Kurt Helin

Rudy Gobert on playing for France in Rio: “I don’t go there just to go there, I go there to win”


LAS VEGAS — France could be the second best team at the Rio Olympic basketball tournament. The USA are heavy gold medal favorites, but France can hang with an aging Spanish team (minus Marc Gasol), Lithuania, Serbia, and the other medal contenders. It’s a team that will feature Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Nando De Colo…

And now Utah’s Rudy Gobert, who announced on Twitter Monday he will represent France in Rio. The 7’1″ shot blocking center didn’t play in the qualifying tournament but will be added to the team for the Games.

“I wanted to go, I just wanted to make sure it was the right decision,” Gobert said at Summer League, where he was watching the Utah Jazz rookies. “After a few days thinking about it, I always dreamed about it. You’ve got some guys I have a lot of respect for, like Tony and Boris, it’s probably going to be their last opportunity to get a medal in the Olympics. I was like, we can do something great, so let’s do it.”

By great, he means get a medal.

“I don’t go there just to go there, I go there to win,” Gobert said. “To win it all, to get a medal. Just go there to win.”

Could he and his French teammates beat the USA?

“If I go there I think we can beat them,” Gobert said. “It’s not going to be easy, they have a great team, but I go there to win.”

Gobert said the Jazz have been supportive, in part because he has had success playing for his national team before — he kind of broke out during the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain (where France won the bronze). The following year got a lot more run with the Jazz and he has quickly developed into one of the best rim-protecting bigs in the Association. He thinks he could see a regular season bounce out of playing in Rio as well.

“I always love to play for the national team. It was great (at the FIBA World Cup) because I wasn’t playing a lot during the season, I got the opportunity to play at the highest level, and we were one of the best teams in Spain. It was a good experience and it always makes me better as a player.”

A number of NBA players (and professionals in other sports) have backed out of these games, in part over health concerns surrounding the Zika virus in Brazil. Gobert is not one of them.

“Zika is not that big of a concern for me,” Gobert said. “Most injuries are on the court, it can happen anywhere, it can happen in the first practice of training camp. I’m not going to stop playing basketball because I think I can be hurt.”

The USA and France are in the same group and will play on Aug. 14. You can be sure Kyrie Irving isn’t thrilled to know that when he drives the lane in that game

Report: Drunk, vomiting Lamar Odom removed from flight at LAX

Getty Images

This simply makes me sad. Lamar Odom is a genuine, open, caring, and kind person — at least Odom I covered and spoke to during his time with the Lakers. There is a reason he to this day has so many friends and people around the league rooting for his recovery.

But Odom clearly is still battling his addiction problems. From TMZ.

Lamar Odom was taken off a Delta flight Monday night after getting wasted in the airport lounge and vomiting on the plane … TMZ has learned.

Lamar went to the Delta lounge at LAX before boarding a red-eye for NYC, and according to eyewitnesses was pounding down beers and whisky. By the time he got on the flight, we’re told he was wasted.

Two passengers in first class tell TMZ, Lamar went to 4B and sat down, but as the plane was about to pull back he bolted for the front, threw up in the galley and then walked in the bathroom and with the door open threw up again. When he came out of the bathroom, we’re told he had vomit on his clothes.

At that point the report says he was “gently” escorted off the plane.

Odom obviously has a history of addiction, which helped hasten the end of his playing career.

Get well Lamar.

Player development guru John Lucas on Sullinger: “Jared still hasn’t figured out who he wants to be”


John Lucas is a former NBA player and coach with an excellent reputation for player development (which is why the Rockets have hired him) and as a guru for guys in recovery and trying to stay clean.

Lucas is tight with newly-signed Raptor Jared Sullinger. For years Boston fans hoped for more out of Sullinger, were frustrated with his conditioning, and he never quite lived up to expectations. With him on his way out the door to make way for Al Horford, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald spoke with Lucas and the former coach was brutally honest.

“I told him, ‘People don’t trust you, and you want to be trusted. You have to give them something to trust you. You have to give them a reason to trust you. You’ve almost got to let them know,’” said Lucas, who recently was hired by the Rockets as head of player development.

“I called him when the season ended, and he said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if I can do all that work again like that.’ And I said, ‘It’s the only way you’re going to make it.’…

“Jared still hasn’t figured out who he wants to be, and when he does, he’s going to take off,” Lucas said. “He’s still fighting anybody and everybody about who knows best. He’ll give in to a point, but he won’t… let… go. And if he’d ever just let go and accept what people are telling him, I think he can be great. I love his talent. I haven’t seen a lot of guys with his talent. He’s really highly talented. He’s got 3-point range. He played well. But I think the Celtics were concerned about his weight all year.”

All year? Since he was drafted is more accurate. Which is probably why Lucas went the tough love route with his comments.

Sullinger averaged 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, he’s an efficient rebounder and can play smart, but he had just a 47.6 percent true shooting percentage, well below the league average. He’s only been in the league four years, he’s just 24 years old. He could get it together.

For one year at $6 million, it was a good gamble for Toronto. We’ll see if it works out.

Pelicans’ Buddy Hield slowly starting to figure out NBA-style game

Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — There have been moments the last couple of days when Buddy Hield looks like he’s figuring the NBA style of game out. Just like he did the college game at Oklahoma, it took some time but he got there. Sunday night against Utah, Hield hit four consecutive 3-pointers late to make it a one-point game. Monday night he got hot in the third quarter, using screens better, hitting from the midrange, and showing off his stepback, pushing the Pelicans into a lead they would never give up. He’s scored 44 points in his last two games.

