FIBA World Championships Day 1: While the USA cruises, Spain loses

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France_Spain.jpgYou know the USA was hardly tested in a 106-78 win over Croatia, but the other FIBA World Championship favorite Spain lost its opener. What that means may not be all bad — if Lithuania wins that group (no sure thing yet, by any stretch) the USA and Spain could meet in the finals, not the semi-finals as would happen if Spain wins its group.

But that is a long way off. Here is a recap of Day 1 action from Turkey:

France 72, Spain 66: Portland Trail Blazers fans should be smiling.

Nicolas Batum led this huge upset of the tournament co-favorites, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the second half and five in a row during a crucial series in the fourth quarter. Former Seattle Sonic Mickael Gelabale (he who had a hard time seeing the court because guys like Ray Allen and Kevin Durant were in front of him on the wings) had 16 points in the game and also was a second half force.

France struggled early on because of Spain’s defense, which had the team up 10 in the second quarter. But they seemed to relax in the second half and late lost it completely. Rudy Fernandez was a large part of that — he had a second half technical and some key turnovers in the loss.

Greece 89, China 81: Greece also got ahead early on and then relaxed, but was able to hold off a late charge from China.

Greece raced out to a 14-5 lead and led by 10 at the half, but a 12-2 China run capped of by a monster dunk by former Laker Sun Yue got the game within three in the second half. China actually took the lead on a Yi Jianlian (Wizards) basket with 8 minutes left but then Greece turned on the ball movement again and was able to pull away for the win.

Turkey 86, Ivory Coast 47: The building was packed and loud for the tournament hosts — 7,700 people — as Turkey looked good in its opener.

With Ersan Ilyasova of the Indiana Pacers leading the way, Turkey jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back. While the Ivory Coast cut the lead to six in the second quarter they never really threatened after that.

Argentina 78, Germany 74: About 1,000 fans from Argentina were in the stadium making noise, and the South Americans needed the boost to win a game that was not supposed to be this close.

Germany was actually ahead 42-39 at the half thanks to Demond Greene, but Argentina went on a 14-0 run to start the second half and was able to hold on. Argentina’s star point guard Pablo Prigioni did not play in this one, he was officially resting. We’ll have to follow that one to see the reality.

In other action: Serbia 94, Angola 44; Slovenia 80, Tunisia 56; Lithuania 92, New Zealand 79; Brazil 81, Iran 65; Russia 75, Puerto Rico 66; Australia 76, Jordan 75; Lebanon 81, Canada 71. To get more about these games, go to FIBA’s official tournament Web site.

Counter-report: Kyrie Irving has been ‘communicative and forthright’ with Celtics

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Kyrie Irving, according to a report, has ghosted the Celtics as free agency approaches.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Whoever leaked the initial information wanted to make Irving look bad. Whoever leaked this wanted to make Irving look good. Who’s telling the truth?

Who knows?

Maybe Irving’s and Boston staffers have differing definitions “communicative and forthright.” They could each be telling their own truths. But neither side is above spreading inaccurate rumors to sully someone else’s reputation.

Breakups get messy, and it appears this one is already there.

Beyond all the noise about how Irving is leaving, the most important detail: This is yet another report he’s leaving for the Nets.

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.