Kurt Helin

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USA ends brilliant international career of Manu Ginobili, Argentina’s “Golden Generation”


Listening to the crowd for the final five minutes of play, you would have had no idea the game was a blowout.

Wednesday in Rio, Manu Ginobili just didn’t have enough clever playmaking — and, more importantly, enough energy in his legs — to lift Argentina to an upset of Team USA. The 105-78 loss spells the end of Argentina in these Olympics.

It also spells the end of international play for Argentina’s golden generation, which was led by Ginobili and included Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, and Andres Nocioni.

For the final five minutes of a game where Argentina trailed by more than 20, a loyal and raucous Argentinian fan base serenaded and thanked Ginobili and the golden generation in the only way they knew how. After the game, they kept on cheering as Ginobili and company stayed on the court, hugged one another in tears, and accepted the adulation of their fans.

We should all say thank you to them.

It was this core group of players — even more than the excellent Spanish and French teams that followed — that changed the dynamic of international basketball and showed teams they could beat the USA. It was Ginobili, with both his international and NBA play, that was the best evangelist for David Stern’s gospel of NBA globalization.

It was Argentina that handed the USA its first post-Dream Team loss, beating them in group play during the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis. It was Argentina that crushed the USA in the semifinals of the 2004 Athens Olympics that sent the USA to bronze. The Argentinians were clear and away the better team in that tournament. It was that day that USA basketball changed, and soon Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski were put in charge of changing the USA Basketball culture — of trying to build the kind of continuity and team chemistry that Argentina had shown.

Argentina went on to win the gold in Athens. Only the USA, Soviet Union, and Argentina have ever won men’s basketball gold.

This remains a very tight Argentinian group, one that had been playing together since their teens. They grew up together on that international stage, and while they went down different paths with their club careers — Ginobili picking up four titles, a Sixth Man of the Year award, a couple of All-Star appearances, and incredible respect as a member of the Spurs — they always came back to their international team bond.

That bond is why after a 2012 London Olympics, when they said they would part ways, they changed their minds and came back for one more run at it in Rio.

Wednesday night that came to an end, at it was emotional for them. Ginobili — who had 14 points and 7 assists against the USA — was given the game ball and hugged it close all through his press conference.

Argentina was a longshot to medal in Rio, and then had the misfortune to be matched up with the USA in the quarterfinals (they didn’t have the size and athleticism to keep pace with the Americans).

This summer the international basketball stage has said goodbye to Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and now Manu Ginobili. Things will never quite be the same.

But none of those legends had the impact on the international game that Manu did.

DeAndre Jordan on gold medals: “I think they’re above NBA rings”

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Spoken like a guy in Rio trying to win one, DeAndre Jordan is pumping up the value of a gold medal.

Jordan and the rest of his USA teammates enter the win-or-go-home tournament phase of the Rio Olympics on Wednesday, taking on Manu Ginobili and Argentina (5:45 Eastern on the NBC Sports Network). The Americans have not dominated the competition, they need to play better (particularly on defense), but they remain the heavy favorites to win gold.

Jordan spoke with Marc Stein and Mark Schwarz of ESPN about the USA’s three-game quest for gold.

“I think they’re above NBA rings,” Jordan told ESPN… “I may get in trouble for saying that, but I believe that. I feel like this is more special. You’re not just playing teams in the U.S. You’re playing teams from all over the world. And this is even more special because there’s an NBA champion crowned every year, but this is every four years.

“You’ve got to really think about that, man, because it’s extremely special.”

The Twitter snark will start in 3…2…1…

Jordan is right, a gold medal is extremely special. Fewer NBA players have one of those than an NBA title. It is an experience and a chance to represent your country not a lot of people get.

But it’s different from an NBA title. The grind, the marathon, that a team must survive to win an NBA title is a tougher road than even this USA team faces to win gold. The mountain to climb to get an NBA title is much more challenging — the separation between the quality of teams at the top of the NBA is narrow, that is not the case in the Olympics. Jordan knows that, he has been on a good Clipper team that can’t get out of the second round.

That said, Jordan should be pumping himself up to win gold — he needs to play better to make sure the USA gets one.

Hornets’ Charlotte arena renamed “Spectrum Center”

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If you’ve followed the NBA for years, then you remember Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson playing at the Philadelphia Spectrum. That legendary building was torn down six years ago.

But now there is a new Spectrum in the NBA.

The Charlotte Hornets’ arena, which had been called the Time Warner Center, will now be called the “Spectrum Center” the team announced Wednesday. The reason is part of the rebranding of Time Warner in its merger with Charter (Spectrum is the name of Charter’s digital services for consumers).

From the official press release:

“We are pleased to have Charter’s Spectrum brand become a part of our arena as Charter prepares to make its entrance into the Charlotte area,” said Hornets Sports & Entertainment President & COO Fred Whitfield.  “We look forward to partnering with Charter for many years to come as we continue to provide the best in sports and entertainment for Charlotte and the Carolinas at Spectrum Center.”

Nothing else changes, this is just a renaming.

The now Spectrum Center was to be host to the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, but the league pulled it in protest of the HB2 “bathroom law” put in place in the state. This season’s All-Star Game appears headed to New Orleans, but the game could come to Charlotte in 2019 if there is a change in the law (2018 is in Los Angeles).


Reports out of China say Yi Jianlian to Lakers deal done, nothing confirmed stateside

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As was reported Wednesday night, it looks like the Lakers are bringing 7’0″ power forward Yi Jianlian back to the NBA.

Nothing has been confirmed by the Lakers, but multiple reports out of China now say that the deal is done.

Marc Stein of ESPN (who broke the story) also had this statement from Guangdong Southern Tigers, Yi’s team in China.

“In order to help Yi seize this opportunity to play at the highest stage of [the basketball] world and unfold his capability, in order to help Yi fulfill his dream and goal, we are offering our unconditional support and cooperation to Yi to make sure he joins Lakers. Best wishes to Yi for his bright future in NBA,” Guangdong said in a translated statement.

Those financial figures seem to be low (which makes sense, Yi made $3 million in China, a veteran minimum deal would be a steep play cut). From Marc Stein:

Yi was the be best player on a weak Chinese team in Rio, averaging 20.4 points on 16.4 shots per game. Jianlian relied too much on the long two and never developed NBA three-point range in his five NBA seasons (the last one in 2012). He was then a below replacement level player.

The fit is a little odd — Yi is a 7’0″ power forward. The Lakers will start Julius Randle there, then both Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance could spend time there as small-ball fours. Maybe the Lakers see Yi as a solid reserve, and it is just a one-year deal, but they had better not be taking minutes away from developing their young players to get him run.

Watch wild “scorpion” dunk over three people from NBA house in Rio

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There is an NBA House in Rio during the Olympic games. Because the Olympics are all about brand promotion. And probably some other stuff as well, but brand promotion seems to be at the top of the list, and the NBA marketing people don’t miss a chance to promote the brand.

At that NBA house, 6’1″ Jordan Kilganon threw down this impressive scorpion dunk over three people. It’s worth watching.

It’s not quite Aaron Gordon/Zach LaVine impressive, but it is August, and you’re not likely to see another dunk this good unless Vince Carter and Frederic Weis suit up again.