Kurt Helin

James Harden organizing Rockets pre-camp workout this week

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Last year, James Harden organized a pre-camp workout where Rockets players could get in shape and develop some chemistry. Then the Rockets started the season slowly with Harden not being in good enough shape and the team having chemistry issues.

Hopefully, for Rockets’ fan this year is different — once again Harden is organizing a camp, reports, Fox 26 in Houston. And Harden is working to show what a great teammate he is.

For the second consecutive year Houston Rockets guard James Harden has organized a players-only minicamp scheduled for next week.

“James is doing everything,” said Corey Brewer, Rockets guard/forward. “He is showing he wants to be a leader. He’s the franchise player. He signed the extension. So it’s his team, and he’s doing all the right things to do what we need to do to have a chance to win championships.”

Harden’s plan is to hold the minicamp in Miami. However, the potential of bad weather hitting South Florida may cause the Rockets players to work in a different city.

Nearly every team does one of these, and how much good they do depends on who you ask. Teams that go deep in the playoffs have these camps, teams that disappoint and never make the playoffs have these camps. It certainly never hurts to get some voluntary team workouts in before the coaches take over at the end of September, and good on Harden for organizing it.

Just don’t read too much into any team doing this.

51 Questions: Who is better, Bulls or Knicks?

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Today PBT launches its 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). And we start with a fun topic:

Who is better, the Bulls or the Knicks?

Two proud franchises in two of the nation’s biggest markets, with two fan bases that demand results (but haven’t gotten them lately). Those fan bases are restless because we are talking about two franchises that disappointed and missed the playoffs last season.

That put a lot of pressure on the front offices of the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, and both were aggressive making changes this summer — Chicago traded Derrick Rose to New York, in one of the bigger deals of the offseason.

Expectations are high in New York and Chicago, with the playoffs considered a baseline.

But did those teams improve that much? Will either make the playoffs?

And which team is better?

Forced to choose, I’d say the Bulls. Barely.

Both are going to be in a battle with other teams — Washington, Charlotte, Miami, Milwaukee, maybe Atlanta,— for the final few playoff spots in the East. Both teams could conceivably miss the playoffs again.

Sorry Derrick Rose, your Knicks are not a superteam.

Rose is the common thread between these two team’s summers.

The Bulls needed to choose between him and Jimmy Butler, and they wisely chose the younger and, at this point, just flat out better Butler. It was the only call (outside trading both for a bottom-out rebuild, which wouldn’t have been wise). The Bulls traded Rose away then proceeded to surround Butler with older guards — Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — who are not great defenders, have had injury issues, don’t space the floor with their shooting, and need the ball in their hands to be their best. They also added a solid big man in Robin Lopez to the paint, he should at least block some of the shots from opposing wings who blow by Rondo and Wade.

Wade can still score — he averaged 19 points a game last season and showed in the playoffs (and other short stretches) he can put a team on his back and still be a force. He’s not vintage Wade, but he hasn’t slipped as far as critics suggest — most nights now he is good, not great. The knee maintenance program from Miami that had Wade resting some nights (although fewer last season) needs to come north and be part of the plan for him in Chicago.

The Bulls have decent raw talent and depth with Butler, Wade, Lopez, Taj Gibson (at least until he is traded), Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine. That’s why I have them just slightly ahead of the Knicks. But there are real questions about the fit of this roster. They are going to have defensive holes on the perimeter. On offense, there isn’t near enough shooting to keep opposing teams from just packing the paint and taking away driving lanes for Wade and Butler. (It’s why I think Mirotic will have to start and get heavy minutes with the first unit, they need the floor spacing shooting, the downside is he hurts the defense.) None of this fits what coach Fred Hoiberg ideally wants to run, and does the young coach have the force of personality to keep this team pulling the same direction on the rope?

The Knicks were the team that took on Derrick Rose — then landed Joakim Noah as well. Combine them with Carmelo Anthony and, if this were 2011, they would be title favorites.

