Kurt Helin

Yao Ming, Emmanuel Pacquiao

With help of Yao Ming, China wins bid to host 2019 FIBA World Cup

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It came down to Manny Pacquiao vs. Yao Ming.

Both men were in Tokyo for a FIBA vote on where to host the 2019 basketball World Cup, and the finalists were China — led by Yao — and the basketball-crazed Philippines with a bid led by Pacquiao.

Chalk one up for the tall guy. FIBA awarded the event to China.

“I know what it’s like to play a top-level basketball tournament in front of home fans because I played at the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” Yao said in a statement on the FIBA Web site. “Having the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup will inspire a lot of people and particularly more young athletes to participate in basketball.”

If you’re thinking 2019 is an odd year to host — and just one year before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo — you’d be right. The obvious answer is “welcome to FIBA, we’re trying to give FIFA a run for its money.”

The move is FIBA attempting to address concerns from the NBA (and other professional leagues around the globe) about wear and tear on their players performing in the summer in international tournaments. (Concerns that came up again with the ACL injury to Utah’s Dante Exum, which likely costs him next season.)  By moving the World Cup to 2019 FIBA is putting the qualifying tournaments for the Olympics and World Cup in one event, rather than two. Of course, now their two biggest tournaments are in consecutive years, so… welcome to FIBA.

If you think all of this is going to make the NBA — and Mark Cuban — happy, guess again. The NBA league office and the competition committee is still discussing how to handle all of it (and much of this will need to be negotiated with the players’ union).

As for 2019, China will host the event spread across eight cities — Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan and Dongguan. In 2019, the format for the tournament will grow to include 32 teams from around the globe. That includes seven from North and South America combined, plus a dozen from Europe.

The USA has won the last two World Cups (it used to be called the FIBA World Championships).

Report: Marcus Smart expected to be back on court, working out in two weeks

Portland Trailblazers v Boston Celtics
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When last we saw Boston point guard Marcus Smart, he was grabbing his hand in pain in Las Vegas — he dislocated two fingers in a Summer League game.

It was a pretty nasty injury, take it from someone watching from the baseline of that game. It was not only going to mess up his ability to play any craps in Las Vegas, but it was also going to limit his training to get ready for the season for a while. He could do cardio, but there wasn’t going to be any dribbling or shooting for a stretch.

That period is about to end, reports Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

Smart was always expected to be fine and ready to go full speed in training camp; this ended up just being a summer setback.

The Celtics will have an interesting point guard rotation this season. I expect that Smart will start, with Isaiah Thomas coming off the bench and getting a lot of minutes (and a lot of love from the fans), but Brad Stevens will also want to get rookie Terry Rozier some seasoning.

Report: Pelicans will open season at Golden State Oct. 27

Golden State Warriors v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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Every year the NBA makes a tentative schedule and gives it to teams. It’s tentative because they also give it to the television networks that broadcast the NBA and let them make some suggestions, so things can change. But this is usually pretty much it, which is why we get leaks about what teams are playing on Christmas and the like.

Another leak: The New Orleans Pelicans will open the season at the Golden State Warriors, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

But if the game occurs it will be a rematch of last season’s first-round playoff matchup in which the Warriors swept the Pelicans in four games. The game also will feature Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry making his coaching debut against his former team.

The Pelicans are also rumored to be playing the Heat on Christmas Day. That would be two marquee games we know about for New Orleans, a team that was almost nonexistent on national television a year ago.

The NBA is all about marketing its stars, and Anthony Davis is a fast rising one, just like the Pelicans are a fast rising team. It shouldn’t be a shock the NBA is starting to feature them in big-time games, like against the champs on the night they raise the banner at Oracle. Casual fans will tune in to see Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, only to come away realizing Davis is the next big thing in the NBA.

Matt Bonner bests Brian Scalabrine in playground knockout game (VIDEO)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Two-thirds of the NBA players with a “Mamba” nickname squared off in a game of knockout at a recent charity event — the Spurs Matt Bonner vs. former NBA player Brian Scalabrine. I’m sure Kobe Bryant wanted to be there, but he has this whole “Nike-fueled tour of China” thing going on.

