Author: Kurt Helin

Milos Teodosic, Rudy Gobert

Serbia holds off furious French comeback, wins to advance to gold medal game vs. USA


Nobody was expecting Serbia to be here.

They had to beat Italy in the seventh place game at EuroBasket last summer to even qualify for this summer’s World Cup. When they got to Spain this summer in pool play where they were a pedestrian 2-3 and not looking like a team to fear.

Now they are in the gold medal game. Sometimes what matters is getting hot at the right time.

Friday in the other World Cup semi-final Serbia raced out to a huge lead behind guard Milos Teodosic, who finished with 24 points and was a game high +25, then held off a Nicolas Batum-led French charge (the Trail Blazer had 35 points).

Serbia hit their free throws down the stretch and picked up a 90-85 win to advance to the gold medal game Sunday against Team USA (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Serbia will be overmatched and a huge underdog against the USA in that game, but they do a couple of things that could give the Americans trouble.

That all starts with Teodosic on the pick-and-roll (he’s good and long resisted NBA overtures). He is a crafty, smart point guard who can read how the team plays the high pick — Serbia has the big roll hard to the rim and spreads the court with three shooters — then he can pull up and knock down the shot or make the smart pass.

France didn’t know how to handle him. Against Spain in their previous game France’s pick-and-roll coverage was spot on, with bigs showing and recovering with precision. That defense held Spain to 52 points —Teodosic and Serbia were scoring at will early.

Serbia went on a 10-0 first quarter run to go up 20-10 early and from their they kept stretching the lead out. Serbia’s guards were making plays and shots, plus they as a team were getting out and running. Serbia was up 14 at the half and held a double digit lead through the third, seeming to coast in for the win.

Then France got hot on offense.

The French offense had been pedestrian most of this World Cup — they miss Tony Parker — but behind Batum hitting every ridiculous shot you can think of, they closed the gap slowly but surely. He got help from the Spurs’ Boris Diaw (13 points) and the Magic’s Evan Fournier (10).

Still, it felt like Serbia’s big man Miroslav Raduljica (last season of the Bucks) fumbled a post entry pass right up into the basket.

The French would not quit and were down 3 and had the ball with 17.7 seconds left — and Serbia fouled to prevent the three. In the NBA there is a debate about fouling late up three, in Europe they do it early and often. It worked, the French guard missed his second free throw, then it became a free throw game that Serbia won.

It’s an amazing result for Serbia, it’s been a great run. They should be proud of the silver medal they will go home with.

Hawks GM Danny Ferry releases statement on his leave of absence, apologizes again

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 6

Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence in the wake of the controversy surrounding comments he made on a conference call with owners about soon to be free agent Luol Deng.

Ferry said he was paraphrasing a scouting report, but you can hear him on the audio of the call saying, “He has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out the back….. For example, he can come out and be an unnamed source for a story and two days later come out and say, ‘That absolutely was not me. I can’t believe someone said that.’ But talking to reporters, you know they can [believe it].”

Ferry released his own statement on Friday:

“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.

“Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them. Almost all the background information I provided during the lengthy presentation regarding Luol was positive and my personal and professional recommendation during the call was very much in favor of adding Luol to our team but I never should have uttered those offensive remarks and for that I apologize.

“My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans. I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me. I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”

Deng has commented on this already, basically saying he is proud to be African and represent that continent. He also said he was sad to see race come into player evaluation like this.

Ferry is also caught in a bit of an ownership fight here — minority owner Michael Gearon Jr. used to have a bigger say in the organization (particularly with the roster/basketball side) but he had been effectively sidelined by Ferry and majority owner Bruce Levenson. Gearon called for Ferry’s job after this comment and is clearly trying to get some power back. This is all a continuation of one of the more dysfunctional ownership groups in the league (they sued each other a few years back).

None of that excuses Ferry’s comments.

As I have said on multiple occasions, his job is to read these reports and be a filter of them. There is no situation where passing that along to ownership could seem like a good idea.

Ferry is going to fight to keep his job (and he’s well liked around the league, he will have a basketball job somewhere if not with the Hawks). The problem is that whatever new owner is coming in — Levenson is selling his share after a separate email he sent suggesting ways the Hawks could draw more white people to their games — will need to repair a lot of relationships in the Atlanta area, including with sponsors and season ticket holders. I don’t see how he does that with Ferry and the shadow of this issue still on the organization.

Hawks GM Danny Ferry goes on indefinite leave of absence

Danny Ferry, Mike Budenholzer

This is not a surprise.

In the wake of the swirling controversy surrounding Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry — who said on a conference call with some of the team’s ownership that free agent Luol Deng had “some African in him” and would be two-faced — he has decided to take an indefinite leave of absence. This starts immediately and coach Mike Budenholzer will take over as the head of basketball operations.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin released this statement:

“This afternoon, Danny Ferry requested, and I have approved, taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. This has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family and it is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing. As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.

