Kurt Helin

Getty Images

Judge: Jail for Puerto Rico ex-NBA player Jose Ortiz

2 Comments

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)  — Former NBA player Jose Ortiz has been sentenced to 45 days in jail in Puerto Rico for a probation violation involving community service.

Ortiz was accused of not serving all 600 hours of community service after pleading guilty to drug charges. A judge ordered Tuesday that Ortiz serve the remaining 278 hours after his release from jail. He has until May 2017.

Ortiz was arrested in June 2011 after federal agents seized 218 marijuana plants at his house.

The 6-foot-10 athlete is one of the best basketball players the U.S. territory has produced. He played two seasons with the Utah Jazz, the last in 1989-1990. He was on the Puerto Rican national team for more than 20 years and played in four Olympics.

Gregg Popovich working with Coach K this go around as he prepares to take over Team USA

Getty Images
4 Comments

LAS VEGAS — This is Mike Krzyzewski’s last go around as the coach of USA Basketball.

Paul George talked about how important it was for him to be here for that — Coach K was by his bedside in Las Vegas two years ago when George suffered a devastating leg injury, then stayed in regular contact with him for the past two years over recovery and return. Kyrie Irving talked about how important it was for him to be part of this — as a former Duke star who never got to win a title in college with Coach K, he had to be there with him now.

More than just a victory lap for Coach K, this is a summer of transition for USA Basketball.

Gregg Popovich, the next Team USA coach, is at these practices — and much more than that.

“It’s not just him being here (at practice), he’s at every meeting. At night we go out to eat and talk,” Krzyzewski said. “First of all, his input on NBA players for me is incredible. And for asking him what is he thinking about what we’re doing, he sees what we’re doing.

“It’s called succession. The fact we’re both military guys, we understand that I have the unit right now, he’s going to take command over the unit, and we both want the unit to do well. So, we understand that. We’ve been good friends, but this has been great for me, and I think for him too, just for us to bond even more.”

Popovich is honored just to be in the building.

“Being a former military guy, if you can represent your country in any way, that’s always pretty important,” Popovich said. “This is one of the best ways to show that. Our country is a little bit divided in various ways, as we all know. And this is a shining example of teamwork and togetherness and people all focused on one goal. And playing together and just being empathetic for each other, understanding each other, loving each other.”

This transition is going to be smooth, in part because both Krzyzewski and Popovich are both consummate professionals, and also in part because they are great basketball minds.

Also, they both possess the two things beyond basketball acumen that are needed to succeed as Team USA coach. One, guys have to want to play for you. Second, you need the stature to push aside the petty noise and pressure from agents/shoe companies/sponsors to do what is best for the team.

Popovich is going to be great for USA basketball.

After Krzyzewski wins one more gold.

Team USA sticking with system that has worked: High-pressure defense, get out and run

Getty Images
1 Comment

LAS VEGAS — The core of the Argentinian team have played together since they were young teens. Same with the Spanish side. And Lithuania. And Croatia.

“A lot of other teams, other countries, have been playing together since however long,” Team USA’s likely starting point guard Kyrie Irving said. “For us, we all have our regular season games, then of course the playoffs, and after that we go straight into (Team USA camp). So we have to come together a lot quicker than other teams.”

While USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski have put in a culture and a structure — eight of the 12 Team USA members played on the USA Select team that grooms potential future Team USA members — developing chemistry is still the challenge of the Las Vegas camp and ensuing tour and practices in the run-up to the Rio Olympics tip-off Aug. 6.

“I’m not sure it’s a challenge, it’s an opportunity,” Krzyzewski said, using some classic coach-speak. “Bringing in a lot of guys that want to do well and play for their country, to find a chemistry. Today was a really good day for us. We got a lot done today, the guys love one another, they are very unselfish, we got a lot done today.”

The players are a little more realistic.

“We’ve got to make adjustments, we’re all playing different styles of basketball right now…” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s going to take a little work to get some chemistry down, you’re not going to get the full chemistry down (of an 82 game NBA season). You’re just not going to get it. But we’ll get enough to be one team. We got some guys who can play; who can get up and down and make plays.”

That’s where Krzyzewski’s system works — the USA can just overwhelm every other country’s team with depth of athleticism. Coach K puts that to use: A high pressure, aggressive defense designed to force turnovers and rushed shots, which become transition opportunities for those USA athletes going the other way.

It’s worked to the tune of a 75-1 record for Krzyzewski as the USA coach, and that includes a couple of gold medals.

“Basketball is fun when you’re getting stops,” Irving said. “You’re getting out, just playing a free motion basketball. For me, I love it, because I know I’m out pressuring the ball and I know I’ve got Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins — I have all these guys behind me on defense. That’s just an exciting game to watch and play.”

