Kurt Helin

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NBA lands in Africa trying to put down roots, which is all about youth programs, infrastructure

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Under David Stern and now Adam Silver, the NBA has tried to grow its brand across the globe and establish itself as the world’s premier basketball league. That has meant games and outreach to Europe, China, South America, India and the Philippines.

Now the NBA has landed in Africa for the first-ever NBA game on that continent — a Team Africa vs. Team World exhibition featuring some of the biggest names in the league Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa. Chris Paul, Luol Deng, and Marc Gasol will be there, as will be native Nigerians and NBA players Al-Farouq Aminu and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Twenty NBA players in all are taking part, along with coaches Gregg Popovich of the Spurs and Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks.

“It’s incredible to see all these guys here,” said Raptors GM Masai Ujiri on a conference call Thursday.

“It’s an honor to be part of this,” said Bismack Biyombo, the new Raptors center and native of the Congo, on the same call. “Growing up here in Africa you watch an NBA game every now and then, or when someone had one recorded.”

Much of the talk about growing the sport in Africa has seemed to focus on the NBA brand — bringing an NBA preseason or maybe even regular season game to the continent. That’s a long ways away — Saturday’s exhibition will be in a 4,000-seat arena — but it’s a possibility.

“We’ve definitely had discussions, but they are elementary in some ways…” Ujiri said. “(The Raptors) would definitely be a team that would be very, very interested.”

The real test, however, is not bringing another NBA game to Africa, but finding ways to grow the sport at a grassroots level in Africa.

“The reason you see African nations (doing well internationally) in soccer — or football — now is that we played at a young age,” Ujiri noted. “You just had a ball and two rocks to be the goals, as I used to play growing up.”

Growing youth basketball will mean building infrastructure — in the USA we just expect to see even pocket parks in cities with a basketball hoop. They are ubiquitous, as are youth hoops programs. All of that is lacking in Africa, where soccer but not basketball is part of the culture.

“One thing to come out of this will be more camps, more clinics, more games, more youth competition, and from that you get into infrastructure, and building more courts,” Ujiri said, adding that what the NBA needs to help do is “coach the coaches” who will help teach the game.

“We’ve worked with kids the past few years here, and I worked with kids in the Congo the last few weeks, and the potential is here,” Biyombo said. “The problem we all have is we started playing basketball late. That’s why we’ve been trying to build courts around the country.”

The game Saturday is just one step in that direction, but exposing the youth of Africa to the highest levels of the game is a start. Now comes the hard part of building that youth infrastructure.

The words that kept coming up in everyone’s press conferences was the potential of the market and the youth in Africa.

“There is talent there,” Ujiri said of Africa. “It’s how this motivates them and the opportunities it creates for them.”

“I want (African youth) to use basketball as a way to gain an education because all of them are not going to make it to the NBA,” Biyombo said. “I want to show them they can reach their dream with a lot of hard work.”

“Africa is a continent with huge potential and many different levels,” said Pau Gasol, who also will take part in the game and spoke with the media Thursday. “It has a lot of struggles, but it’s worth investing the time and the effort and the energy to give this country and this continent a chance, and I think a lot of players are coming out and obviously have come out already, but there’s potential that a lot more younger players can come out and be ready and become great basketball players and have an opportunity to have a great life for themselves and their families.”

Mark Cuban says trading for Rajon Rondo was tough call, “came down to a coin flip”

Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks
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The Rajon Rondo trade didn’t end well for Dallas or Rondo last season.

Rondo averaged 9.3 points and 6.5 assists per game in Dallas, with a true shooting percentage of 46 percent (numbers close to what he had done recently in Boston). But Rondo never meshed well with coach Rick Carlisle and the Dallas offense, which up until his arrival had been one of the NBA’s best. It was a clash of styles. Rondo’s lack of a jump shot had teams sagging off him, he dominated the ball at times, and the result was the Mavericks’ offense lost its spacing. Bottom line, the Dallas offense was 5 points per 100 possessions worse when Rondo was on the court. He improved the Dallas defense by 1.7 points per 100 possessions, but that was not enough to make up for the offensive issues. Everything deteriorated, and midway through their playoff series with Houston, Dallas ended the Rondo experiment.

Getting Rondo may not have worked out, but it was the kind of gamble owner Mark Cuban is known for. That said, he told Zach Lowe of Grantland during a recent Lowe Post Podcast that the decision to get Rondo was not unanimous in the front office, instead it was more of a coin flip (hat tip to Tim MacMahon for the transcription).

“Everybody went back and forth 100 times. There was no 100 percent, yeah, let’s all go do it. Everybody changed their mind 50 times. At the end, it really came down to a coin flip more than anything else. And the coin flip was as much about, is there going to be anything else that we could do? Because we knew we had to do something. But that’s the way it all worked out, and what’s done is done. No hard feelings. He has his approach to basketball. Look, where I give him credit, he came as a 29 percent free throw shooter and left as a 77 percent free throw shooter because he put the work in. I would bet every penny I had to bet against him shooting 3s, and by the end, working with our guys, he ended up shooting 35 percent I think from 3s and actually was somewhat consistent at the end. There were other reasons why it didn’t work, but one of the reasons it almost could have worked is because he was a hard worker. He really did put in the time to make it work.”

Cuban is right, Dallas was strong on offense early in the season but clearly was a team not on the elite tiers of the West with the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers or Rockets. Getting Rondo was a gamble that didn’t pay off, but the end result of a first-round playoff exit was where Dallas was heading without him. Nothing much changed, it was simply the hopes of Mavericks fans that spiked and fell.

