FIBA Americas Tournament became Renaldo Balkman show on Friday

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The 2013 FIBA Americas tournament tipped off on Friday in Caracas, Venezuela, with teams from North, South and Central America attempting to move one step closer to playing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It’s still a bit early to be talking about that since the tournament won’t end until September 11, but Puerto Rico showed Friday why they were earmarked as the favorites heading into the 10-team extravaganza.

Puerto Rico drew Brazil for their first game of the tournament, making it a matchup of the top two teams in the tournament and a likely preview of the eventual championship game. The game lived up to its billing, too, considering the score was 62-61 with 2:28 left in the game before Renaldo Balkman rattled off five straight points to help his country score an eventual 72-65 victory.

Balkman, the Knicks’ first-round pick in 2006, scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots while playing 37 of the game’s 40 minutes — and he didn’t even choke a teammate in the process. Former Boston University standout John Holland added 15 points and nine rebounds while Minnesota Timberwolves dynamo J.J. Barea struggled to 12 points on 11 shot attempts, committing four turnovers in the process. Other notables on the Puerto Rican squad include Carlos Arroyo (7 points, 2-of-9 shooting), Ricky Sanchez (four points, four rebounds and four fouls) and former USC star — and  current 36-year-old chucker — Larry Ayuso (two points, four fouls, five shots).

The only NBA player on the Brazil roster is Utah Jazz draft pick Raul Neto because Nene, Tiago Splitter, Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao all decided to sit this tournament out. Neto isn’t exactly a focal point of his nation’s roster, either, as he earned a DNP-CD in Friday’s loss. Brazil was led by Marcelo Huertas as the Spanish League point guard scored 16 points and dished out five assists to lead his team in both categories. Guilherme Giovannoni added 11 points and Vitor Benite scored 10 to round out Brazil’s double-digit scorers.

Three other games happened Friday at the FIBA Americas and, for those not following along at home, a quick recap is included below.

Canada 85, Jamaica 64 — Canada has the most current NBA players on its roster and, even though those players don’t include Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins or Kelly Olynyk, our neighbors to the North put together a pretty solid squad.

San Antonio Spurs backup point guard Cory Joseph flirted with a triple-double en route to 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, but his scoring total was tied by Baylor Bears sharpshooter Brady Heslip. Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson added 13 points, Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson scored seven and backup Miami Heat center Joel Anthony added six points and three fouls in 14 minutes to round out Canada’s NBA player contributions.

Jamaica has some recognizable names on its roster, but it was Adrian Uter — a burly 6’7 big man that plays professionally in Italy — who led the team in scoring with 16 points to go with eight rebounds. Former New York Knicks center Jerome Jordan added a solid 12 points and eight rebounds while Samardo Samuels was disappointing as he converted on just one of his eight shot attempts for four points in 27 minutes.

Mexico 65, Venezuela 56 — Neither of these two teams are expected to end up qualifying for next year’s FIBA World Cup, but both have rather fun rosters — though a lot of that fun was removed when Venezuela learned it’d be without point guard Greivis Vasquez. The lack of Vasquez, along with rookie Gregory Echinique and Oscar Torres, is likely what led to the host team being upset in their first game of the tournament (that or the fact that Eric Musselman is no longer the head coach due to his demaning schedule as the associate head coach at Arizona State).

Mexico was led by their only NBA player as new Atlanta Hawks big man Gustavo Ayon had a huge game with 22 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks — while curiously only shooting four free-throws compared to 23 shot attempts. Jorge Gutierrez, who spent last year playing in the D-League after a solid career at Cal, added 17 points and former UCLA fan-favorite Lorenzo Mata-Real added three points and four rebounds in ten minutes.

Venezuala thought they got a coup when Donta Smith became a naturalized citizen at the last second, but the former Atlanta Hawks wing scored a disappointing ten points for a squad in desperate need of a scoring punch.

Argentina 95, Paraguay 60 — This iteration of Argentina’s roster doesn’t feature Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni or Carlos Delfino, instead relying on Luis Scola and a whole bunch of guys most American basketball fans haven’t heard of. That roster still had no trouble handling Paraguay, however, as the 35-point difference makes it seem even closer than the game actually appeared. Scola played just ten minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds before taking a seat on the bench to rest for the grueling schedule ahead, but six of his teammates scored in double figures.

We’ll bring you all of the updates you can stomach through the remainder of the tournament with daily previews, recaps and anything else exciting happening in Caracas.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.