But New Orleans’ No. 6 pick is still a combined 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) shooting in the two games, and he was 3-of-12 from three Monday. He struggled to create space to get off those shots at time. Simply put, 44 points on 43 shots is not efficient enough.

Why is it working sometimes and not others? What was the difference in that third quarter Monday when he was hitting after a rough first half?

“Coach told me if I don’t make a shot he’s gonna shoot me, so I was just more locked in and focused,” Hield said with a laugh.

“I said a little something to him, but he got the message,” Pelicans’ Summer League coach Robert Pack added.

Jokes aside, Hield is going through the adjustments every top rookie faces — the game is moving a lot faster for him, the players more athletic, and defenses are keying on him in ways he’s not used to seeing. In the first half Monday, Sacramento’s Malachi Richardson did a good job of taking away Hield’s space and denying him the ball. Hield seemed rushed. That’s when he struggles with his shot.

“When he starts to get sped up. Or when he’s trying to do a little too much with the ball,” Pack said of when Hield isn’t shooting like expected. “Sometimes as a shooter, he hasn’t really gotten in that rhythm, and he tries to find it, he hits a couple, then he gets where he needs to move it off him and get it back at a different time. He has to know how to differentiate between the times he needs to go, and when he needs to move it and get it back. I think he’s getting it, he’s gotten better every game.”

“(It’s slowing down) somewhat,” Hield said of the game after three outings in Summer League. “You still gotta play and they guarded me different, they top-sided me all day, it frustrated me a little bit. I’m used to Oklahoma when I would just go get the ball, but now the NBA’s all about spacing and you gotta make more smarter plays. I mishandled the ball a few times, but I’ll get better at that through.”

You could see him learning and adjusting over the course of the game. Coming off screens to get the ball was not something he had to do in Oklahoma, he’s just learning how to do that now. And how to deal with teams sending much longer, more physical defenders at him.

“Teams are coming and trying to put their hands on him, be aggressive, rough him up a little bit, and it’s going to be even more when we get in the regular season,” Pack said. “This is a good test for him to feel what the physicality is like at this level and to play through it and have some success.”

Welcome to the NBA. This is what it’s going to be like every night come October. And Hield is in a different role than he was in Oklahoma.

“I think this summer will give him a feel of how he needs to play in the league, and a test of playing hard, and being patient with his set ups,” Pack said. “In the season there will be more guys on the floor who can do things, so he’ll have help, but this will give him a good test of things he needs to work on before he gets to camp.”

Notes from Monday at Summer League: Thon Maker’s double-double included 10 fouls

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — There’s so much constant action going on at NBA Summer League you can’t take it all in (sort of like Vegas itself). Let me dump my notebook from my first day watching games at UNLV.

Thon Maker had a double-double Monday: 10 points and 10 fouls.

He’s far from the first guy to foul out of a Summer League game — Andrew Bogut and Larry Sanders both did it, for example — but it’s a continuation of a rough week for the Bucks first rounder.

The reasons the Bucks like Maker have been seen in flashes in Las Vegas: The length, the athleticism, the motor, the shooting stroke. However, you can’t understate how much he needs to work on his game awareness. And to get stronger. Bucks Summer League coach Sean Sweeney said it was a good thing for Maker to go against the physical Grizzlies because they also put him in multiple pick-and-rolls and forced him to defend multiple actions.

Maker just needs time on the court. A lot of it. Right now he floats through offensive sets with little intuitive feel, he’s slow to recognize his defensive rotations, and he’s just raw. He needs a long stint in the D-League, where he can get real run. We’re at least a year away from knowing if he can work out. I didn’t like the Bucks taking him this high in the draft, and after watching him, this pick feels more like a reach than I thought it was draft night.

• Toronto’s big man Jakob Poeltl has plenty to like — nice touch around the rim, good footwork — but he needs to get stronger. He clearly is still adjusting to the physicality of Summer League/NBA play.

“I think he has a really good feel for the game,” Raptors coach Jamal Mashburn said. “I had a conscious effort coming into this game, I wanted to post him up more today, not only can he score out of the post I think he can be a playmaker for us out of the post. As this tournament goes on we’re going to try to utilize him more on the block and let him be more of a playmaker.

“He has a great feel. Obviously, he can block shots, he’s in the right place defensively.”

• Memphis may have a rotation player in Wade Baldwin (17th pick out of Vanderbilt). He showed poise and played well. Plus he did this.

Jamal Murray dropped 29 today. He likes the ball in his hands, Denver coach Mike Malone is going to have to stagger him and Emmanuel Mudiay.

• One of the most fun battles of the day, Sacramento’s Malachi Richardson guarding the Pelicans’ Buddy Hield. Give Richardson credit — someone coming out of Syracuse can defend man. He did a good job closing out space and preventing Hield getting the ball where he wanted. But in the second half Hield did a better job using screens to get open, finding space, and using his step back to knock down shots.

• I don’t know if D. J. Stephens can play in the NBA, but the man can dunk.

• I could see Bucks’ second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon developing into a “3&D” wing off the bench.

• Remember when the Raptors took a first-round gamble on Bruno Caboclo? Watching him here, not sold he’s going to become an NBA player. Maybe I’m wrong, but just not that impressed. Doesn’t make the swing for the fences the wrong move, but sometimes those swings lead to strikeouts.

• “This is a learning experience for him as well,” Mavs summer-league head coach Jamahl Mosley said of second-year player Justin Anderson. “He’s got to learn when to push through fatigue, when to make the right pass, the right decision. It’s part of it. He did make some very good decisions passing the basketball, and there also were times he could have made one more pass, or made the easy pass. But again, this is part of his learning curve.”