Coach K: James Harden ‘has been as good a leader as we’ve had’ for Team USA

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When James Harden isn’t busy declaring himself to be the best basketball player alive, he’s evidently been as impressive as ever in the way he’s handled his business with Team USA this summer.

Harden figures to be one of the focal points offensively with Kevin Durant out of the picture, and he’s taken on a leadership role with the team that had USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski singing his praises after practice in New York on Tuesday.

“James has been as good a leader as we’ve had for this team,” Krzyzewski said. “He has a great personality. He is an upbeat guy, smart, and he’s obviously very, very talented. With this group, especially after Kevin left, he has asserted himself even more as an older guy. I know him, he knows me, because we have worked together. He’s really one of our key guys. There is no question about it.”

Interestingly enough, the comments about Harden followed a response from Coach K about the leadership of Derrick Rose — something which isn’t necessary with this team, both because of Rose’s need to focus on getting right from a basketball standpoint, as well as due to having others who are perfectly capable of filling that role.

“Well, not so much leadership,” Krzyzewski said of Rose’s contribution thus far. “I think he’s done a really good job. He needs to keep finding himself and his rhythm and not be worried about leading a team. Harden and Curry are really good with that, but Derrick’s done a good job.”

Krzyzewski doesn’t know if Harden going to Houston from Oklahoma City helped in his maturation, but he sure seems thrilled with the way Harden has performed for Team USA this summer.

“I don’t how maturity develops when I’m not around it all the time,” Krzyzewski said. “I just know that he’s one of the best players in the NBA. And having this responsibility here will only make him better. These guys get better after playing in this, because they go to places that they don’t necessarily go to on their own teams, whether it be in a subordinate role at times, a leadership role, the key player, the good talker, or whatever. James checks every box. I love James. We have a great, great relationship. That communication between the two of us can translate to even better communication with the guys on the court.”

Harden says he’s learned he can be that leader in recent years, and conversations he’s had with Krzyzewski have energized him to take on that persona with the extremely talented Team USA roster.

“I’m capable of leading a team,” Harden said. “Obviously, I’m still learning and have a long way to go, but the first couple of steps is already there. So, trying to be more vocal is part of my leadership role, especially on this team. Guys have the talent but guys are kind of shy and might not want to talk. Coach K had plenty of talks with me, (telling me to) make sure you’re vocal, make sure guys hear you. So, that’s what I tried to do.”

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.