Kurt Helin

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DeAndre Jordan on gold medals: “I think they’re above NBA rings”


Spoken like a guy in Rio trying to win one, DeAndre Jordan is pumping up the value of a gold medal.

Jordan and the rest of his USA teammates enter the win-or-go-home tournament phase of the Rio Olympics on Wednesday, taking on Manu Ginobili and Argentina (5:45 Eastern on the NBC Sports Network). The Americans have not dominated the competition, they need to play better (particularly on defense), but they remain the heavy favorites to win gold.

Jordan spoke with Marc Stein and Mark Schwarz of ESPN about the USA’s three-game quest for gold.

“I think they’re above NBA rings,” Jordan told ESPN… “I may get in trouble for saying that, but I believe that. I feel like this is more special. You’re not just playing teams in the U.S. You’re playing teams from all over the world. And this is even more special because there’s an NBA champion crowned every year, but this is every four years.

“You’ve got to really think about that, man, because it’s extremely special.”

The Twitter snark will start in 3…2…1…

Jordan is right, a gold medal is extremely special. Fewer NBA players have one of those than an NBA title. It is an experience and a chance to represent your country not a lot of people get.

But it’s different from an NBA title. The grind, the marathon, that a team must survive to win an NBA title is a tougher road than even this USA team faces to win gold. The mountain to climb to get an NBA title is much more challenging — the separation between the quality of teams at the top of the NBA is narrow, that is not the case in the Olympics. Jordan knows that, he has been on a good Clipper team that can’t get out of the second round.

That said, Jordan should be pumping himself up to win gold — he needs to play better to make sure the USA gets one.

Hornets’ Charlotte arena renamed “Spectrum Center”

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If you’ve followed the NBA for years, then you remember Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson playing at the Philadelphia Spectrum. That legendary building was torn down six years ago.

But now there is a new Spectrum in the NBA.

The Charlotte Hornets’ arena, which had been called the Time Warner Center, will now be called the “Spectrum Center” the team announced Wednesday. The reason is part of the rebranding of Time Warner in its merger with Charter (Spectrum is the name of Charter’s digital services for consumers).

From the official press release:

“We are pleased to have Charter’s Spectrum brand become a part of our arena as Charter prepares to make its entrance into the Charlotte area,” said Hornets Sports & Entertainment President & COO Fred Whitfield.  “We look forward to partnering with Charter for many years to come as we continue to provide the best in sports and entertainment for Charlotte and the Carolinas at Spectrum Center.”

Nothing else changes, this is just a renaming.

The now Spectrum Center was to be host to the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, but the league pulled it in protest of the HB2 “bathroom law” put in place in the state. This season’s All-Star Game appears headed to New Orleans, but the game could come to Charlotte in 2019 if there is a change in the law (2018 is in Los Angeles).


Reports out of China say Yi Jianlian to Lakers deal done, nothing confirmed stateside

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As was reported Wednesday night, it looks like the Lakers are bringing 7’0″ power forward Yi Jianlian back to the NBA.

Nothing has been confirmed by the Lakers, but multiple reports out of China now say that the deal is done.

Marc Stein of ESPN (who broke the story) also had this statement from Guangdong Southern Tigers, Yi’s team in China.

“In order to help Yi seize this opportunity to play at the highest stage of [the basketball] world and unfold his capability, in order to help Yi fulfill his dream and goal, we are offering our unconditional support and cooperation to Yi to make sure he joins Lakers. Best wishes to Yi for his bright future in NBA,” Guangdong said in a translated statement.

Those financial figures seem to be low (which makes sense, Yi made $3 million in China, a veteran minimum deal would be a steep play cut). From Marc Stein:

Yi was the be best player on a weak Chinese team in Rio, averaging 20.4 points on 16.4 shots per game. Jianlian relied too much on the long two and never developed NBA three-point range in his five NBA seasons (the last one in 2012). He was then a below replacement level player.

The fit is a little odd — Yi is a 7’0″ power forward. The Lakers will start Julius Randle there, then both Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance could spend time there as small-ball fours. Maybe the Lakers see Yi as a solid reserve, and it is just a one-year deal, but they had better not be taking minutes away from developing their young players to get him run.

