The Inbounds: Team USA and the meaning of London

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It’s extremely difficult to measure what winning a gold medal does for a player, outside of you know, giving them the actual object and putting a line on a resume. When most people think Michael Jordan, 99 percent of them don’t think “Olympic Gold Medalist.” They think six-time NBA champion, the Greatest of all Time, or “the guy in the Hanes commercial with his own shoe.” It’s really only in the context of the Olympics that we examine these players. In fact, the members of the 1992 Dream Team are known more for their association with that particular assembly of players than for winning the gold medal. The medal was basically the Kia that they give to Rookies of the Year. You care about the award but you’ve already accomplished more for yourself.

And though the teams are worse through the years, the same can be said for those other teams that won. Their players are proud of their medal, proud of their place in history, proud of what they have accomplished. But that doesn’t define their careers. LeBron James was not certified prior to winning the 2012 NBA title despite having won a gold medal in 2008. It exists separate, and every team is constantly being judged against an impossible standard set by the greatest collection of basketball talent in recorded history and the resulting mythology which has followed them.

So what stands before Team USA as the ball prepares to be tipped in the Summer Games’ basketball tournament? It’s a specific question that shifts with each player.

Kobe Bryant: It’s Jordan, right? I mean, that’s what his career has largely become about. It’s not about Magic, despite the Laker connection, his sights are set on a larger goal. If he can’t match what Jordan did in the time he did, he can match him in as many total areas as possible. Bryant can match Jordan’s two Olympic golds in London, and best him in golds in games featuring NBA players. For Bryant, though, this is also a farewell tour to international competition. You can tell from his interviews that he’s enjoying playing the role of figurehead, the vocal leader for Team USA, and making the rounds once more as the face of USA Basketball. This is Bryant’s last ride, and to go out as anything but not only undefeated, but dominant, would be a travesty to his identity.

Losing, as always, is not an option for Kobe Bean Bryant.

LeBron James: James, and this is going to ruffle some feathers, is very much the ’92 Jordan of this team. In no way am I stacking up the Chosen One with the Greatest of all Time in terms of their basketball talents, skills, or abilities. But in Jack McCallum’s excellent book on the Dream Team (released this month), he writes extensively about how Magic Johnson spoke and acted as the leader, but that Jordan was the better player. It was evident in practice, evident in games, evident in all manners. From what we’ve seen in these exhibitions, we’re seeing the same with Bryant and James. In 2008, it wasn’t just close, Bryant’s game was better suited for international play and his desire to be the firepower was evident. Bryant is much more the floor leader than the leader-by-example in these games so far. Bryant will have himself a game or two in these contests, as he’s still capable of dropping 40 on any fool that comes up against him at the right time.

But it’s James’ all-around game that has anchored Team USA. He’s the best player on the team, and that’s what these Olympics are about. No Dwyane Wade, a Kobe Bryant fading back, Kevin Durant not quite there, Carmelo Anthony still only the dominant player in one phase of the game. James is the nexus, he’s the one player that’s capable of everything Team USA needs. These games aren’t just about adding his second medal, but about winning the games as The Guy for Team USA. On a team that’s limited in areas by injury, James is producing in those areas and more. It’s another step in his evolutionary ladder as one of the best players ever.

That, of course, serves a double-purpose. James has long lagged behind other players in terms of international exposure and popularity. There will be a void when Bryant leaves as the most popular international player and both Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, along with Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, are in better positions to capitalize on that. But the international fans really just respond to dominance and in 2008, James was much more of a facilitator and all-around player. He’ll still be playing that role, that’s his game, but an emphatic showing and a bit more control over the game offensively and he could take a big step forward. He’s conquered everything else, might as well go for the Continent.

