Tag: Marc Gasol


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.”

Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry among latest big names headed to Team USA mini-camp

New Zealand v USA

Guys want to play in the Olympics.

There is injury risk — just ask Paul George. Players don’t get as much summer downtime to rest their bodies in the offseason. It doesn’t matter. The chance to represent the USA — and grow their personal brand on a massive international marketing stage like the Olympics — has players lining up for the chance to play in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. (Oh yea, Rio is another reason guys are lining up.)

That means those players will be at the Team USA mini-camp in Las Vegas in early August. We knew Carmelo Anthony would be there even though he cannot fully participate, now you can add Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to the list. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN had the Griffin news.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin will participate in next month’s USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas and hopes to play in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, a league source told ESPN.

Griffin is one of those guys who has had injury issues with Team USA. Remember in 2012 he was likely to make the London Olympics roster but tore his meniscus in training camp after stepping on John Wall’s foot during practice. His back injury sidelined him two years ago from the FIBA World Cup.

Then there are the Warriors stars.

The camp also will be crowded with guys like Jimmy Butler of the Bulls trying to earn a roster spot. Stein says as many as 40 guys could be at camp, including Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Gordon Hayward and Mason Plumlee. It’s an important place to make an impression. Players with a long Team USA history and enough talent don’t need to attend — if LeBron James or Kevin Durant want to play in Rio, they are in no matter what they do this summer.

Whoever makes the cut for Mike Krzyzewski’s team, the USA will go to Rio the heavy favorites to win the Gold Medal again. Spain — if both Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol go — will again likely be the biggest challengers.

Draft, trades, free agency: How teams constructed their roster (via Bobby Marks)

150726 gs warriors

If you haven’t been following Bobby Marks this summer on Twitter… you call yourself an NBA fan? The former Brooklyn Nets front office executive has been bringing first-hand, insightful front office thoughts and knowledge to the Twitter table all through free agency. He’s now an NBA must follow.

Sunday morning he put up a series of tweets showing how every team has built its roster using three categories: Draft, trades, and free agency. (For clarification, he counts draft-day trades of rookies as part of the draft.) I thought this was too good not to pass along.

One big takeaway — the draft matters. A lot.

Sure, much of the Spurs contending roster came via free agency, but look who is in the draft column — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili. The Clippers are not where they are without drafting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Warriors drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Thunder drafted Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Yes, the Cavaliers got LeBron James via free agency but does he come if they don’t draft Kyrie Irving? Maybe the most extreme example is the Pelicans, they have only one drafted player on the roster — Anthony Davis.

Fans love trades, and you can get cornerstone pieces that way (James Harden, Chris Paul, Marc Gasol, Carmelo Anthony, etc.). Free agency is exciting and sometimes big names like LeBron, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, or LaMarcus Aldridge move teams. But the draft is where most teams that have a cornerstone player got them. Winning the draft and holding on to those guys is what matters more than anything else.