This is the best battle of knockout between NBA-level red heads you will ever see. Bonner eeks out the win with the dagger three.

Hat tip to Eye on Basketball.

Dante Exum injury revives debate about risk, reward of playing for national teams

Dante Exum
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It was one of the big topics of last summer, sparked by the injury to Paul George at a Team USA exhibition:

Can these national team injuries be avoided? Should players be potentially risking their careers over this? Where is the line between the reward of playing for one’s country and the risk of injury?

Those injuries hit NBA teams much harder than they do a national team (particularly a deep USA basketball roster). George missed most of what was a lost season for the Pacers because of that gruesome leg injury, all to play in a FIBA World Cup that draws yawns from fans in the United States (winning it did earn the USA an automatic berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics). That has long been Mark Cuban’s issue — if he and the Mavs have to assume the risk of Dirk Nowitzki getting injured playing for Germany, they should get some of the financial rewards of the event. That doesn’t happen.

The potential ACL injury to Utah’s Dante Exum playing for Australia this summer has revived this discussion.

That injury hasn’t slowed the more than 40 players who will be in Las Vegas for the Team USA mini-camp this summer because guys still want to make the Olympic squad. That is the event we care about stateside, plus it is a massive platform internationally to grow a brand. Players are not giving that up. However, a number of name players coming off injury or just feeling tired — Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, among others — will attend but not participate in drills during the camp.

Bottom line: Exum’s injury — a setback for an up-and-coming Jazz team — has people talking.

The big issue is wear and tear. It’s a question of rest.

Guys can suffer injuries anywhere — in a pickup game at UCLA, working out at a Las Vegas gym, during the NBA season, or trying to get out of their car. Injuries happen. The fact is with national teams (particularly Team USA) and international competitions, these guys play fewer minutes and have very good training staffs around them. Injuries are going to be caught faster, and the player taken care of better with Team USA than at private workouts. USA basketball’s staff and facilities are top notch.

And if you are a player who wants to learn from and test yourself against the best, USA Basketball is the place to do it.

The question is how much should guys do for their national teams? When will they get enough rest and let their bodies recuperate? We already know that the NBA is working to adjust its schedule — doing away with four games in five days, reducing back-to-backs — because of concerns about the body needing rest. That marathon grind is seen as the reason for the rash of high-profile injuries that plagued the NBA last season.

“Of course it’s a concern when players are getting injured. It’s not necessarily worse than it’s been historically. But it’s to the point, especially when you see star players going down and missing serious numbers of games, it’s something that we’re focused on…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the NBA Finals (not long before Irving suffered his knee injury).

“We’ve revamped the entire scheduling process this year to try to do everything to clear more windows at our arenas, to clear more broadcast windows,” Silver said. “… I think the science over time zone travel has gotten much better, where moving four time zones, we think, may have an effect on players’ bodies that we may not have understood historically.”

Since there is no chance the league and players will agree to shorten the NBA season (nobody is giving up that revenue), these are at least some smart steps.

But if players are with their national team during the summer, are they getting enough physical down time? This is not a new concern — China never let Yao Ming rest, he played every summer for the national team, until his body started just to give out on him. Foreign players — such as Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol of Spain, or Exum in Australia — face added pressure because, unlike Team USA, there isn’t the same depth of talent. If the Gasols don’t play for Spain, that team is not nearly as good, there are no comparable replacements.

Cuban wants the NBA to put on its own World Cup, so at least they get paid. That seems unlikely.

But the NBA and FIBA need to talk and come to an understanding. One major tournament every four years — the Olympics — is enough. Soccer, where the World Cup is the biggest event, turned Olympic soccer into an under 23 tournament. There is still some good young talent out there, and these are younger players who can handle the additional training and games more easily, but the big name veterans get to rest more.

There are real challenges in getting this done — all centered around money, of course — but it’s the direction basketball needs to go. We’ve seen the data and it’s clear — players need more rest. International competitions cut into that, and there need to be some limits.

And even if they do all that, injuries will happen. It’s part of the game.