Two guys who have looked good through the first days of camp — and could have monster games in the Olympics, is the big men Cousins and DeAndre Jordan. No other country in the world has athletic seven footers like that (France is probably closest with Rudy Gobert in the paint).

“DeAndre is incredibly unique,” Krzyzewski said. “One, he’s a great teammate. Second, he’s seven feet tall, keeps balls alive on the offensive end, he’s a willing screener, everybody loves playing with him. And he’s a heck of an athlete, not just going up and down, he’s a heck of an athlete going sideways, and so his defense of the ball screen is incredibly important. He reminds me a little bit of how Chris Bosh defended the ball screen in Beijing, where he really comes out and he’s so athletic and moves his feet well.”

Those bigs make everyone else’s jobs easier.

“(Cousins and Jordan) can move,” Lowry said. “It’s going to help us a lot that they can get up and down, move, pace their game and we can throw the ball into them. It’s always a challenge when you got DJ runnin’ the floor like he do, it’s a problem (for opponents).”

The entire USA team is a problem for opponents with their talent and athleticism. As long as they can all get on the same page.

Kyrie Irving on what drew him to Facetime with Kobe: “In terms of a mental approach… I’ll always go to Kobe”

Getty Images
8 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Kyrie Irving has had great mentors he trusts around him his entire basketball career. It started with his dad, who coached him for years. Then there was Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. There were pro’s pros in Cleveland such as Anderson Varejao. Now he’s playing next to LeBron James.

But throughout these latest playoffs, Irving was reaching out to Kobe Bryant — including Facetiming with him right after the Finals.

Why Kobe?

“In terms of a mental approach, as well as some technical stuff about the game, I’ll always go to Kobe, because he’s as polished as they come,” Irving told NBCSports.com, taking a break from shooting his latest ad for Kids Foot Locker, of which his is a primary spokesman. “If you’re talking about a who literally just physically imposed himself on the game every single day, and that mindset, oh I definitely going to talk Kobe.”

Irving admitted Kobe was one of his idols growing up, someone he patterned parts of his game after.

“I never got a chance to play with Kobe, I always watched from the outside like everyone else did — and I’ve been watching Kobe for however long,” Irving said. “I mean, me and my dad used to watch Lakers games and I was just specifically watching his footwork. I’m just studying that dude constantly, constantly, constantly. And once he became a mentor of mine, it was just great.”

Irving said it has been a good balance for him having both Kobe and LeBron as mentors, because they have different leadership styles and very different personalities. LeBron’s influence is felt daily, in a million little ways and some big ones. Kobe provides another perspective.

“I’m very, very thankful to have those two guys in my life in terms of my development because it’s just been great…” Irving said.

“A lot of things that I feel separates (Kobe and I), from an individual standpoint, is very similar. I’m thankful that I have that from both of them, LeBron and Kobe, because they are two totally different guys, and they bring so much to the team, and so much as individuals, I just want to pick their brains on everything.”

DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand Kings’ offseason moves

Getty Images
6 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Out of the NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings first picked up Georgios Papagiannis (via trade), a big, play-in-the-paint center out of Greece. Which turned heads because this is a team that already had DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein in the paint. Clearly Papagiannis was on top of the Kings’ draft board at the time, but for the record still available were Denzel Valentine, Henry Ellenson, and Wade Baldwin. (Valentine and Baldwin showed out well at Summer League; Papagiannis looked like a guy who needed work averaging 5.2 points a game on 35.7 percent shooting, plus pulling down 4.8 rebounds a night, in more than 20 minutes a game.)

That led to this tweet from Cousins (who later said it was about his hot sculpting yoga class).

How does Cousins feel now about the Kings’ offseason?

“I don’t really understand what’s going on. I just control what I can control; I let them do their jobs,” Cousins said as USA Basketball opened up training camp in Las Vegas Monday.

He reiterated other statements along the same lines of “just doing his job.” It wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the front office.

With Team USA, Cousins played with what appeared to be the starting five in scrimmages — Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Cousins. He looked like he’d dropped weight and was moving well in what will be an up-tempo, high-pressure system that USA Basketball likes to run.

In Sacramento, the Kings went on to make some solid, if unspectacular, moves in free agency. They added veterans Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, and Anthony Tolliver. Later in the draft, they picked up Skal Labissiere, who in Summer League showed promise as a potential four to play next to Cousins, one who can stretch the floor and be a better fit than Cauley-Stein (eventually, Labissiere has a lot of developing to do). They traded for rookie Malachi Richardson, who showed promise in Summer League (and defended well). The Kings also let Rajon Rondo go without a fight and will turn the point guard duties over to Darren Collison, who is an upgrade at the spot.

Mostly, the Kings are counting on new coach Dave Joerger to fit all these pieces together in a way that has the Kings defending well and fighting for a playoff spot as they open their new building. We’ll see about that. I think most people are still on board with Cousins — we don’t really understand what is going on in Sacramento.