EuroBasket underway, continent’s Olympic qualifying event

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In less than a year, the Olympic basketball tournament will be taking place on European soil. Even if there are times the rest of Europe doesn’t really want to claim England.

Starting Wednesday, the Olympic qualifying tournament for Europe got underway – also known as EuroBasket, or the European Championships. In that part of the world a title in this is as big or bigger than an Olympic title, but this time around the top two finishers in this event get an automatic berth in the London Olympics. Finishers three through six go to the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament next summer to fight with teams from around the globe for one of the final spots in the games.

EuroBasket is filled with NBA players and some of the best teams in the world. We’re going to be writing quite a bit about this tournament over the next fortnight, so here is a little primer of the teams to watch (for more in depth stuff, check out The Painted Area, and follow them through the tournament).

Spain: They are the clear favorites and they are loaded with NBA talent: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez. The guys who don’t play in the NBA are experienced stars on Europe’s biggest stages. So they came out in their opener and sleepwalked to an 83-78 win over Poland — lethargic play in the early rounds by Spain is a sign that it’s a big tournament. They can be their own worst enemy. In that game against Poland, Pau Gasol had 29 points on 12 shots, while Rubio posted a line of 0-0-0. For Spain, anything short of a gold and qualifying for the Olympics is a let down.

After that, things are pretty wide open with a number of teams who could get that second Olympics spot.

France: They have NBA players Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Ronny Turiaf. They will be one of the best defensive teams in the tournament and if they can score they will be a threat in any game. But look for the offense to be streaky.

Lithuania: They played well at the World Championships last year and they are the host of this event — home teams do very well in international competitions (see Turkey in the World Championship finals last year). The guy to watch here is Toronto’s recent draft pick (No. 5 overall) Jonas Valanciunas, who looked dominant at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships and looked good against Russia in a recent game. The team is loaded with experienced, good European players such as Darius Songaila.

Germany: They have the best front line in this tournament with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Like the Mavericks, they surround a good front line with a lot of shooters. One key to watch is Group B with Germany, Italy, France and Serbia — four good teams but only three advance out of group play to the knockout round. There is no room for error (Italy should lose out, but they will not go quietly).

Serbia: The player you know is Nenad Krstic (formerly with the Thunder), but what they bring is some of the best teamwork in a tournament often known for good teamwork. They have had the same team playing together for three straight summers. That matters.

Turkey: They boast almost as much NBA talent as Spain with Hedo Turkoglu, Omer Asik, Semih Erden, Ersan Ilyasova, and Enes Kanter (not as high a level of talent as Spain, but this is a good lineup). They played very well at home in Istanbul for the World Championships (losing only to the eventual champion USA) but how will they do away from home? This is not considered a mentally strong team, but if they put it together watch out.

You can stream all the EuroBasket action on ESPN3.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.