USA v. Angola preview: Charles Barkley was right about Angola, it is in trouble

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teamusa.jpgThe USA has not had to be an impressive team to win in the group play portion of the FIBA World Championships. They have been so much more skilled and athletic than the teams they faced (save Brazil) that they could basically coast.

But entering the 16-team knockout stage of the World Championships Monday things….

Will remain the same. I mean it’s Angola.

To quote Charles Barkley from the 1992 Dream Team: “I don’t know anything about Angola, but I know they’re in trouble.” (He then proceeded to throw a hard elbow at an Angolan player during a 38-7 USA run, then explained it afterward saying the guy might have thrown a spear at him. Classy.)

Okay, we know a little more about Angola now. We know that they are the six time defending African champions. They beat Germany (sans Dirk) and Jordan to get out of Group A. However Argentina, Serbia and Australia dispatched them with ease.

Angola comes in with one of the worst offenses to advance out of group play, averaging just 68 points on 45 percent shooting and 30 percent from three. The USA defense should be able to shut them down by and large. Also, this is the one team the USA will be taller than, with no Angolan starter over 6’8″.

The USA will win. Kevin Durant will look good. What matters is how things have changed from the somewhat lackluster USA team we saw in its last couple games. They can get away with another of those performances against Angola, but starting the following three games it could cost them dearly (by the finals they will have to be playing well). Did the days off and some practices help? Are they crisp; is there motion in the offense?

Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN’s Chris Sheridan we need to judge this USA team differently than we did the star-studded Beijing Olympic team.

“I would like for them to be youthfully enthusiastic in trying to accomplish something, instead of trying to be perfect. Being perfect is about those other guys,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, comparing this year’s version of Team USA to the superstar-laden Redeem Team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.

“I think you should always look at the team. If we had all the main guys here, then you should nitpick anything because that’s the world they live in. They always have to perform great, but we have a young group,” Krzyzewski said. “I think our guys have done great, and part of it is this is their first experience. We still have five guys who are 21 years old, and I think they’ve been terrific, and now they get a chance to do something that will be a momentous thing for them in their careers if they can get it done.

“Wanting to win, being enthusiastic, loose balls, getting out in passing lanes, that’s how we have to be with them.

That kind of energy will certainly be part of showing they are ready to take big steps in future rounds. But execution will matter as much or more. That is what we need to see.

Marcus Morris smoked marijuana to deal with anxiety while with Pistons

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When the Suns traded Marcus Morris to the Pistons, he called it “betrayal.”

It wasn’t that, but it’s also worth understanding why he felt that way – and what it means in a greater context.

Marcus signed a below-market contract extension to stay with his twin brother Markieff Morris in Phoenix. That was foolish, because it made Marcus more tradable – and the Suns dealt him. Marcus just didn’t understand enough about how the NBA operated.

Why did he make that error? At least in part because he was blinded by a very understandable loyalty to Markieff.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

When the twins were in high school, their house burned down with their family cat trapped inside. Their mother, Angel, moved them and their brother Blake into a small home in Hunting Park with their maternal grandparents, a tight squeeze for teenage boys who would grow to be nearly 6-foot-10. They lived in the basement and slept on a mattress, with no heat and a ceiling that was only 6½ feet high, which made it impossible for them to fully stand up. Yet they were grateful, because at least they had family who cared. Only one in 20 of their friends had a father around — the twins’ dad was nowhere to be seen, either — and their mother worked long hours so she could pay for their basketball shoes and something to eat at supper. The twins leaned on each other for companionship, solace and courage.

“We were just trying to survive every day,” Marcus says. “As a kid, it’s fun for a minute. You don’t see yourself in any danger. Once you become a teenager, you’re unprotected. Now you’re a target. If you’re wearing some Jordans, they’re coming for you. There were plenty of times I had to protect myself. You walk out the door every day looking around, watching your back, just trying to stay out of the line of fire.

“You see shootings, pistol whippings. One wrong decision, one wrong word, and it escalates so quickly into a full-blown war. It’s like that in Philly. You’re trapped in a box. Your opportunity is so small, so once a person gets ahold of something, they protect it with their life. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it.

“We just walked out stressed all the time. I said to my brother once, ‘You know, this is no way to live.'”

The Morris’ situation is unique, but it’s not totally atypical. The black experience in America has always been subject to large amounts of violence. Redlining continues to keep black people in more violent neighborhoods with more poverty, worse schools and harsher policing – elements that continue the cycle.

Those stressors contribute to mental-health issues, and if the NBA – whose players are predominantly black – is concerned about mental health, it can’t ignore this greater context.

The Suns didn’t sound like they empathized. Marcus began his pro career in Houston, and it didn’t sound like Rockets general manager Daryl Morey – who doesn’t have the best track record of discussing mental health – knew how to relate to Marcus, either. MacMullan:

That summer, he refused to go to Houston for offseason workouts and wouldn’t answer calls from the Rockets’ staff. “[Rockets general manager] Daryl Morey is telling me, ‘You’re hurting your career,’ but I was thinking, ‘Well, you guys are hurting my career,'” Morris recalls. “I didn’t trust them. I didn’t trust anybody.”