The Knicks starting five could be quite good: Rose, Courtney Lee, Anthony (fresh off the Olympics), Kristaps Porzingis, and Noah. But will that group even play 50 games together healthy? If the starters are together for 60-plus games this season, the Knicks almost certainly are a playoff team (and better than the Bulls). But we all know the injury history: Rose missed 244 games in the last five seasons and is not nearly the explosive MVP version of himself, while Noah has missed 68 games the past two seasons and does not move like the Defensive Player of the Year anymore. Anthony has had his injury issues too. That trio could well fall below Knicks’ fans expectations.

Also, none of those guys seem ready to run like new coach Jeff Hornacek wants. The depth behind that starting five is unimpressive, with Brandon Jennings at the point being the best one of the bunch. When those starters start missing games — or just when the starters go to the bench — the Knicks drop off fast. This was a 32-win team last season, how much better did they really get?

Two things could have me underestimating the Knicks. One is Porzingis. He was impressive as a rookie and on his way to being very good, but how big a leap does he make this season? He will certainly be improved, he remains the future Knicks fans build altars to, and if he makes a bigger leap than I predict (which is possible) he can carry this team to the playoffs.

Second, this is contract year Derrick Rose — does he rise to the occasion? Will he be healthier, a better jump shooter, and just more creative than we have seen in recent years.

The bottom line: Both of these teams will be hovering around .500 and in a scramble for the playoffs. Both teams made short-term moves that don’t make a lot of long-term sense considering they have good young pieces to build around. Both fan bases expect more than these teams are going to deliver.

The Bulls depth should have them playing slightly better. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Of course, the real answer to all questions about who is better in the East should just be answered “Cleveland.”

Coach K goes, Pop arrives for US hoops team in transition

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Mike Krzyzewski is heading out, Gregg Popovich is coming in and maybe LeBron James would even come back.

It’s a time of transition for both the U.S. Olympic team and international basketball and it starts, as usual, with the Americans on top.

The U.S. won its third straight gold medal Sunday, beating Serbia 96-66 in the final game for Krzyzewski, who led the program for a decade and became the first coach to win three Olympic gold medals. He also guided the Americans to a pair of world championships, an 88-1 record and from the bottom back to the top.

“It’s been a joy,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve been so lucky to have been given this opportunity.”

Now it goes to Popovich, the other coach Jerry Colangelo considered before choosing Krzyzewski after taking control of USA Basketball in 2005. Like Krzyzewski, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Popovich is a military man who attended the Air Force Academy and has built one of sports’ most successful organizations while winning five championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

Krzyzewski has used the military as an inspiration for USA Basketball, referring to playing for the team as service and sacrifice, and Popovich should be an ideal choice to continue that relationship.

“You have the best guy in the world who’s going to coach the team now and that says a lot for the program that’s been developed,” Krzyzewski said.

It was in perhaps its worst shape ever when he took over, coming off a bronze-medal finish in the 2004 Olympics and an even poorer finish two years earlier in the world basketball championship.

The Americans lost their first tournament under Krzyzewski, the 2006 worlds, but haven’t dropped even a game since.

Some things to watch as they try to stay on stop:

LEBRON IN JAPAN?

James passed on a fourth Olympics after leading Cleveland to the NBA championship, but may not be done wearing the red, white and blue. The U.S. career leader in scoring before Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant passed him during this tournament, James said during an interview with ESPN that he hasn’t retired from international play and was leaving the door open for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

STARS ALIGN?

Besides James, players such as NBA MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars and former Olympians Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Chris Paul all withdrew from consideration for the Rio roster. Perhaps some or all of them would be interested in playing for the respected Popovich, who could perhaps even persuade his own star with the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard, to play after also pulling out.

FIRST, THE MINOR LEAGUERS

Before Popovich coaches James or any other NBA stars, the Americans will likely call upon the minor leaguers to get them there.

FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, is introducing a new qualification system similar to the one in soccer, where teams will play home and road games against regional opponents to qualify for the 2019 Basketball World Cup in China. That tournament will then serve to qualify teams for Tokyo.

The Americans don’t know yet who their opponents will be but do know that some games will take place during the NBA season, ruling out Popovich and the world’s best players. They are likely to use NBA Development League players to carry them through until the A-team is available.

WHO ARE THE CHALLENGERS?

Serbia, Australia, Canada and others could soon be nipping at the Americans’ sneakers.