Carmelo Anthony: It’s not difficult to argue that the Olympics bring out the best in Melo. He winds up playing more of a team-centric style which accentuates his shooters touch, and his body is better configured to attack the international forwards than either the small or power forwards in the NBA. His rebounding is better on display because he operates more off-ball, and he seems like quite the cold-blooded killer under the banner of Olympic Rings. Anthony can use this as a launching point for a career rejuvenation, or maybe better termed, a career advancement. He can learn what he’s best at, where he can succeed the most, and more importantly, that his success isn’t dependent on his dribbling. He’s still a star even if he’s not the one with the ball to start the possession. It’s who ends the possession with the ball in his hands and how they perform that matters. He can see how the world’s greatest contribute in multiple ways, and the approach to defense those players have

Make no mistake, Anthony can play defense, and play it well. It’s a willingness and focus issue that keeps him from being one of the premier defenders in the league.

This is also a huge opportunity for him to put himself back up on that pedestal with the greatest in the game. Anthony was considered one of the elite players in the league until a few years ago, and since then there’s been a separation between he and LeBron, Wade, and Bryant, and Rose, Howard, and Durant have leapfrogged him. But without Wade in position, with Bryant coming back a bit, and Durant not ready for the fullest load on an Olympic team, Melo can regain his footing. He has more experience than Durant and a bigger frame. He and Durant have had some prolific shooting nights in the exhibitions, and seeing which of the two asserts themselves as the third cog is going to be fascinating.

Kevin Durant: Rookie of the Year. Three-time NBA scoring champ. Three-time All-Star. Three-time All-NBA. NBA Western Conference Champion. FIBA World Championship gold medalist. And, should Durant and Team USA win gold in London, the kid KD will have an Olympic Gold Medal as the third or fourth best player on the greatest collection of basketball talent in the world.

He won’t turn 24 until September.

The comments above about Durant’s readiness have little to do with his actual game. He’s there. And he’s been putting in shooting nights, though his number have been a little erratic in the exhibitions. It’s more just about age, experience, and role. Durant doesn’t have to lead this Team USA, it’s stocked with leaders. 2010 was a great chance for him to be the leader for a younger team where he was the most talented player on the floor. This is a great opportunity for him to absorb the knowledge of the older players, and to model himself after them. Durant’s old enough to have his own game certified, and young enough to still be able to learn from the rest of the team.

But at its core, London is just another step in his career, another moment where he advances forward, learns more things, sees more of the world, and may be able to usurp the role of “hero” from LeBron with his popularity and how his game manifests. Durant’s likeability is off the charts, and putting it on a scale like this could have serious impacts for his global identity.

Again, not even 24 yet.

The Rest of the Vets: For Chris Paul, it’s simply another good thing he’s done in a career of good things. Paul’s game never quite seems to fit on the international stage for some reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. It’s also good for him to be around players in game and practice situations that set the bar as high as this team does. He’s in a position to have to translate those habits to the Clippers, and things like this help him with a model for that. It’s also good for his motivation to be around players with championship rings like Bryant, Chandler, and James. It would have been a great opportunity for some development and work with Blake Griffin, had the explosive forward not injured his knee.

Kevin Love gets to mingle with the kind of stars he wants to play with. Not for nothing, but Love and Russell Westbrook, old UCLA buddies, are hanging out. And we all know what goes on at these competitions with the superstar talk of teaming up. Love also gets to put his name under the bright lights, something that’s been a struggle in Minnesota, if he can manage to get consistent playing time.

Dwight Howard is the best center in the league. Andrew Bynum’s probably next. Marc Gasol is up there. But with his performances for Team USA and over the past three year sin the NBA, Tyson Chandler is in the midst of carving out a specific niche for himself in the league. He’s the center you want on your team. He’s not going to get the star treatment or endorsement deals, but Chandler will be remembered and praised for his work in these games. He’s building a legacy without commercials with performances like his with Team USA.

When we look back and realize how under-appreciated  Andre Iguodala is, it will be things like what he gave Team USA in the international competitions that stand out. You also have to wonder if eventually he’s going to get the bug to play with an elite talent of his own.

Like Durant, this is likely to be Russell Westbrook’s international coming out party. He’s been tearing it up in the exhibitions, and with the size luxury afforded to the coaching staff to have him play at the two-guard, he can do even more damage. He’s still going to take a high volume of shots, but there’s enough superior ego on the floor to keep him in check. Refining the fire that burns in Westbrook on the floor by being around players like Bryant is only going to help matters. This is a big moment for Westbook.

