Pau Gasol, Kevin Love

FIBA World Cup preview: USA, Spain, then who else can medal?

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The world’s 24 top international basketball teams are not flying to Spain just for the gambas al ajillo tapas or to play for national pride, there is a prize when the FIBA World Cup tips off on Saturday:

A berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Win and your in, come in second to 24th and you need to go to qualifying tournaments next season.

Plus, you can win a medal. Gold, silver or bronze. And who doesn’t like getting a medal?

So who can win medals? Here’s a breakdown:

Gold/Silver medal contenders:

If the gold medal game is not the USA vs. Spain it will be an upset. These are the world’s two best teams and with Spain playing in front of their home fans it’s hard to imagine them getting beat. That final game likely will be close, but it’s far too early to predict an outcome. Only that the meeting is destined.

USA: The USA senior national team last lost a game in 2006 (at this World Cup) and has won everything since: gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics plus the 2010 World Cup. Despite late defections and other guys staying home, Team USA is still loaded and deeper than any team in the tournament — Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden will lead a USA squad that will use high pressure defense, three point shooting, transition scoring and superior athleticism to overwhelm teams.

Spain: They are the runners up the last two Olympics and they bring a lot of depth — Mark Gasol, Pau Gaol and Serge Ibaka form a formidable front line with Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes and Rudy Fernandez in the backcourt. Every guy on their roster plays NBA or high-level international ball, plus is experienced on the international stage. These guys have been playing with each other for years and have a real comfort level in what they do. They were right with Team USA in the London Olympics gold medal game until Marc Gasol got in foul trouble… you think that happens on their home court?

Bronze medal contenders:

Everyone else is competing for third, here are the teams that could win it.

France: They are the defending EuroBasket champions and they bring some NBA talent to the roster — Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Ian Mahinmi, Rudy Gobert, plus you all remember Mickael Gelabale. However, they are without Tony Parker and Joakim Noah, two big pieces that keep them from being a dark horse gold contender. However they are still talented, still have plenty of shooting and versatility, and if Batum and Diaw can lead them they can get the bronze.

Brazil: They are loaded along the front line — Tiago Splitter, Nene, Anderson Varejao, — and are counting on guys like Leandro Barbosa and experienced internationals like Marcelinho Huertas to do enough in the backcourt. They will defend and score inside, if they get enough shooting and play on the wing they can certainly medal. But that’s a real big question.

Greece: They are in a transition from the older generation (led by the now gone Vassilis Spanoulis) to younger players, but they have some talent — NBA players Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Nick Calathes (Grizzlies), Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets). They have real athleticism but do they have enough steady shooting to get the job done? If they knock down shots they are a medal threat. But we’re going to watch to see Antetokounmpo anyway.

Argentina: This is the last serious go around for Argentina’s golden generation, but they will have to do it without Manu Ginobili (a stress fracture that is not fully recovered). Still they have Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni, Andres Nocioni, and even Walter Herrmann. Argentina will need to integrate good play from their younger stars and they will need to get past a very big internal controversy about the handling of money in the Argentinian basketball organization. But they might medal.

Lithuania: The world’s fourth ranked team has the advantage of being on the soft side of the draw — they should win group D handily and while they are not better than the USA only Turkey might really be a threat after that on their side of the bracket. This is a team that could and really should reach the bronze medal game, if they can overcome the loss of starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis (dislocated shoulder). They have real quality up front with Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors) and Donatas Motiejunas (Rockets) but they have solid, smart international players at every other position. Not great at any position, but solid to good at every one. Expect to see them playing for the bronze against one of the teams above.

John Wall’s reaction to the Cousins’ trade is to have a drink (VIDEO)

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at Verizon Center on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.  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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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It was a strange situation in the “mix room” interview zone after the All-Star Game Sunday, the place the majority of players went for a post-game media obligation (MVP Anthony Davis, the coaches, and a few other players who had big games such as Russell Westbrook went to a different, larger room).

Strange because in the three hours or so the players had been away from their phones and social media accounts, the DeMarcus Cousins trade had gained steam and seemed destined to be done (the story the deal was done broke about 15-20 minutes later). The players walked in and had no idea what had happened — including Cousins.

But I loved John Wall‘s reaction.