Watch wild “scorpion” dunk over three people from NBA house in Rio

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There is an NBA House in Rio during the Olympic games. Because the Olympics are all about brand promotion. And probably some other stuff as well, but brand promotion seems to be at the top of the list, and the NBA marketing people don’t miss a chance to promote the brand.

At that NBA house, 6’1″ Jordan Kilganon threw down this impressive scorpion dunk over three people. It’s worth watching.

It’s not quite Aaron Gordon/Zach LaVine impressive, but it is August, and you’re not likely to see another dunk this good unless Vince Carter and Frederic Weis suit up again.

Special summer: USA’s Kyrie Irving could win NBA title, Rio gold

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — When he wakes up in the morning, Kyrie Irving first looks at the scar stretching across his left knee, an enduring symbol of his journey over the past year.

It’s been quite a climb.

“It’s crazy to see how it’s worked out,” he said.

At this time last summer, Irving, the U.S. Olympic team’s ankle-breaking point guard – and kid brother to his doting teammates – was at a personal low point.

Playing in his first NBA Finals in 2015, Irving shattered his kneecap while banging into Golden State’s Klay Thompson in Game 1. The freakish injury not only cost the Cleveland Cavaliers a possible championship, but brought more criticism to Irving, who played in just 11 games in college because of a foot injury and has battled assorted maladies during his career.

He had been knocked down before, never like this. Bedridden at first, he graduated to crutches and endured grueling hours of rehab.

Once he started running again, he never stopped.

Irving returned from the injury and, along with LeBron James, led the Cavs to a historic comeback championship – Cleveland’s first since 1964 – this season. And as if lifted from a Hollywood screen play, Irving’s game-winning 3-pointer in Game 7 came from just a few feet from where his knee buckled the previous June.

Just 24 and maybe only beginning to tap into his potential as a player, Irving is now on the verge of pulling off a rare doubleheader – an NBA and Olympic title in the same year.

“It would be great,” he said Tuesday following practice. “I just want to get it done.”

It won’t be easy. Nothing has been in the Rio Games for the U.S. team, which escaped three close calls while going 5-0 during pool play. The Americans, seeking their third straight gold medal, will face another tough test in Wednesday’s quarterfinals against Argentina, the last team to beat them in Olympic competition and an experienced group featuring future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili and a handful of current and former NBA players.

In his first Olympics, Irving knows the stars and stripes on their jerseys are also bullseyes.

“All the pressure is on us every single time we take the floor, which I happily accept,” said Irving, who tied a U.S. record with 12 assists in a win over France. “You gotta respect those guys. They make great offensive plays as well as defensively. You gotta be well prepared.”

Irving has learned there are no shortcuts to greatness.

Following his injury, Irving received support from family and friends. However, he realized that if he was going to make it back and be better than ever, there was only one person who could lift him.

“I just had to figure it out on my own,” he said. “I was going to be the only one who was going to get myself out of that funk. I just had to climb out of it. It really took a lot of pride, a lot of anger, built-up rage that I just had to let go. I just had to attack my rehab and attack the little things that were going to make the biggest difference when I came back.”

Irving has been re-united on Team USA with coach Mike Krzyzewski, who recruited him to Duke but only had him on the floor for a fraction of his freshman season. When Irving considered going pro, it was Coach K who encouraged him to take the leap.

They’ve remained close and Irving has had to accept his coach’s praise and wrath.

“I don’t think we would be able to speak genuinely about each other if we didn’t have a genuine relationship,” Irving said. “I’m very fortunate to have a mentor like that and have a guy like that in my corner.”

His teammates have Irving’s back as well.

Stars in their own right, they’ve watched him mature during his short stint on the national team. They also appreciate the work and sacrifice that went into his recovery.

“That just shows how relentless he is,” U.S. center DeAndre Jordan said. “He’s a warrior. I have so much respect for Kyrie. A lot of guys could feel sorry for themselves, but that wasn’t him. He came back with a vengeance, had a hell of a season, led his team to an NBA Finals and ultimately to a championship.

“I have a lot of respect for that guy as a leader.”

While the past year has been richly rewarding and satisfying for Irving, there’s unfinished business.

“I’m glad, but it’s not over yet,” he said. “I still have one more thing to do and that’s get a gold medal with this great team.”