However, just because this didn’t work out, don’t expect Cuban and the Mavericks to be gun shy the next time there’s a risk to take.

Both sides have moved on, with Rondo landing in an interesting situation in Sacramento. Cuban and the Mavs will be looking to roll the dice again.

Expect Rio Olympics to be Mike Krzyzewski’s last run as Team USA’s coach

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There was a lot of speculation that after the 2012 London Olympics, that would be it for Mike Krzyzewski as Team USA head coach. Coach K would go back to “just” coaching Duke and let someone else take over the international big chair, he’d done his share, put up with enough egos.

Except he decided to stay on for four more years. Krzyzewski will coach Team USA in Rio next August for the 2016 Olympics.

But that’s it, suggests USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo, speaking to Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Colangelo: This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

It takes a special guy to coach Team USA, someone rises above the agent/shoe politics that can dominate the organization and selection process. Coach K has been able do that, as his 75-1 record overall (52-1 in official FIBA events) record indicates. The elite of the game want to play for him, he knows how to recruit.

Who could step into his shoes and rise above like that?

The two leading candidates are considered to be Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers.

Popovich, a former Air Force man, makes the most sense. He is fully capable of rising above the politics, but he also has a poor history with Colangelo. Can the two men get past that to forge a deal? If not, keep an eye on Rivers (who gets along with most players).

After Coach K, they have some massive shoes to fill.

Tony Parker says for Spurs this is “last crack at it to try to win it all”

Tony Parker, Tim Duncan
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San Antonio won the offseason.

They landed LaMarcus Aldridge. They brought back Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Tim Duncan agreed to return. They got David West to decide to come for pennies on the dollar. They improved one of the best rosters in the NBA last season. They even won Summer League.

The Spurs are a title contending team, but one in a loaded Western Conference. What could make the difference is hunger — which team wants it the most? Which team plays with the right level of controlled desperation?

Tony Parker says don’t count out the Spurs in that category. Parker did an interview with France 24 and said he and the team realizes this is their last shot with this core (via the San Antonio Express-News).

“It’s been an unbelievable summer for us. LaMarcus is going to help us a lot. I’m so happy that Manu and Timmy are back. And so we’re going for a last try, a last crack at it to try to win it all.”

For the Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Thunder, Rockets and maybe Grizzlies, the first key in the West will be just staying healthy. There is no margin for error.

But after that it will be about desire, about execution, and in the end about matchups come the playoffs. And in what will be the last year for Duncan and Manu Ginobili, not to mention David West’s long career, there will be plenty of desperation and energy in San Antonio. Predicting things in the West now is impossible, but in the end expect the Spurs to be in the mix.

 

Gilbert Arenas on LeBron James: “James isn’t a #1 option..and yes I (didn’t stutter)”

LeBron James
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Gilbert Arenas took to Instagram to critique the best player walking the face of the earth — LeBron James — and, for the most part, there was nothing but praise.

this person comes around once in a blue moon…a man whos so physically gifted he could walk into any sport and be a HOF’ER off his natural (God given ability) last person who was this gifted in sports might have been #BOJackson

Nobody sane really questions that LeBron rivals Wilt Chamberlain as maybe the two most physically gifted players — guys far ahead of their peers — in NBA history. But we are at the point in LeBron’s career where we are comparing him to the other All-Time greats and starting to figure where he ranks in the pantheon (a process that is ongoing as LeBron is still in his peak, his legacy still forming).

That’s where Arenas dropped the bomb.

James isn’t a #1 option..and yes I (didn’t stutter) he lacks #selfishness so he will always need a go to guy like wade was or kyrie.. he lacks what jordan and kobe were..great 1 on 1 players… he needs a pure scorer beside him so he can carry the TEAM load…he gets bashed alot by media becuz he doesn’t take over like #MJ or #KB but #LBJ is MAGIC with Jordan like athleticism..so he walks into stats without trying and when forced he will give u 41 12 8…the finals was the first time in his career he was physically pushed to the limit becuz he had no one to defur to

I think Arenas has a narrow definition of a No. 1 option.

Which was evident in his game, but that’s another story.

Arenas seems to defined a No. 1 player as a guy who can take over a game in isolation settings — that is debatable in any era of basketball but particularly now in the Thibodeau/overload era where defenses stack up against isolations. Still LeBron does pretty well in those settings. Last season (per NBA.com/Stats), James ran the second most isolation sets in the NBA to James Harden (at 458) and scored .93 points per play on them. That’s not mind-blowing, but it’s in the top 25 percentile. He is very effective in that setting.

What makes LeBron different is that ability to pass out of that isolation set and find the right player at the arc or making a cut. His passing ability opens up the floor.

Arenas then says the thing that really allows us to poke a hole in his argument.

like u ppl have no idea what he could do if he had (1) season just 1 selfish season like kobe did in 2005-06 he will avg 40+ 11 9 and no one could do shit about it…it’s sad the world wont get to see Who I’m talking about becuz his legacy is built on winning.

The problem with LeBron is he wants to win more than rack up numbers? Not sure most of us see that as a flaw.

Arenas ends with more praise for LeBron.

this man could be the second best 3rd for sure player to ever play when it’s all said and done around 2020+and he didn’t even tap into his ability to be GREATEST..

I’m not sure where he ends up on the all-time rankings (which are subjective in the first place), but putting rings above numbers will not hurt his standing in my mind.