Kurt Helin

Dante Exum

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

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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.

 

 

“Birdman” Chris Andersen makes cameo on HBO’s “Ballers”

Chris Andersen
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I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched HBO’s vehicle for The Rock, “Ballers.” It’s about the transition of a former NFL player (Dwayne Johnson) to life as a mentor/manager trying to guide younger players after his NFL career ended. That pretty much sums up what I know.

Well, that and it has gotten a lot of cameos from NFL players.

And now an NBA one — Chris Andersen from the Heat. The Birdman and his ink tower over this scene, which is a pretty extended cameo (hat tip to Eye on Basketball).

Note: Due to language this is NSFW. If you are offended by that kind of thing, do not push play.

I love the insult they use to get under Birdman’s skin (and tats) is “LeBron made the right choice” heading back to Cleveland. And I love Andersen’s reaction.

Andersen is pretty good in this. If I had to guess, his next role will be in an episode of Chris Kaman’s reality show. From there, I expect he could land pretty much anywhere except Rachel Ray’s show.

 

Steve Blake trys to carve out role as more than just veteran bench presence in Detroit

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers
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In Detroit, newly minted max player Reggie Jackson is going to be the starting point guard for Stan Van Gundy. Behind him there is Brandon Jennings, who is coming off a torn Achilles. Jennings may be ready to go when the season tips off, but even if he is Van Gundy may want to go easy on his minutes.

Then there’s veteran Steve Blake.

Van Gundy wanted insurance in case Jennings wasn’t ready to go when the season tips off, plus Van Gundy likes shooters and Blake is a career 38.5 percent from three (35.2 percent last season). So the Pistons traded Quincy Miller for Blake (the trade was with the Nets, who had gotten Blake in a draft night deal with Portland).

Van Gundy was looking for a veteran presence on the bench, but he’s got a suspicion Blake will find his way onto the court, he told the official Pistons’ website.

“That’s one of the things my brother (Jeff) said when we talked about the trade,” Van Gundy grinned. “He said, ‘If I had to bet, I’d say he finds a way to get on the floor no matter what.’ That’s sort of what he’s always done. He’s found a way to play.”

If Blake is playing a lot at age 35 it’s not ideal, it means Jennings isn’t right. Blake game has started to slip in recent years, but he can be solid. What Van Gundy saw in Blake was a professional, a guy who puts in the work, a smart veteran player —the kind needed in the locker room of a young team. He and Joel Anthony are the veteran voices.

“The last two people we (signed) were Joel and Steve. It’s a young team,” Van Gundy said. “We really didn’t get any older. Our starting lineup will average under 25 years old. I’m not sure having all young guys is the best way to develop all those guys. I think we saw the benefits of Caron (Butler) and Joel and Anthony Tolliver last year. Besides what Steve can do on the floor, I think Steve, Joel and Anthony as our only guys over 30 give us veteran guys who are really, really solid pros and good people for those guys to watch and grow up around.”

There certainly are real questions about them, but I’m higher on Detroit next season than a lot of people. Jackson and Andre Drummond showed some chemistry last season. Ersan Ilyasova is a better fit stylistically at the four in Van Gundy’s system than Greg Monroe. I think players like Marcus Morris and rookie Stanley Johnson can make an impact. They need shooters (expect Jodi Meeks’ role to grow) but there is some potential here.

I think this is a playoff team in the East. So long as Blake can be that veteran voice that helps keep the young players on the right path.

Throwback Thursday video: Top 10 Pistol Pete Maravich plays

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Sure, Throwback Thursday is a bit of a Facebook construct it seems, and we’re all above Facebook because that’s for soccer moms.

Still, it’s August and that seems a pretty good time to use the construct to pull up some fun old videos.

And few are more fun than Hall of Famer Pistol Pete Maravich — five-time All-Star, four-time All NBA, and one of the most entertaining players ever to lace them up. The game is supposed to be fun and entertaining, and few have been more fun than Maravich.

NBA 2K16 screen shots released, and they look sharp

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Our friends at 2K Sports are just starting to tease the release of NBA 2K16 — one of the few gaming franchises still going strong as that industry undergoes a shift (it’s about mobile now, like everything else).

They are doing it by releasing some screen shots out of the upcoming game. And they look sharp.

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It’s the attention to detail that impresses — Curry will even chew on his mouthpiece in 2K16.

Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis — along with James Harden and, for a special edition, Michael Jordan — all will have cover editions. There will be a lot more details coming out about the game as 2K ramps up to the October release date, but the first glace caught our eye.