The results weren’t better in Detroit, either. MacMullan:

Morris couldn’t sleep because his mind was racing all the time. The Pistons tried to make him feel welcome, but he wasn’t very responsive. He was often up all night replaying a missed shot or a mistake on the floor, and his play was suffering. He seriously considered quitting, but what would he do? Go back to Philly? That notion led to more anxiety, more stress. He tried sleeping pills. He smoked marijuana. Nothing granted him peace.

I’m very curious how this will be received. White coaches Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson admitted to smoking marijuana to help with pain after back surgeries, and people were generally understanding. Black player Larry Sanders – trying to cope with anxiety, depression and mood disorders – essentially got run out of the league for using marijuana and espousing its benefits.

White people get more benefit of the doubt on drug use. Physical pain is taken more seriously than mental pain.

Marijuana isn’t the answer for everyone dealing with anxiety and stress, because there is no single answer for everyone. But criminalizing marijuana – banned legally in many places and by the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement – isn’t the answer. The appropriateness of marijuana for NBA players should be explored.

Perhaps it will be as we remove the stigma around mental health. Players like Marcus Morris opening up about their issues is a huge step forward – and especially important one considering the NBA’s majority-black demographics.

It sounds as if Morris is getting far better help from the Celtics. I highly recommend reading MacMullan’s full article for more on that and how mental health and race intersect as it pertains to the NBA.

NBA rookies agree on little, but Trae Young’s shooting and playmaking supremacy comes closest

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You might see stories today about Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr.‘s peers picking him to have the best career among this rookie class. After all, he was the top vote-getter in that category in the NBA’s annual rookie survey.

But 87% of polled rookies chose someone else. That Carter’s 13% of votes led means only so much.

That was the story throughout the survey.

The leaders for predicted Rookie of the Year (tie between Suns’ Deandre Ayton and Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton), biggest steal based on where he was drafted (Timberwolves’ Keita Bates-Diop), most athletic (76ers’ Zhaire Smith) and best defender (Grizzlies’ Jevon Carter) each received less than 30% of the vote in their category. In other words, more than two-thirds of polled players picked a rookie other than the leader in each category.

The exceptions: best shooter (Hawks’ Trae Young at 47%) and best playmaker (Young at 35%). But even he didn’t get a majority of votes. Still, I appreciate many of his peers recognizing his passing ability. That’s his best skill, not the deep shooting that draws so much attention.

Report: Mavericks awaiting potential NBA punishment due to predatory work environment

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The Mavericks’ investigation into their predatory work environment is progressing more slowly than some expected.

The latest holdup?

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

The investigation into the Mavericks’ front-office scandal remains in idle, awaiting input and possible sanctions from the NBA as well as ensuring that details in the investigators’ report are double-checked, sources said Monday.

The hope is that the results can be made public next week. But there is no firm timetable.

Hopefully, the Mavericks identify and fix problems in their organization. No employees should be subject to sexual harassment. That’s most important.

But there will also be a close eye on how the league responds, specifically whether penalties affect the team on the court. NBA fans won’t see the most significant changes in Dallas. Most Mavericks employees are out of sight, out of mind. But fans will watch the players perform, and forfeited draft picks or anything like that will draw more attention.

Report: Nets’ Kenneth Faried charged with marijuana possession

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The Nuggets traded Kenneth Faried to the Nets this summer.

Now, Faried is feeling the consequences of moving from Colorado – where recreational marijuana is legal – to New York.

Valerie Gordon of 27East:

Southampton Town Police said Kenneth Bernard Faried Lewis, 29, known as Kenneth Faried, of Denver, Colorado, was arrested on Montauk Highway at 1:30 a.m. and charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

Police said that Mr. Faried was the rear passenger of a vehicle that was stopped during a sobriety checkpoint and was found to be in possession of more than two ounces of marijuana.

According to the police report, Mr. Faried’s money was seized and he was released on $500 bail.

We shouldn’t outlaw marijuana. That is getting fixed incrementally, but not quickly enough for Faried and many others who just happen to be in the wrong jurisdiction in the wrong year.

The forfeiture of Faried’s money is another evil that must be curbed. Why should he lose his money just because he possessed a small amount of marijuana? I doubt Faried – who will earn $13,764,045 next season – was carrying more cash than he can afford to lose. But police often seize money from people who can’t afford to lose it and who then face insurmountable legal hurdles to getting it returned – even if they’re never convicted of a crime. That is the egregious behavior that should be outlawed.

Speaking of fixes: Why does the NBA still punish players for marijuana? The first violation comes with a warning, the second with a $25,000 fine unannounced publicly and the third with a five-game suspension. If Faried is convicted of possession, that counts as a violation.

Faried is now caught in multiple backward systems.