FIBA World Cup round of 16 roundup: USA, Spain meeting still on track

3 Comments

We are down to eight teams at the FIBA World Cup after the first two days of the win-or-go-home knockout rounds. We know you were watching football all weekend (so were we), so here is the roundup of what you missed.

Bottom line, it still looks like Team USA vs. Spain will meet for the gold medal Sept. 14. Both look clear and away to be the best teams.

BARCELONA GAMES

USA 86, Mexico 63: This went pretty much as expected, another easy USA win behind 20 points from Stephen Curry. NBA free agent Gustavo Ayon put up 25 and 8 for Mexico, but this game was never in doubt as the Americans came out with a little fire from the start for a change. Next up for them is Slovenia, who the Americans beat by 30 in a Madison Square Garden exhibition a couple weeks back.

Slovenia 71, Dominican Republic 61: Goran Dragic had 18 points and six assists to get his team the win. Their reward? Team USA next round. This is why Dragic was complaining about Australia throwing a game to get the three seed in their group, so they avoided the Americans longer (in theory). They got blown out by Team USA in an exhibition, but having seen the Americans should help in this meeting. Not enough, but it will be closer.

Turkey 65, Australia 64: Hey Aussies, getting on the other side of the bracket to avoid the Americans only works if you win and advance. Australia led by five with 1:02 left when Cavaliers guard Matt Dellavedova made a lay-up. But Emir Preldzic hit a two threes including one with five seconds left to lift Turkey. Next up Lithuania.

Lithuania 76, New Zealand 71: Give New Zealand credit, they fought hard and made this one close but in the end they had no answer for Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas who had 22 points and 13 boards in the game. They have a tough but winnable game with Turkey next (then the USA looming after that).

MADRID GAMES

Spain 89, Senegal 56: Spain looks dominant. Yes, they could beat the USA. Senegal was no match, with Pau Gasol scoring 17 on 8-of-10 shooting, while Serge Ibaka chipped in 11 and Marc Gasol had 9. Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng had a fantastic tournament for Senegal but he struggled against this huge front line for Spain, shooting just 1-of-9 on the night.

France 69, Croatia 64: Nicolas Batum came alive with 14 points to spark the defending European champions France to the win. France beat Spain to get that Euro title last year, now they have to face Spain again in the next round, and it’s going to turn out differently. Nets incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic had 27 in a losing effort.

Serbia 90, Greece 72: Big game from Bogdan Bogdanovic — the guy the Suns drafted in the first round this year, not to be confused with the Croatian Bogdanovic who is the Nets property — with 21 points. Serbia was much the better side in this one and looked like a team that could be in the mix for the bronze medal.

Brazil 85, Argentina 65: Everyone was pumped for this South American skirmish, but Brazil just owned the game as Argentina’s golden generation just looked old and slow. Raul Neto stole the show for Brazil with 21 points, while the combination of Tiago Splitter Anderson Varejao looked good inside combining for 19 points and 17 rebounds. Brazil may be my favorite to get the bronze right now, but they have a tough game with Serbia coming.

Suns’ center Alex Len expected to sign qualifying offer, head to camp

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the free-spending summer of 2016, Bismack Biyambo got a $72 million contract. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million.

Those kinds of contracts — and there were plenty more of them — had a lot of NBA big men (and players in general) heading into this summer thinking they were going to get PAID. Instead, teams learned the lessons from their drunken spending binge and the market got tight. Especially for centers.

Which leads us to the news Suns big man Alex Len is going to bet on himself and sign his qualifying offer before coming to camp, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen change of events, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len is planning to sign the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer before training camp, clearing the way to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, league sources told ESPN….

Phoenix wants to study’s Len’s progress in the 2017-18 season before committing to a long-term, lucrative contract extension to him. Len has started 80 games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2016-17 when he averaged eight points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game.

Phoenix wants to leave its options open. Len is mobile, can protect the rim, and has some skills that would help him fit in a modern NBA style offense — he could play with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson — plus last season he improved his shooting around the rim and in the paint. However, he’s not consistent on either end of the court. He shows his potential in flashes, but the Suns need to see more.

Len will now be an unrestricted free agent next summer — he is playing for his next payday. If that can’t motivate him, nothing will.

Report: Lottery reform will really help teams in middle of lottery

Associated Press
1 Comment

Tanking in the NBA is a problem more of perception than reality — Adam Silver and the league office doesn’t like that there are portions of team’s fan bases rooting for their team to lose. It doesn’t like that tanking is openly discussed on radio shows and online. Combine that with the resting of star players on the road, and in nationally televised games, and the league sees sports talk radio talking points as real problems for the league’s image.

