Pau Gasol wants the damn ball

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Thumbnail image for Gasol_game.jpgMaybe he should start LetGasolShoot.com. That seems to work.

Kobe Bryant was relatively pleased after the Lakers loss to Orlando, saying that after a couple of sloppy efforts the Lakers really turned it on in this one and were just a couple of breaks away from the win.

Of course he thought that — he took all the shots down the stretch (too many with his toe on the line). As he did in Miami on Thursday. When the game gets close, the Lakers go into isolation for Kobe mode and a triangle just becomes something they try to teach kids about on Sesame Street.

Pau Gasol’s pretty sick of it. He wants the damn ball.

“We haven’t been playing with a good flow out there offensively and it takes a lot of people out of their rhythm,” Gasol said. “We need to figure out how to move the ball a lot more so there’s a flow out there, there’s a rhythm.”

When Gasol was pointedly asked if the offense was being bogged down by how many shots Bryant has been attempting. He answered, “I don’t know” at first, but then made the point…

“Kobe’s a great player,” Gasol said. “We have to find balance as a team, as a unit out there. Kobe’s a great player and he’s probably the best offensive player out there. We understand that … But at the same time, we need to find that balance and we need to find balance with our interior game developing, it a little more and using it a little more and moving the ball and changing sides more because, that’s the triangle, that’s what it does … We need to get focused on that a little more. To find that balance, to find that flow.”

Maybe you were expecting Drill Sergeant like yelling and frustration. Not going to happen. You need to be around the mild mannered, thoughtful Gasol for a while to know that is him pretty much yelling. And he knows he has to be careful about speaking out against Kobe on the Lakers, this is still his team. Messing with Kobe rarely ends well.

But Gasol has a point — Bryant took 16 shots in the fourth quarter against Orlando, Gasol just four. And three of those four came on putbacks off offensive rebounds.

Kobe Bryant is the best closer in the NBA, despite that fact the Lakers become easier to defend down the stretch of games because of all the isolation. When the Lakers did run plays, it was to get Kobe the ball coming off screens. There becomes little variety to what the Lakers do late, they just have the talent to get away with it.

There’s a myriad of issues slowing the Lakers offense down (Orlando’s defense was one of them) like not running the offense properly, not spacing the floor well, being able to get passes into the post, not cutting and moving without the ball, not hitting outside shots so that defenses can collapse on Gasol and Andrew Bynum. To name a few.

Getting Gasol some crunch-time touches doesn’t solve all of these issues. But it’s a start.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

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Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

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Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

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Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.