You have to wonder how much Deron Williams misses his mentor Jason Kidd, who will be playing across the boroughs from him in Manhattan. But Williams is also in a position to show that he’s still among that elite group. With Brooklyn raising the flag in October, this is the kickstart of what he likely hopes is the Deron Williams’ era. Williams made a name for himself in 2008 by being a better international guard than CP3. We could see the same in London with his ability to defend with more size.

James Harden gets to show Europe how you can cook with a beard.

Anthony Davis: Make no mistake, despite Davis’ limited role on this team, which will consist mostly of carrying bags and getting things for the older guys, and in general taking a lot of crap, this is an invaluable experience for Davis. He’s in a position to be immersed in a culture of winners, surrounded by the players who have been and are willing to do what it takes to be successful. He learns how to handle himself, how to condition his body, how to approach the media, how to mentally approach the game. He gets to absorb Tyson Chandler’s defensive mindset, Kevin Love’s rebounding approach, Kobe Bryant’s preparation, LeBron James’ workout intensity, Chris Paul’s cerebralism. This is the kind of learning experience guys would kill for, and it’s only going to be help him in the long-run. You want to be great? Surround yourself with great. Davis is surrounded by great.

Watch NBA draftees try to identify pop culture from the ’90s (VIDEO)

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Millennials are the last kids to have grown up without constantly having a phone in their hands. The internet was not always available much of that generation, and that’s shifted largely for Gen Z. It’s a curiosity not just to consider the real social skill impact of mobile communication being a constant for kids born after 1996, but for how they intake media and pop culture as well.

Enter the 2019 NBA draft class.

In recent video posted by ESPN, 2019 draftees had to name pop culture items from the 1990s. Present were things like the Easy-Bake Oven, Super Nintendo, music group Destiny’s Child, and movies like “Boyz n the Hood”.

This is where my understanding of how folks intake pop culture really falls apart. Particularly because what I assumed was widespread knowledge was apparently… not.

Many of the draftees couldn’t identify the Super Nintendo system, one of the most popular video game systems of all-time and one that was re-released in miniature “classic” form in 2017. Even further, several couldn’t identify Destiny’s Child, with Beyonce standing front and center. Beyonce!

Most surprising? Nearly all shown in the video could identify “Good Burger” a Nickelodeon skit from “All That” that was turned into a movie in 1997.

For reference, just four of the first 30 players selected in the 2019 draft were older than 22. That means none of them were really old enough to have lived through the skit-into-movie phase of the Keenan Thompson-Kel Mitchell vehicle (as yours truly did).

It stands to reason — for the uninformed — that if you could identify a Nickelodeon movie from 1997 you could identify Beyonce (who headlined Coachella just last year) or a fanny pack (a very “in” fashion accessory in 2019 as a cross-body bag for men).

Via Twitter:

People on Twitter were noticeably upset, particularly with the draftees’ inability to identify Outkast. That doesn’t really surprise me, as I’m not sure Outkast is as timeless as people from my generation think it is. But how can you not identify a Super Nintendo? Andre 3000 and Big Boi sold 25 million records together. They’ve sold 49 million Super Nintendos worldwide. Haven’t these dudes been clicking around on the internet since they were six years old? It feels like a Super Nintendo should have crossed their timelines at some point.

I’m not from the ‘60s or ‘70s but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t identify a Lite Brite or a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots if need be.

Pop culture and how people intake them is so interesting. This video baffles me.

Report: Kawhi Leonard ‘seriously considering’ re-signing with the Raptors

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Kawhi Leonard won another NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors this season. We are now in the thick of the offseason, with free agency fast approaching. That means we are waiting to see what Leonard will do from here on out. Will he return to the Raptors? Or will he take another suitor—potentially the Los Angeles Clippers?

As expected, Leonard has reportedly opted out of the final year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent.

The good news for Raptors fans is that Leonard is reportedly interested in staying in Canada long-term. Toronto can offer him a 5-year, $190 million contract.