Spreading out the NBA’s schedule is done, and with that the resting of players’ in those high-profile games will decrease (of course, if teams want to sit LeBron James or Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard in a nationally televised game, they will just say he has a sore back/ankle/shoulder that needs rest).

Lottery reform looks like it will pass as well, even though it’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The league’s new rules will decrease and flatten out the odds at the top of the lottery, and it will reward the teams more in the middle, according to a new report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

 The worst three teams’ odds would now have an equal chance at the No. 1 overall pick: 14 percent. Presently, the teams with the three worst records have descending chances of 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent. Also, the worst record can drop as far as No. 5 in the new lottery proposal, down from No. 4….

Teams in the Nos. 7-10 range will have a stronger chance to move up into the top three picks, ESPN has learned, with No. 7’s chances improving from 15 percent to 23, No. 8 from 10 percent to 19 percent, No. 9 from six percent to 15 percent and No. 10 from four percent to 10 percent.

He adds that the odds for the three teams at the top of the lottery — picks 11, 12, and 13 — increase only a couple of percentage points, which the league believes means teams will not try to tank their way out of the playoffs and into the lottery. There is extra money in terms of ticket sales and revenue — at least $5 million for a couple home games — for teams that get into the postseason, and that money can matter to teams.

That said, teams are still going to tank for picks. The league seems to be chasing the ghost of Sam Hinkie with this proposal, trying to make it less likely teams go on a multiple year deep dive, but that was never really a problem anyway — few owners would have the stomach for that, and the one that did (Joshua Harris in Philly) eventually bowed to the pressure from the league and others and canned Hinkie as GM. No GM is trying to put his job at risk with a rebuilding plan.

Tanking will continue because teams need one of the game’s franchise changing stars — of which there are maybe 10 in the league at any one given time — to compete at the highest levels, and for 24 or so markets the only way to get that player is via the draft. What’s more, land that player and thanks to the CBA, teams control that player for four years at a very affordable salary, then thanks to extensions/restricted free agency the team can keep that player for another four or five years. They have this great talent locked in for at least eight or nine years (for example, Kevin Durant spent nine years in Seattle/Oklahoma City before moving on, same with LeBron the first time he left Cleveland, and that list goes on). Now with the “designated player” designation — call it the Kevin Durant rule — teams are more likely to keep that star for another four or five years beyond that.

If you really want to end tanking, make rookie contracts two years then they become unrestricted free agents. Now the motivation to tank for a pick goes away, but of course, small and mid-market teams would rightfully complain about that because then they will have a very hard time keeping talent around.

Bottom line, if you have a truly elite player you win more basketball games, and for most teams the only way to get that player is the draft — so tanking will continue. It’s a smart strategy to rebuild.

The new lottery odds will pass, and they are not a bad thing, but it is far more about perception than reality. And you can be sure there will be unintended consequences.

Jeopardy uses “crying Jordan” meme for question

Getty Images
Leave a comment

You know a meme has jumped the shark when it appears on Jeopardy. (Also, the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark.)

The “crying Jordan” meme reached that level this week when Alex Trebek asked a question about it.

This in no way means we should stop using the crying Jordan meme — even if it bothers MJ himself, and it does — because it’s still funny.

Charles Barkley on new schedule: “These poor babies can’t play back-to-back games”

Getty Images
8 Comments

Training camp hasn’t even opened yet, but Charles Barkley is already in midseason “get off my lawn” form.

Barkley — the man who can’t stand jump shooting teams, or analytics, or LeBron James asking for better players, or your newfangled technology — went off on another tedious rant at an SMU event Wednesday, this time about the NBA’s decision to start the season a little earlier and have fewer back-to-backs and eliminate four-games-in-five-nights.

Ugh. Like a lot of former players — and a lot of non-athletes, for that matter — Barkley is convinced his peak as a player coincided with the greatest era of basketball ever. Things were never better than the way they did it in his day.

Which means facts — like pointing to the studies that show players both are less likely to be injured and play better and more efficiently when rested — don’t matter. Barkley did it, so players now should have to do it. Who cares if all these packed in games can shorten their careers?

Then again, maybe a few days off would have helped Barkley in the second half of his career.

B.J. Armstrong, former Jordan-era Bull turned agent, told me last year that if teams and players knew in his day what they know now about rest and injury, you would have seen stars like MJ rest. Over time we learn more information, and the smart people and organizations adjust.

Barkley will make far more headlines over the course of the season, he gets paid to be brash, say whatever pops into head, and be generally draw attention to himself. It makes him entertaining, and that’s what Inside the NBA is about. But I will defer to Steve Kerr’s comments from last playoffs on all these old “get off my lawn” players.

“The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the 50s would’ve destroyed everybody. It’s weird how human evolution goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”