Rest of world not really thrilled with under-23 Olympics idea

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After the Olympics end the discussion of whether future games should follow the soccer model and be an under-23 event will grow louder.

But a lot has to happen to pull it off. FIBA has to buy in. The elite players have to by in (they have the ultimate power because if the elite players stay away from the World Cup it will die fast).

And the rest of the world has to buy in — you think the USA should send an under-23 team while Spain still gets to send the Gasol brothers? No. It’s all or nothing and the NBA owners want to change the rules for the rest of the world.

And the rest of the world may not be so thrilled with the idea. Certainly not the guys from Russia and Lithuania, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports.

“I would hope that the countries would be in an uproar about this,” Russia coach David Blatt told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday “Who is one country to determine for everyone how international basketball should be played, and particularly how the Olympic Games should be managed? It’s not supposed to be like that. If it’s a global game, it’s a global game.”

“We went to the qualification in Venezuela on the first of June, and some of our players came straight after they finished (professional) seasons,” (Lithuania’s coach Kestutis) Kemzura said. “Of course (the Olympics) matters. We were fighting for this place. I don’t understand this idea of sending younger players, not sending our best to the Olympics. I do not understand it.

“If we leave everything on money, and money runs the show, where’s the sport? Where’s national team idea?”

The idea of changing the Olympic basketball tournament to an under-23 event is an NBA and American driven discussion. And like most American-driven pushes for change, it’s about money.

NBA owners — with David Stern as the front man — love the idea of changing the Olympics because they want to make more money by having a piece of the largest international tournament. Their goal is to partner with FIBA on a growing World Cup or start a new event. The owners see the Olympics as a cash cow they don’t get a taste of.

That’s not how the owners will sell it, they will say this about injuries and health concerns of the players they care so much about. However, the advanced stats and studies show the risk injury does not go up and actually guys tend to play better coming off these kinds of events. Don’t let anyone tell you differently — this is all about money. It’s always about money for the owners.

All of which is to say this is a really hard sell. Other countries will be hesitant (the NBA owners will have to share the wealth from their new event, and they don’t share money well). Star players — who see the Olympics as a proven way to grow their global brands (and you can throw in patriotism if you want) — will be hesitant. Shoe companies will be hesitant (back to the brand thing). Plus, it just feels wrong to say the best players in the world (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant) can’t come to the Olympics.

But opposition has never stopped the NBA owners before. They will continue to make this push. Stern is just starting to learn what he is up against.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.