Via Chris Haynes of Yahoo:

The appeal of returning home to Southern California is enticing to the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, but with the trust the Raptors built while Leonard led the franchise to its first NBA title by upsetting the Golden State Warriors, rival executives view his current team as the favorite to land him when the free-agent negotiating period begins June 30, sources said.

What NBA stars want and do is anyone’s guess in 2019. It’s hard to predict where these players will end up signing until the moment the ink has dried on the paper.

Many felt as though it would take a championship for Leonard to remain with Toronto past the season. That’s exactly what he delivered, and the team around him appears to be poised to dominate the Eastern Conference should he stay past this year.

Chaos in the NBA is always fun, but Raptors fans have stuck in with this team for a long time and it would be nice to see the “little” guys win one for once. We have already seen Anthony Davis force his way to Los Angeles, and not every major star needs to be centered in New York or L.A.

Kawhi should stay, and I hope he does.

Stephen Curry regrets behind-the-back pass to Klay Thompson in Game 7 of 2016 Finals

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Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is a 3-time NBA champion, and headed to the Hall of Fame. He’s also a 2-time MVP. With that kind of pedigree, he doesn’t have much to regret in terms of his NBA career.

But there is at least one moment he wishes he could get back. Most would assume that it would be the failed breakdown against Kevin Love in the 2016 NBA Finals, when Curry was unable to get around the Cleveland Cavaliers power forward in the final minute of Game 7.

But apparently the one regret from Curry’s career was another crucial moment from that Game 7.

Speaking to the New York Times, Curry said that he wished he had been more careful with the behind-the-back pass he sent to Klay Thompson with around five minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was a turnover out of bounds, and a crucial one at that.

Via NY Times:

“The only regret I do have is the behind-the-back pass I threw in 2016 in Game 7,” he said, referring to a crucial turnover with just about five minutes left in the game, which the Warriors lost. “That’s literally the only regret I have in terms of how I’ve played, and that comes with wins and losses, right? I’m cool.”

Curry and the Warriors have been careless with the ball at times, and are usually one of the highest turnover teams in the NBA. But it’s also that kind of passing that allows the Warriors to move the ball around the arc, and there’s been some discussion about whether those things are mutually exclusive.

In any case, Curry said that he could have easily gone around Love if he wanted to. Love didn’t necessarily agree with that, but no doubt Curry doesn’t regret his decision to shoot a three — he still got a clean shot off that nearly went in. Sloppy turnovers in the final five minutes of a closeout Finals game? That’s another thing altogether.

Rumor: D’Angelo Russell may be open to signing with the Lakers

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D'Angelo Russell didn’t leave the Los Angeles Lakers under good terms. Things went sour between the team and the former No. 2 overall pick, and he was promptly shipped off to the Brooklyn Nets in 2017.

Russell is about to enter free agency, and rumor has it if the Nets decide to sign Kyrie Irving, he will not return to Brooklyn. The high-scoring combo guard will have plenty of suitors, but the Lakers were not expected to be on Russell’s list.

However, according to a story by Bleacher Reports Eric Pincus, there could be some discussion between Russell and L.A. with Magic Johnson now out of the picture.

Via B/R:

Russell’s breakup with the Lakers wasn’t pretty, but it’s difficult to hold grudges in this league. With Johnson gone, some close to Russell have indicated he may be open to the idea if Brooklyn isn’t in the picture.

That’s certainly an interesting idea from a social perspective. But Russell is going to be spendy, and the Lakers won’t have as much money to spend as they previously thought thanks to Rob Pelinka failing to put stipulations about proper timing into the Anthony Davis trade.

Whomever the Lakers decide to add next to LeBron James and Davis, he will need to be a shooter. Russell had a better season from beyond the 3-point line last year, but he has shot better than 35 percent from the arc just once.

I’m not sure that’s a good enough indicator of future performance for a team like the Lakers. The next two seasons will be the most reasonable window for the James-Davis tandem to grab an NBA championship. If Russell can’t be relied upon, it could throw the whole thing out of whack.

Really, the rumor of Russell being open to heading back to Los Angeles is just another story to file under the “the NBA is wild” column.