Kurt Helin

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Remembering what went wrong in 2000-2004 Olympics for Team USA

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It’s different now.

Not just that Team USA has lost only once since Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo took over USA Basketball back in 2006 (and have won gold medals and two world championships), but there is now a real program, a culture where the “you must play for USA Basketball” mentality starts young.

It was a prestige honor before, but once they came in and built up a culture, it totally changed into a different dynamic,” Kyrie Irving told NBCSports.com in Las Vegas. “Every generation that is coming up has to come through USA Basketball if you’re, quote/unquote, a top player in the country….

“I myself played when I was 17 years old going into Duke. I end up going (to college) for one year, then I end up playing on the select team that I’m playing against today (the NBA rookies and young stars that the USA scrimmages against).”

What was different back in 2000 — when the USA almost lost in the semifinals to Lithuania and looked vulnerable — and then in 2004 when the USA won bronze? Bill Leopold and Ben Teitelbaum of NBCOlympics.com put together a rich oral history of that time in a story you should read. Here are a few highlights of the 2004 run, when the USA won bronze.

Russ Granik (USA Basketball President, 1990-2000; NBA Deputy Commissioner 1990-2006): What happened was the fear of terrorism.

Mike Breen (NBC Olympics play-by-play announcer): I brought my family, my wife and children, with me on all the Olympic Games but I did not bring them to Athens. There was real heightened tension there about the possibility of something happening.

Chris Sheridan (ESPN basketball reporter): This was the first Olympics after 9/11. Everybody was hearing that the Greeks don’t have their act together and it was going to be dangerous….

There wasn’t what you have now, a desire to play for the national team that was really overwhelming. There wasn’t a program in which guys had come up through the select team or maybe through the U-16 or the U-18 team, which is what USA Basketball has now. It was more of a “Let’s just pick the 12 best players we can and put them out there. Look we’re Team USA; we are going to be able to beat everybody.”

Craig Miller (USA Basketball Chief Media/Communications Officer, 1990-present): Literally a couple days before training camp we were still adding people. People see LeBron James, Carmelo and D-Wade on the roster and they’re like, “How could you lose?” You’ve got to remember those guys were 19 years old, 18 years old, first time they’d ever played internationally, in most of those cases.

Those young players were being coached by Larry Brown, known in NBA circles as a guy who liked veterans over youth — he didn’t like the team makeup. He publicly criticized the team, which added to the tension.

In Athens, the USA got a wake-up call with an early loss to Puerto Rico in group play. Eventually, they lost in the semi-finals to a much better Argentinian team led by Manu Ginobili and a great class of players.

Andrés Nocioni (2004-16 Olympian, Argentina): In my mind, it was kind of that we controlled the game the whole game. We did it really well. I think USA never had the option to win the game.

Sheridan: Argentina schooled the U.S. with picks and rolls on the back-cuts, and that game wasn’t even competitive. Argentina kind of mopped the floor with them.

Breen: The game is still played at its best when five players are working together, and the United States just didn’t have enough of those moments, where Argentina it was like five guys on a string.

In the wake of that bronze (and the sixth-place finish at the World Championships two years earlier), USA Basketball was overhauled. The oral history gets into all of that, too.

Since then, they have just the one loss. The USA — again with a “second team” due to concerns about the host nation — are still the clear gold medal favorites heading into Rio. But it’s good to look back and remember.

Report: Jerry Stackhouse to be named Raptors D-League affiliate head coach

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Last season, NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse was on the sidelines for Dwane Casey as the Toronto Raptors won the most games in franchise history then went deeper in the playoffs than the team ever had before, getting to the conference finals.

Now Stackhouse may be getting his own team — in the D-League.

From the well-connected people at Upside and Motor:

League sources have informed Upside & Motor that the Raptors 905 are expected to name Jerry Stackhouse as their new head coach for the 2016-17 season. The 905 are the D-League affiliate of the Toronto Raptors and were an expansion team last season.

Stackhouse was an assistant coach under Dwane Casey this past season with the Toronto Raptors. Jesse Mermuys left the 905 after one season at the helm to take an assistant coach position with the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving a vacancy in Mississauga.

Stackhouse coached the Raptors entry in the Summer League that just ended.

If Stackhouse’s goal is to get his shot at an NBA head coaching job someday (and you have to think it is), then this could be a smart move. Simply, it is different to be the man rather than be the man next to the man. A little head coaching experience in the D-League looks good on the resume. Show he can do player development, which is crucial in today’s NBA. He can jump from Mississauga back to the NBA sideline in a year or two.

Something to keep an eye on as we head into the season.

NBA players’ union head optimistic lockout can be avoided

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During the Las Vegas during Summer League, I heard people with some knowledge of the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between the NBA and players’ union speak very differently about the proceedings.

The conventional wisdom side says there will be no lockout — or at least one that costs regular season games — essentially because there is so much money on the table for both sides after the new television contract that a deal is getting and will get done. The other side wisely does not underestimate human greed, saying that in the wake of Kevin Durant leaving a small market to help form a superteam there will be a push from some owners for steps to stop that kind of player movement, steps that would certainly lead to a lockout.

