men's Quarterfinal match on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Four years in the NBA is a couple of lifetimes away. GMs get paid to try and plan that far out, but the constantly shifting sands of the NBA — injuries, player improvement, new talents coming into the league, players changing teams, not to mention front office/ownership changes — make that a nearly impossible task. Nothing is set in stone that far out.

But if four years, DeMarcus Cousins wants to be playing for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics. Here is what he told Gary Washburn at the Boston Globe.

“I’m open to [coming back for Tokyo 2020]. I’ll be older then, so it depends on how my body feels. As of right now, where I’m at, absolutely, I’m open to it,” he said. “I think people don’t understand [how hard this winning is]. They see the guys on the roster and they think automatically, they’re supposed to win. This [international game] isn’t our game. This isn’t the way we play. This is an adjustment for every guy on the roster.

“No matter how much time there is, if guys can come together and mesh and play with some type of chemistry, you’re going to win games. It’s been proven in the past. We’ve had some of the most talented teams in the past and we didn’t win, so it’s not as easy as people think it is.”

I’m sure everyone on that team, save for Carmelo Anthony, is saying the same thing about returning for the next Olympics right now. We’ll see how things play out. C0usins certainly struggled to adjust to what is a foul in international ball (not to mention the inconsistent officiating) and spent much of Rio in foul trouble, but he was a monster in the gold medal game.

On another note, Cousins is right, the USA players face unreasonable expectations. They are unquestionably the most talented team in the Games, but with that and the history of USA Basketball they are expected to do more than win, they are expected to dominate. The 2016 team in Rio went undefeated and won gold, but because they had three tough games won by 10 or less — good Australian, French, and Serbian teams —, there was a lot of “what is wrong with Team USA?” talk.

The 2020 team will likely be even more talented — Cousins and Kevin Durant could well be joined by guys who skipped Rio such as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis. However, the challenges will be the same: The rest of the world is getting better (watch out for Canada) and the USA will still be throwing a team together and trying to build chemistry on the fly.

But we still expect Gold.

After two years off court, Joel Embiid says he “probably” will have minutes restrictions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a shot from the bench prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid could be the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers in a couple of years — many scouts had him the highest rated of all the first-round draft picks the Sixers have had in recent seasons.

But after two foot surgeries and two seasons sitting on the sidelines, we don’t know how good Embiid can be. We should find out starting in October when Embiid is part of the Sixers training camp. Embiid says he feels 100 percent, but he expects there will be restrictions on him at first, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com during the Sixers Beach Bash community event this weekend.

This is the smart move by the Sixers — they are not competing for a title, the games in November have minimal meaning long term, bring him along slowly and make sure he can make each step along the way. Let’s see what he can do, then worry about how much run he can get in games that matter.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all fit together up front — and which one of them gets traded this season.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley on defense: “Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me”

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 09:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Memphis Grizzlies  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Avery Bradley was first-team NBA All-Defensive team last season, and his coach Brad Stevens lobbied for him to get the honor. Bradley picks up guys full court, pesters, and plays physical — we can debate if he is as good defensively as his reputation, but guys like Damian Lillard think he’s tough to go up against.

Bradley, for his part, says he has no fear going up against the best. Here is what he said to Tom Westerholm of Masslive.com.

“I love the challenge,” Bradley said on Friday, making an appearance at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “I love going up against the best players. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care about getting embarrassed. I don’t care. Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me. I know some players in the NBA probably get butterflies before the game, but not me. I’m licking my lips. I come excited. They need to prepare for me at the end of the day. That’s how I think.”

That’s exactly the attitude you want an elite defender to have.

Bradley injured his hamstring in the first game of the playoffs last April and sat the rest of the Celtics’ one series. Then this summer his name came up in potential Jimmy Butler trade rumors (that deal never actually came close to getting off the ground). Expect Bradley to put that all behind him by the time training camp opens.

Watch highlights of LeBron James’ playoffs, Finals run

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LeBron James was dominant — the clear best player on the planet — when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed him most. That’s the reason Cleveland got its first major sports title in 52 years.

It’s the dead part of the NBA season — training camps don’t even open for a month — so why not enjoy a look back at LeBron’s amazing run to a legacy-defining NBA ring. Like you don’t have 15 minutes for this. What are you going to do, watch more preseason football?