Tag: Team USA

Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler

LeBron James and a golden transformation


A year ago, LeBron James didn’t exist.

After mourning in his house over the loss of the NBA Finals for several weeks, dealing with the way his entire world had been turned upside down, how the public had revolted against him, James was simply absent. He rarely made appearances if ever at the NBA-NBPA meetings in futile efforts to resolve the lockout. He didn’t bring his weight to the negotiation. He didn’t do publicity tours or release cartoons or even commercials. He wasn’t making terrible, facepalm-inducing comments. He was just silent.

He didn’t exist.

Twelve months later, and James’ statements have been made with his actions. And his exposure is not in the form of boneheaded press conference comments or a television special in a plaid shirt, but in the simple step to the podium and a grasp of his legacy.

If the NBA Finals were the rise of James as the undisputed best player in the world and a dramatic shift in his legacy, Sunday’s win over Spain in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympic games was the cementing of that identity. Draped in the American flag on NBC, when asked about his accomplishments over the past year, James responded with nothing complex, controversial, or self-centered. It was simple.

“This is all about USA.”

In truth, the Olympics showed maybe even more than the NBA season what James’ stature is. On a team of the greatest players in the world, James was the rock. When the offense stalled, James would force his way to the rim with his singular athleticism. When the ball movement became stagnant, James would probe, post, and dish, drawing multiple defenders and leaving players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony wide open on the perimeter. It was an elite showing of his all-around, every-position skills.

Late in the fourth, Rudy Fernandez foolishly went to challenge a ball-fake from James, leaving the lane wide open when Marc Gasol rotated to cover an off-ball screen. James detonated to the rim and finished with authority. His three-pointer minutes later was the kind of shot he said he was done with, but its satisfying fall through the net a reminder that there is no shot he can’t hit, no ability he does not have in the bag.

James was not the spokesman on the team, nor the emotional leader. That was Kobe Bryant. Similar to Magic Johnson’s role in ’92, Bryant was the player that spoke first and most authoritatively for Team USA. He spoke on the identity, on their goals, on who they were and why they were there. James, Durant, Melo they all deferred to the five-time champion playing in his final Olympics. But on the floor, just like it was with Jordan, it was apparent. James was the best. Kevin Durant’s scoring ability cannot be bested, and it was a collective effort by Team USA to form a cohesive identity. But James’ ability to defend, create the break, pass in transition or in the post, and to attack the rim separated him.

James is the best player in the NBA, in America, on the planet. And if alien life is discovered and they know how to play basketball, you have to like James’ chances there, too.

James will still be hated by many and there is an undercurrent of rumor that James hasn’t changed his personality, that his new identity is simply the result of a new PR team that has focused on shifting how he relates. He’s no longer as candid, and that’s a good thing. He’s no longer as loose-lipped, and that’s a good thing. He’s abandoned his perimeter game by about 80 percent, even in a game with a shortened three like under FIBA rules. He’s somehow taken the vast number of talents he has and made them make more sense together, linked them to one another.

Maybe he’s not more likable. But it’s impossible not to respect what he’s capable of, and how he leads by example.

The 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in basketball will be remembered for the talk of how they match up with the Dream Team (hint: they don’t), for Kobe’s last run, for Kevin Love’s coming out party and Kevin Durant stepping to the stage as the deadliest shooter in the world (if he wasn’t already). But there will also be the knowledge that there is no step back for LeBron, no reconfiguration of his identity, no regression. After three months of the best basketball he could play, he threw another six weeks on, added his gold medal, and left no doubt.

The King has his ring, and the gold to go with it.

USA vs. Spain for the gold: We know how this is going to end

US forward Carmelo Anthony (R) celebrate

USA vs. Spain for the gold: We know how this is going to end. USA gold.

Spain has some real talent — Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol team up to make what would be the best front line in the NBA (well, maybe not anymore) and they surround the brothers with smart, playmaking guards who can shoot — Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos-Navarro, Rudy Fernandez. Spain can put up points.

And Spain has a plan for the USA — they learned some things in that exhibition loss to Team USA in Barcelona before the Olympics. Spain ran a zone on 15 of the 78 possessions in that game and the USA was 3-for-12 shooting with three turnovers against it. Expect to see a lot more of it now. Also, the USA struggled with the combo of Pau and Serge Ibaka, so Spain went away from it in that game, they will not go away from what works now.

And none of that is going to matter in the Gold Medal game Sunday.

When Team USA is playing well — when they are focused, pressuring on defense, sharing the ball and hitting threes — nobody can beat them. Nobody can stay close to them. Not Spain, not anybody.

And the USA, with as deep a team as they have had (at least since ’92) someone has always gotten hot. Usually it has been designated shooters Kevin Durant (18 points per game and shooting 55.8 percent from three for the Olympics) or Carmelo Anthony (17.4 points per game and 52.5 percent from three), but we have seen spurts of unstoppable play from LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and everyone but Anthony Davis.

When the USA has struggled with teams — Lithuania, stretches against Argentina and even Australia — it is because two things happen. First, they take their foot off the defensive gas pedal, the pressure and intensity go away. Part of the USA’s strength is the depth of great athletes that wear teams down, but if the USA lets Spain have space and time to think they have the talent to make plays. They have to be pressured (and they have the talent to still make some good plays, just not enough).

Second, the threes don’t fall. That is the one thing that could undo the United States in the Gold Medal game. They are going to take more than 30 threes and if they hit 20 percent or less Spain has the offensive firepower to hang. Spain will live in their zone and let the USA launch threes all day.

But eventually they will fall. There is too much talent on the USA, too many good shooters, the shots will start to fall. They may not for a quarter or maybe a half, but they will.

And then the USA will run away with the game and gold. Spain is a good team, but nobody in the world is good enough.

Westbrook suffers mild ankle sprain, will play in gold medal game

Russell Westbrook
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UPDATE 9:56 am: Relax. Go back to drinking your morning coffee and not worry, Thunder and Team USA fans. The update on Westbrook is that he will go for Team USA Sunday in the gold medal game against Spain. Reports out of the Team USA camp are that he is “fine” and will play Sunday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

If this were anything even slightly serious he would not play, so it can’t be too bad.

And now we get to see the Westbrook/Rudy Fernandez matchup on the international stage we have all dreamed about.

12:57 am: It’s not something Thunder fans should really worry about.

Well, unless you think Team USA needs a healthy Russell Westbrook to beat Spain (they don’t, no offense Russell).

Westbrook left and went back to the locker room during the USA’s thumping of Argentina and didn’t come back out. Which raised a few eyebrows. Here is an update, via Adrian Wojnaroski of Yahoo Sports of the NBC Sports Network.

Team USA’s Russell Westbrook suffered a mild ankle sprain, and his availability for the gold medal game on Sunday is uncertain.

Westbrook has been the energy wing off the bench for the USA (the Dwyane Wade role in 2008) and has averaged 9.3 points per game, shooting a respectable 47.7 percent.

He will be missed if he can’t go… but not so much as to suggest Spain has an advantage here. The USA just rolls out more James Harden or Andre Iguodala.