The principles involved continue to speak optimistically — that includes in the past NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and again players’ union executive director Michele Roberts to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

“I can’t [discuss the talks] because I promised [not to],” she said. “I’m not going to be too terribly substantive but I will say I do believe and [Commissioner] Adam [Silver], I hope he agrees, he and I continue to maintain a civil relationship. I actually like him. I think that he’s a pro.

“We’ve had discussions. Our teams have been in discussions for some months now and we have made progress and we’re inclined to continue along those lines. We have meetings this summer and we’re meeting next week and [consistently] after that. We’re trying to get a deal as quickly as we can, ideally before the start of the season….

“I’ve heard Adam proclaim his optimism,” she said. “I’ve proclaimed mine, so I would like to sooner rather than later be able to have a press conference where we both stand together and announce together that we have a deal and there will be no work stoppage. There will be no lockout. Having said that, I gotta be ready for anything. But I am optimistic.”

By this December, either side can opt out of the current CBA — unless a new deal is in place by then you can be sure that one side will. That will put a real deadline on the talks because if a new deal isn’t in place by next July 1 there will be a lockout.

Both sides have done an excellent job of keeping what is being discussed in those ongoing CBA talks private, they are not trying to negotiate through the media. That’s a good sign. When both sides start working to spin their stories to the press, it’s to pressure negotiations in the room, to sway public opinion, and that’s rarely ever good for talks.

Last time around the owners won big, pushing the players’ percentage of the league’s “basketball related income” (BRI includes national television deal money, jersey sales, a percentage of local ticket sales and on down the list of nearly all the money generated by the league) from 57 percent to a scale between 49-51 percent. It’s essentially a 50/50 split now. That’s the only number that ultimately matters — that’s the bottom line. The age limit, PED testing, appeals process for league fines, anything else is secondary to the money. If the two sides can figure out the BRI, the rest falls into line and wouldn’t lead to a lockout.

We’ll see if a deal gets done.

Kyle Lowry ridiculous alley-oop to DeMar DeRozan punctuates USA exhibition win

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Kyle Lowry was forced into extra duty Monday night for Team USA, due to Kyrie Irving getting the night off with a thigh bruise.

Lowry played fairly well, finishing with 8 points and 11 assists. Not shockingly, he showed his best chemistry with fellow Raptor DeMar DeRozan — including this exclamation point in the final seconds of the game.

Nobody had a better highlight video out of the USA exhibition season than DeRozan.

Threes fall again, Carmelo scores 19 as USA routs Nigeria in final pre-Rio exhibition

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Now things get serious.

Not that the games suddenly will be closer or more interesting, but the stakes go way up starting Saturday.

That’s when USA Basketball tips off its Rio Olympics run, taking on China in the opener.

The Americans finished their pre-Olympics preparations with another blowout win knocking off Nigeria 110-66 Monday night in Houston. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 19 points for the USA (and postgame he apologized to Vanessa Carlton), Klay Thompson had 17, but more importantly, the USA was knocking down threes again (39.4 percent) and continued to play impressive defense.

Team USA looked ready.

“Yeah, and we hope to get even more ready during the pool play, because then it’s one-and-done once you get into the medal round,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a televised interview post game, referring to the five group-stage games the USA will play first.

The USA struggled from three in its last exhibition against Venezuela hitting 19 percent, but against Nigeria they hit 39.4 percent (13-of-33) led by Thompson’s 5-of-9 from deep. Kevin Durant was also 3-of-4.

What changed with the USA’s shooting?

“I thought we played really good defense,” Krzyzewski said, falling back on the coaching axiom that good defense leads to good offense. “We had played good defense, but (tonight) it led to some fast breaks. And these guys are too good a shooters not to be good shooters. They might have a bad night shooting, but it hasn’t affected their defense.”

There was a bit of a stumble for the USA early as another makeshift starting lineup didn’t blow anyone away — Nigeria went on an 8-2 run to make it a one-point game in the middle of the first quarter. The USA defense was fairly solid, particularly with Houston native DeAndre Jordan patrolling the paint, but the starters were 4-of-11 shooting and were not taking quality shots. But when in came more of the projected starters — Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins — things turned quickly. Thompson hit 3-of-4 from deep to start, the ball moved better, and the USA was up 13 after one and 24 at the half.

Nothing changed after that. Nigeria wanted to run and have an up-tempo game, which is smart in the sense they didn’t want to face the USA’s half court defense, but trouble because they didn’t have the athletes to run with the Americans. So things like this happened.

The USA did that without Kyrie Irving (left thigh bruise) and Paul George Paul Geroge (left calf injury), both of whom sat the game out. Coach K said after the game neither injury was at all serious and both will be ready to play in Rio come Saturday.

Nigeria was led by Chamberlain Oguchi, who played his college ball at Oregon and Illinois State. He had 21 points and his four made threes were the only ones that Nigeria had all evening.

If you’re searching for negatives with Team USA, you could point to Draymond Green’s offensive performance so far, or that point guards who can attack off the dribble may give them trouble. But you’re just looking for the negatives — while this team isn’t perfect they look far better and deeper than any other team heading to Rio. The USA is just far more talented and is the clear gold medal favorites for good reason.