Time for FIBA/NBA to adopt soccer model: Only one major tournament every four years

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Team USA rolled easily through the World Cup, winning gold and no team getting closer than 21 points to an American squad lacking a lot of the top stars of the NBA.

That brought out some sharp knives from the anti-FIBA crowd — a group usually led by owners who don’t like their players taking risks when they don’t profit, and quality college coaches like John Calipari on the outside of the Mike Krzyzewski/Jerry Colangelo circle of power. Taking up their banner in an aggressive, must-read column was Adrain Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, who wrote this in the hours after Team USA was dancing on the podium.

Outside of Derrick Rose using FIBA as a Double-A rehab assignment and some sportswriters beefing up on Marriott points for post-summer vacations, this tournament was a waste of everyone’s time and resources. They used to call it the World Championships. Now it’s the World Cup of Basketball. This is certain: It has outlived its usefulness for the NBA, and owners and executives will be wise to petition FIBA to reshape the future of international basketball.

As one GM told Yahoo Sports, “[Outside of the U.S. team], there’s more talent and more interest from basketball fans in the NBA summer league than this event.”

First off, Marriott points are important. Never underestimate what traveling NBA writers will do for them. Also the statement about American fans caring more about Summer League than the World Cup is fact.

Wojnarowski advocates not sending our best players to international events anymore.

There certainly are some legitimate concerns about the grind FIBA events puts on NBA players — particularly international players. For the USA Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and LeBron James can all stay home and it doesn’t matter, we win easily. The real pressure is on the Pau Gasols and Tony Parkers (and other non-NBA stars) where the country doesn’t have the depth of talent and their chances to do well fall fast when a player begs out.

(I’m not going to get into Wojnarowski’s anti-Kryzyzewski rant, that’s a power play for college coaches that has land mines of biases and agendas on every side. And it is moot to my point.)

But the other side is it’s not just up to NBA owners and GMs — the NBA stars want to do this. Kevin Love reportedly was near tears when he called Colangelo and had to say he would not join Team USA this summer. Yes, part of it is those players get pressure from their shoe companies (Nike still has a lot of sway with Team USA) and other sponsors to step on the biggest international stages. But also some guys really want to represent their country and want that gold medal on their resume — DeMarcus Cousins kept coming back year after year to prove he and his game had matured to the point USA Basketball needed him. And he got it. Giannis Antetokounmpo raved about playing for Greece. We could go on and on here. Who cares if fans back stateside don’t really care about the World Cup, the players and the rest of the world does.

Some want to see a standoff.

But basketball and the NBA are not the first sport or league at this crossroads — soccer has been there. And come out with a plan that works for them.

Soccer has one major tournament every four years (the World Cup) and the qualifying that runs up to it, but the Olympics are an under-22 showcase event. Other international tournaments get spotty participation.

FIBA and the NBA (not to mention the top leagues in Spain, Italy, Turkey, etc…) could come to a deal here. For marketing reasons and the platform here in the USA, it would make more sense to have the Olympics as the showcase event (and expand that to a 24-team tournament) and have the World Cup become the under-22 event. (Yes, I realize FIBA would not love this arrangement, I’m just saying from the American perspective this makes the most sense. Switch the World Cup and Olympics standing and you get the same result.)

Will there still be injuries and risks? Of course. Paul George’s injury was a fluke but the kind that will happen again. It’s happened in soccer: As a Newcastle fan I watched Michael Owen blow out his knee in the 2006 World Cup and knew we’d lost him for the season. It’s part of it.

The idea is to lessen the demand on players to go home and play seemingly every summer for their national teams and wear themselves down. However, once every four years they can don the uniform of Lithuania or Greece or wherever and represent their country with pride. Let the players pick their spots. The idea is finding a balance that doesn’t currently exist. The NBA owners don’t control the players, nor does FIBA and their national teams.

FIBA itself will make finding that balance hard. They benefit from a major tournament on each continent plus a World Cup plus Olympics and they have about the same moral compass as FIFA.

The NBA may have to take unilateral steps first. That’s fine — so long as it is a negotiated deal with the players. The owners and the NBA don’t get to decide if and when the players can represent their country. That’s a negotiated deal.

Still, the model is there to make this work better. It’s just a matter of getting everybody on the bandwagon.

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
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Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.

Kevin Durant: ‘Knick fans, those Knicks media, they bothered me the whole year’

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No, I never planned on it — going to the Knicks. That was just the media putting that out there… So around February, as I was thinking, I didn’t want to be the savior of the Knicks or New York. I didn’t care about being the King of New York, that never really moved me. I didn’t care about being on Broadway or that s***.”

“I’ve seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn’t see that. So that whole brand of the Knicks is not as cool as let’s say the Golden State Warriors, or even the Lakers or the Nets now. You know what I’m saying; the cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Kevin Durant has not held back from taking shots at the Knicks since signing with Brooklyn. Saturday, Durant turned his attention to Knicks fans and media.

Durant appeared on rapper Joe Budden’s podcast Saturday and, among other things, fired shots when asked if he could “leave the Knicks alone.” (Hat tip Nets Daily.)

“What you mean? They bothered me for a whole year! I was just trying to chill and just play and worry about my season. All the Knick fans, those Knicks media. They bothered me the whole year. But when it’s my time to talk about it, I gotta shut up now? I’ve been wanting to ask these questions for a year. Now that I’m available, it’s a problem?”

Before his free agency, the conventional wisdom around the league was that Durant was headed to the Knicks, possibly along with Irving or another star (there was a lot of smoke on the topic). Durant denied that after the fact. Either way, there certainly was anticipation in Manhattan, which means Durant was reading about it in the media and seeing it on social media. Durant pays attention to all that, and it doesn’t motivate him (it seems to have the opposite effect, actually).

Durant made his choice, and he went to the more stable organization right now, the one with the better foundation of players. Now he and Irving have to win, which will not be that easy with Durant coming off a torn Achilles.

That doesn’t mean he’s done taking shots at that team just over the bridge.

Steve Nash on Kevin Durant: ‘I plan to use him in all five positions’

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What makes the Brooklyn Nets potentially dangerous next season is not just the elite talent on the roster — talent coming off injuries, but championship talent nonetheless — but the versatility of it. Kyrie Irving has handles as good as anyone in the league, won the Three-Point Shooting Contest seven years ago, and can create looks with the best of them, but he also is dangerous off the ball. Caris LeVert can play anywhere on the wing and even some small-ball four in a pinch. Spencer Dinwiddie can play on- or off-ball.

And then there is Kevin Durant, as versatile a player as the league has seen.

New Nets coach Steve Kerr has plans for him, as JJ Reddick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast (hat tip to SNY).

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions.”

That’s smart — and that’s what the regular season is for. Coaches need to experiment with lineups and test ideas during the season, even if it costs them games, to be better prepared for the playoffs.

With Durant, Irving, LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and a roster filled with whatever other offseason moves the Nets make, the Brooklyn roster will have talent and versatility. Will the key players be healthy enough — and will they stay healthy — will be the bigger question facing Nash and his team.

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

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Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.