Team USA trying to adjust to FIBA referees, one step at a time

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andre_iguodala_team_usa.pngIf the calls of NBA officials are curious, than those of FIBA referees are completely baffling; calls aren’t even consistent on a play-to-play basis, much less from game to game.

Though the members of Team USA have a few intrasquad scrimmages, a handful of exhibitions, and two preliminary games under their belts, all with FIBA officiating, the Americans are still struggling to adapt to the ever-changing interpretations of common basketball rules. The most notable rule in contention thus far? The traveling violation.

Traveling is very debatable at just about every level of basketball, and the liberal read and implementation of the ruling in the NBA has groomed players to move with the ball in a certain way. That doesn’t mean that FIBA referees are somehow more correct in their enforcement of the rule. In some ways, the interpretation is actually irrelevant. The bigger problem is the lack of officiating consensus. Regardless of how a particular referee might make sense of the traveling rule, there’s no FIBA-wide agreement on what constitutes a travel and what does not.

That’s made it incredibly difficult for the members of all national teams to adjust to the tournament’s constantly shifting standard. However, the members of Team USA seem to think that they have been uniquely victimized by the traveling calls thus far. From John Schuhmann of NBA.com:

The low point was a stretch of 25 offensive possessions spanning the
first and second quarters when the U.S. had twice as many turnovers
(12) as they did scores (six). Four of the 12 turnovers were
travelling calls. The whistle was quick to blow when a U.S.
ball-handler took a step or two before putting down a dribble after
receiving a pass, a call that is not made in the NBA and that will come
into play often for this team that wants to push the ball every chance
they get.

“It’s tough when you’re going full speed to catch the
ball, stop on a dime and dribble,” Andre Iguodala said afterward. “It’s
almost like you can’t catch it.” That travelling rule seems to be
officiated differently every night and is one that the U.S. was rarely
whistled for in the 2008 Olympics. In fact, after Sunday’s game,
Slovenian forward Bostjan Nachbar said that not enough of those
travelling calls were made against the U.S.

“Too many times, the refs don’t call that when Team USA’s on the floor,” Nachbar said.

Either way, it’s a call that this team will certainly have to adjust to
as this tournament goes on, because their margin for error will not be
as great in the medal rounds as it was on Sunday.

Consider Bostjan Nachbar’s statement to be the necessary counterpoint in all of this, and a nice reminder of how quotes to the media act as an extension of one’s agenda, even for ballplayers and coaches. Nachbar, along with every other player and coach in the World Championships, has a reputation to uphold and a team to support. So naturally, the Americans traveled a lot. And just as naturally, Andre Iguodala will tell you that they didn’t.

This is the game that we all have the fortune of playing along with. Yet in this particular situation, neither player is entirely wrong. Both have a right to complain about the officiating, in this game and likely in all of their remaining games. It’s that inconsistent, and though more refereeing complaints hardly makes for interesting theater, that doesn’t make the players’ claims any less legitimate.  

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?

Kyle Kuzma scores on own basket in Team USA-Australia game (video)

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The Lakers are desperate at center. They might even need Kyle Kuzma to play the position. He’ll have to work on, among other things, rebounding.

At least it usually won’t go as poorly as this play in Team USA’s exhibition win over Australia.

Rockets betting on talent of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, everything else be damned

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There is a tried-and-true method for winning an NBA championship: Get two recent MVPs. It has worked every time.

The Celtics paired Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Won a title.

The 76ers paired Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Won a title.

The Warriors paired Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Won a title.

By acquiring 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to join 2018 MVP James Harden, the Rockets are testing the limits of this plan.

Houston upgraded from Chris Paul to Westbrook in its trade with the Thunder. There’s certainly logic to that. Harden is in his prime, so this is the time to push in. It’s almost impossible to win a championship without stars. Stars are also hard to come by. Sometimes, you must just get whichever stars you can and hope for the best.

But Westbrook came at a significant cost.

Houston had to send Oklahoma City top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025. By the time most of those picks convey, the Rockets could be far worse.

The trade is salary neutral for the next three seasons, which partially explains why Houston gave up so much. Most teams would require a sweetener for taking Paul’s contract. But Westbrook’s contract runs a season longer, and the Rockets will owe him $47,063,478 at age 34.

There will be diminishing returns with Harden and Westbrook, two ball-dominant guards. They have the talent to figure it out offensively, though it will require major adjustments to how they’ve played lately. The defensive concerns are far bigger. Both players have frequent lapses on that end.

Westbrook, 30, has also declined the last few years. He remains quite good. But the way he relies on his athleticism, he could fall rapidly.

Based on name recognition on both sides, this is the most monumental trade in NBA history. In Houston, it will likely define the rest of Harden’s prime then – with those picks outgoing – the Rockets’ next phase.

Beyond that, Houston did well to build depth on a budget. The Rockets re-signed Danuel House (three years, $11,151,000 million), Austin Rivers (1+1, minimum) and Gerald Green (one year, minimum) and signed Tyson Chandler (one year, minimum). Most of the mid-level exception remains unused with the free-agent market largely dried up. But hey, luxury tax. Houston could still re-sign Iman Shumpert through Bird Rights.

The Rockets look pretty similar to last year – except Westbrook replacing Paul. That’s the enormous move.

I’m not even sure it will help next year, though. Houston could’ve kept Paul and fit squarely into a wide-open championship race. At least on paper.

The big unknown: How toxic was the relationship between Harden and Paul? Several Rockets denied a problem, but there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Westbrook is better than Paul. The two stars will likely get along better.

But will Westbrook add enough value to justify the high cost? All those draft considerations could have gone toward addressing other needs. Really, just needs. Houston didn’t need another ball-dominant guard one bit.

I support the Rockets prioritizing the present. Westbrook could propel them to a championship.

But given the fit concerns, the cost was too steep for my liking.

Offseason grade: C-