“While the issues related to race are deeply troubling, at the heart of this dispute is an unfortunate disagreement amongst owners. That said, we have taken several steps to address what we can do as an organization to be better and stronger, including working with a diversity consultant to examine us and to train us to ensure something like this never happens again, we are committed to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and we have and will continue to meet with community leaders in an ongoing way to ensure our values reflect the community in which we play and work. The process of selling the team, which is to remain in Atlanta, is already underway.

“Effective immediately, our Head Coach, Mike Budenholzer, will assume oversight of the basketball operations department. He will report directly to me.”

The ownership infighting he refers to points back to minority owner Michael Gearon, Jr. It was Gearon who sent a letter asking that Ferry be fired for his comments and he (or those around him) are the likely the source of many of these leaks. Gearon used to have a lot more power in the organization, particularly on player/personnel issues, something Ferry and Levenson had blunted. It’s an open secret Gearon wanted Ferry out.

Ferry just made it much easier for Gearon with his comments.

Ferry also released a statement, which read in part:

“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.

Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them.”

This was a smart move by Ferry and the Hawks to try to diffuse the situation. Ferry had said he would not resign, and he will still fight for his job, but they needed to do something because pressure has been building.

Ferry has said he was reading a report — which it doesn’t sound like in the audio of the call however apparently the comments were generated first out of the Cavaliers front office — but that does not let Ferry off the hook. Part of his job as GM is to evaluate and filter information, that he read something verbatim that was clearly bigoted and passed that along in a conference call to ownership shows really questionable judgement.

Out of the internal investigation of what Ferry said a questionable 2012 email from majority owner Bruce Levenson was found where he talks about ways to make the Hawks game experience something white ticket buyers would want to come see. With that leaked Levenson has decided to sell his share of the team.

Which means Ferry’s ultimate fate is in the hands of whomever buys the Hawks. That person has to rebuild relationships in the Atlanta community and with African-American season ticket holders (plus make Atlanta a place free agents want to come). Can he really do that with Ferry still as a face of the organization? I don’t see how.

Tyson Chandler says he has returned to Dallas a better player than in 2011

Dallas Mavericks Victory Parade

The last time Tyson Chandler had on a Dallas Mavericks uniform, he was holding the Larry O’Brien trophy — he was the defensive anchor key to Dallas knocking off Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals.

After a couple up-and-down years with the Knicks, he’s back in Big D this season.

And better than ever at age 32 (by the time the season starts). At least that’s what he says.

Chandler spoke to the Dallas Morning News and said he is returning to Dallas a wiser, more mature player than the one that left.

“I think I’m better in understanding the game mentally. Physically, I’m in an incredible place. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. Over the years you learn different things. The more you are able to play this game, the better you are mentally. I’m excited to bring that to the table here again. I love the makeup of the team. We’ve been here for the last couple of weeks getting after it, playing pick up [games] and ran the hills yesterday as a team. We’ve been training as a team. People don’t know, but this is pretty early to have every player here already. I just like the makeup of this team. I think we’ve got great young guys. It’s a nice mix up of veterans and young players.”

Chandler probably did learn a lot having to cover for Carmelo Anthony and some other questionable defenders in New York.

I’m also with him on liking Dallas more this year. The addition of him and Chandler Parsons fills two big needs — improved defense in the paint and better production on the wing. Combine that with that Dirk Nowitzki guy who is supposed to be pretty good (read that again in sarcastic voice) and Monta Ellis and you have the makings of a good team. If their three-headed monster at the point (Raymond Felton, Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson) can give them steady play I think this might be the fourth best team in the West. And a legit playoff threat.

Especially if Chandler really is better than ever.

Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel to run Rocky Balboa’s route through Philadelphia

Nerlens Noel

If you map out, in order, the training montage run that Rocky Balboa takes in what can only be called a seminal work of art that is “Rocky II,” it works out to more than 30 miles.

Nerlens Noel isn’t crazy. He’s not running that far. He’s going to put enough miles on his body during the season (top players who play big minutes such as Kevin Durant logged more than 200 miles run during last season, but that’s another topic).

But Noel is going to run some of Rocky’s route and will have middle school students running up the Art Museum steps with him on Friday. All part of plans he has for a future 5K race for Philly residents, something reported by Mike Sielski at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Starting between 1 and 1:30, Noel will run at the various spots around the city that Stallone used in his movies’ iconic training sequences, including the Italian Market, Independence Hall, and Kelly Drive. Noel’s “run” will culminate around 3 p.m. at the Art Museum, where 100 to 150 middle-school and high school students will join him as he sprints up the steps. Then everyone will have Papa John’s pizza, since Papa John’s is one of the event’s sponsors.

Noel’s plan, according to a person close to him, is to use Friday’s event as a springboard for an annual “Nerlens Noel Rocky Run 5K” to raise money for charity. Plus, the run should help Noel get in shape for his first NBA season, so he can eat lightning and crap thunder on any and all of the Sixers’ opponents.

What I really want to see him do is drink down about four raw eggs before he makes the run. Just to be authentic.

I love that Noel is working to do a little PR and build up the Sixers brand in the city. They are going to need it, this is going to be a rough season on the court. By management design.

However, I am picking Noel to win Rookie of the Year.