When the news broke about the Cousins trade, it seemed everyone needed a drink. Wall had his recovery drink handy — notice the label was stripped off of the bottle, meaning it was not the NBA sponsor’s product — so he went with that.

Kyrie Irving on All-Star Game: “I would love to play in a competitive game”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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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NEW ORLEANS — The NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be a star-studded exhibition, and not one necessarily aimed at the core of basketball fans. Sort of like the Super Bowl, the goal of the All-Star Game is to suck in the casual fan to watch both great athleticism and the show around it — The Roots, John Legend and on down the line. In the city the weekend of the event, it’s as much about showing league sponsors a good time as it is basketball.

Let’s be honest, the basketball itself isn’t good. From the Rising Stars challenge through the All-Star Game itself, there’s matador defense and cherry picking all game long. The defense was so bad Stephen Curry was literally laying down on the job.

Kyrie Irving would like to see that change, and he speaks for at least some players.

“For me, I would love to play in a competitive game,” Irving said. “I know we play in competitive games in the summer, pickup games, but I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense going forward.”

Will it? Guys are trying not to get hurt and — like the entire weekend itself — are focused on the fun off the court far more than anything on it.

“It’s all in good fun, but I definitely think that, if we want a competitive game, guys will probably have to talk about it before the game,” Irving said.

The onus to change this falls to the players, something. West coach Steve Kerr echoed.

“I think that in the past, at least generally in the fourth quarter, guys have picked it up. That’s what I was expecting. It didn’t happen (Sunday),” Kerr said. “I would like to see it more competitive. I’m not sure how to do it. It’s up to the players really.

“As a coach in the All-Star game, you ever seen that movie ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’? They might as well just bring a couple dead bodies on the sidelines. We’re not doing anything up there. Just prop us up.”

To get guys to play harder, the league is going to have to find an incentive to motivate the players. Currently, the winning team’s players get $50,000 each, the losing team $25,000 — while that extra $25K would make a big difference in your life or mine, for All-Stars with eight-figure annual salaries it doesn’t matter as much as staying healthy and getting some rest.

“It would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow, Kerr said. “I don’t know if you can maybe get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing, but I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge. We know what silly is out there, if you’re undercutting guys, but it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all. I think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere.”

There is, but until the NBA comes up with a new plan we’re not going to see it All-Star Weekend.

Kings announcer goes scorched earth on Twitter after DeMarcus Cousins trade

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 07:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings takes on the Dallas Mavericks in the second half at American Airlines Center on December 7, 2016 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 Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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DeMarcus Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, but that hasn’t stopped members of the Sacramento Kings organization from taking shots at him as he walks out the door.

In the team press release announcing the trade on Monday Sacramento GM Vlade Divac said, “Winning begins with culture and character matters.”

Subtle.

Meanwhile, the team’s play-by-play announcer Grant Napear went scorched earth on Cousins minutes after the trade was announced. The Twitter thread is pretty dang straightforward:

Yikes.

There’s definitely a contingent of Kings fans that were fed up with Boogie’s attitude — 7 years is a long time to wait for your franchise center to not consistently get kicked out of games — but it’s not a good look to flame the dude on his way out.

Saying you don’t think they could win with him is one thing, but saying he’s a “dark cloud” and that most of his teammates hated him is borderline. Plus, coming from a team-affiliated it’s just a weird thing to do.

Napear has had his issues with Cousins in the past, so perhaps it’s understandable we see this reaction with the big man now in a new uniform.

Add this to Divac saying he had a better deal lined up two days ago, and the Kings look even moreso like an organization without a direction.

Charles Barkley hung out with King Cake Baby to celebrate his birthday (VIDEO)

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One of the New Orleans Pelicans mascots is a Pelican. His name is Pierre, and after a makeover he’s looking pretty normal these days. But the Pelicans also have a second mascot of sorts. His name is King Cake Baby — named after the Mardi Gras pastry — and he’s horrifying.

So when you have an NBA All-Star Game in town, what do you do? Trot out a giant baby mascot to mix in with the league’s elite, of course.

Or at least have him bother Charles Barkley on his birthday:

Ok it’s actually weirder that Kenny Smith wanted to see what was under King Cake Baby’s bib. I can never unsee that.