With a second straight finals appearance in a major international tournament, the Serbs have established themselves as a rising global power. They had one of the youngest teams in the field – forward Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is 21 – and gave the U.S. a major fright in pool play before losing by three points.

The Aussies sent their best team to Rio, but were still without Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and Dante Exum, still recovering from a knee injury. Australia was in line for its first medal before falling by one to Spain in the bronze-medal game. It seems to only be a matter of time before the Aussies hop onto the podium.

Canada may have been the best team not in Brazil after failing to qualify. Missing Minnesota star Andrew Wiggins and a few others, the Canadians fell short in 2016 but with talent like Tristan Thompson and Tyler Ennis, they have their sights set on Tokyo.

AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

Carmelo Anthony caps Olympic odyssey with 3rd gold medal

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carmelo Anthony had one last thing to teach his young teammates.

On the podium wearing his third Olympic gold medal, Anthony, who led this inexperienced U.S. team from the moment it first gathered weeks ago in Las Vegas, pointed toward one end of Carioca Arena, to the spot where the American flag was about to rise.

“I just told them, `Look at the highest flag,”‘ Anthony said, “and that’s what we did.”

Now there’s nothing left to do for Anthony, whose Olympic career began in disgrace and ends with him being the most decorated player to ever wear a USA jersey. It’s a comeback almost hard to believe.

“I don’t think I can explain how I feel right at this moment,” he said, later adding he will retire as an Olympian.

The only U.S. male player to be chosen for four Olympic teams, Anthony became the first to win three golds as the Americans saved their best for last and crushed Serbia 96-66 on Sunday.

The blowout win capped a remarkable 12-year journey around the five interlocking rings for Anthony, only 20 and fresh off his rookie year in the NBA when he played on a 2004 team remembered for failure.

The Americans lost three times at the Athens Games, and the sight of them wearing olive wreaths on their heads, bronze medals around their necks and disappointment on their faces, was a low point for the sport’s standard of excellence. USA Basketball was down and deflated.

But along with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and others, Anthony helped pump pride and power back into the U.S. program, which remains on top of the world.

Anthony grew over his Olympic run spanning games in Europe, Asia and South America. He matured as a person and found his voice, which he has used to address social issues at home. He became more than just a player whose talents seem to perfectly suit the international game. Anthony, so often criticized for not winning NBA championships, became the model for U.S. players.

He showed commitment, dedication and heart. While James and Paul and other skipped these games, Anthony signed up for another tour of duty to represent his country.

“It’s just his love for the game,” said U.S. forward Paul George, who completed his own amazing story following a horrific leg injury. “It’s his passion for the country and his love for the game, that’s all that it comes down to.”

During his stay in Brazil, Anthony became the leading scorer in U.S. history and he returned late in the second half of Sunday’s rout just so he could snatch one rebound and move past David Robinson on the career list.

However, Anthony’s most significant mark in Rio may have come when he visited the city’s favelas, blighted areas he compared to Baltimore’s inner city of his youth.

It’s another sign of his maturity, which outgoing U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski saw developing 10 years ago.

After the Americans lost to Greece in 2006 in the FIBA World Championships at Tokyo, Anthony sat at the postgame podium with Coach K and expressed humility and determination.

“He didn’t make any excuses,” Krzyzewski said. “He took responsibility for the loss and gave credit to the Greek team and we’ve built on that. I call it character, and in that moment, sometimes after a loss, you find out a deep character in someone. That’s what happened with Carmelo and in the commitment of LeBron and Kobe and Chris, all these guys have great character and it just built to where we now have a great culture.”

The Americans haven’t lost since, winning 76 straight games counting exhibitions. And Anthony has collected three golds as precious to him as an NBA ring.

A fifth Olympics isn’t in his plans, but neither was a dozen years wearing the red, white and blue.

“I’m hanging these things up, USA Basketball-wise,” he said. “It’s been a fun journey for me. It’s been a fun ride. I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve seen the losing side and I’ve seen what it feels like to win three gold medals. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.”

Watch Team USA celebrate winning gold in Rio

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They earned the right to celebrate.

The early rounds may not have been as pretty as some wanted to see, but in the end, the USA defense cranked up the pressure, they moved the ball on offense, they knocked down threes — Hello Kevin Durant — and the USA ran away to the gold.

So the celebration was on.