MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/GettyImages

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA narrowed to 15 finalists with LeBron James’ decision a ‘swing’

1 Comment

With Stephen Curry out of the running for the Olympics, attention shifts to the other superstar in the NBA Finals.

The basketball world again waits on a LeBron James decision, and this one could determine just how powerful the U.S. team is heading to Rio.

The roster is nearing completion, nearly three weeks before the deadline. But it’s also on hold until James makes up his mind.

“That’s an important decision,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Monday.

Colangelo added that he’s realistically down to 14 or 15 players under consideration for the 12 spots, with somebody either getting bumped up or bumped off based on what James decides.

“So LeBron is a swing,” Colangelo said in a phone interview. “If he doesn’t play, then we have to tweak it.”

Colangelo will give James time, and he’s indicated the answer won’t come until after the finals. If Cleveland can make it a long series, the Americans won’t have long to react if James passes on a fourth Olympics.

Game 7 would be June 19, and the Americans are planning to announce their team June 27. So Colangelo said Monday he’s working on two rosters, one with James and one without.

The original list of 31 features plenty of enticing choices at forward: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Draymond Green and Kevin Love are among the options to help the U.S. cope if it didn’t have James. Curry’s teammates Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and Houston’s James Harden also could move from guard to forward in some lineups.

“I don’t worry. I don’t,” Colangelo said, pointing to the Americans’ depth. “I just feel very confident.”

But no player can match the Olympic resume of James, the Americans’ career leader in points and assists who could join Anthony as their only four-time Olympic basketball players.

Curry withdrew from consideration Monday for what would have been his first Olympics, citing “several factors – including recent ankle and knee injuries.”

He didn’t say what the other factors were. Several athletes have expressed concerns about the water in Rio de Janeiro and the Zika virus, though Colangelo said no players have pulled out because of those.

“All injuries,” he said.

Still, those other factors would make it easier for players if they choose to withdraw, without the usual criticism they face when declining to represent their countries, as Durant did in his late withdrawal from the 2014 Basketball World Cup.

Curry is the highest-profile absence for the two-time defending gold medalists, who will already be without NBA All-Stars Chris Paul and Anthony Davis. Forwards Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are also unavailable, leaving DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan as big men options.

Paul, who won two golds with the U.S., had already chosen not to play this time, and fellow point guards John Wall of Washington and Mike Conley of Memphis are coming off injuries. The Americans still have Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Portland’s Damian Lillard as possibilities at the position.

Curry likely would have started either ahead of them or alongside one in the U.S. backcourt, as he did as the shooting guard next to Irving at the World Cup. He made 44 percent of his attempts then from the shorter international 3-point arc, and the Americans will miss his shooting against the zone defenses they face.

Curry has won a pair of world titles and had spoken of wanting the chance to win Olympic gold, but he missed six games in the postseason with a right knee injury.

“My previous experiences with USA Basketball have been incredibly rewarding, educational and enjoyable, which made this an extremely difficult decision for me and my family,” Curry said.

“However, due to several factors – including recent ankle and knee injuries – I believe this is the best decision for me at this stage of my career.”

Curry, the first player to be voted a unanimous MVP and the NBA’s leading scorer, could have been the team’s biggest star in Rio, with Kobe Bryant retired and James still uncommitted. Perhaps it could be Durant, who starred for the Americans in the 2012 Olympics and 2010 world basketball championship before dropping out in 2014 after George’s broken right leg.

Colangelo said USA Basketball is continually checking in with players to gauge their interest, believing everyone who hasn’t pulled out yet is interested if selected. And he can’t worry about the ones already gone.

“You know what, you’ve got to be a big boy about it,” Colangelo said. “These are the cards that are dealt.”

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

Report: Heat tried to trade Goran Dragic away in Jimmy Butler deal

Leave a comment

The Miami Heat are not in control of the Eastern Conference Finals — just two wins from the NBA Finals — without the combination of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. They are the shot creators, the two penetrating into the paint, breaking down the Celtics’ defense, then kicking out to shooters. Butler is an All-NBA player, and Dragic is playing like the All-NBA player he was six years ago.

That pairing almost never happened.

Michael Lee at the Athletic told the story.

What’s hilarious about the Dragic-Butler partnership – a bromance that has found them bonding in the bubble over bottles of Michelob Ultras, cups of Big Head coffee, and singing the “Bad Boys” theme song from “Cops” – is it nearly didn’t happen. The initial three-team trade [Heat president Pat] Riley facilitated to get Butler involved sending Dragic to Dallas. Dragic would’ve teamed up with his Slovenian little homie, Luka Doncic, but would’ve said farewell to what he intended to do with the Heat.

The Mavericks had no interest in taking on Dragic – a 30-something hobbling on a surgically-repaired knee whose best years were way in the rearview – so the Heat had to get more creative, while remaining stuck with seemingly damaged goods. Again, nothing went according to plan.

Don’t blame Dallas on this one. Dragic played 36 games last season, had knee issues, and had looked like a shell of the All-NBA player he used to be, and on top of it he was getting paid $19.2 million. There were not a lot of teams looking to get in the Dragic business before this season started.

Instead, Dragic stayed, got healthy, accepted a sixth-man role (until the playoffs, before that Kendrick Nunn started and Dragic was the change of pace off the bench), and found his stride.

In the bubble, Dragic has taken off as the second scoring/shot-creating option in the Heat offense. Erik Spoelstra, as he does, has put Dragic in positions to succeed.

And, after these playoffs, get paid this offseason when Dragic is a free agent.

Brad Stevens hosts late night meeting with Smart, Brown, Celtics’ leadership

Leave a comment

A frustrated Marcus Smart yelled and vented at teammates after Boston’s come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jaylen Brown reportedly snapped back that the team needed to stick together and not just point fingers. Things reportedly were thrown around in the Celtics’ locker room.

Boston coach Brad Stevens knew he had to get everyone back on the same page before Game 3 on Saturday, so he had Smart, Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker meet and talk through their issues, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It was a smart move by Stevens, and it apparently worked. The Celtics have moved on from the incident, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

But one source within the bubble told NBC Sports Boston that the emotions of Thursday night are “water under the bridge now” as the team prepares for a must-win Game 3 on Saturday.

The Celtics need to match the Heat’s “do whatever it takes to win” intensity on Saturday. It would be a help if Gordon Hayward plays, which appears possible (he is officially listed as questionable but seems to be moving toward playing.

Everything that happened before to Boston needs to be a lesson on what it takes to win at the highest level. Miami is confident and rolling, plus they have the relentless Jimmy Butler in their corner.

One of the four players in Stevens’ room Thursday night — Boston’s leaders — has to be the one to step up and match that intensity. If not, the Celtics will be watching the Finals from home like the rest of us.

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo: Agents will position me to succeed ‘with the team or another team’

Leave a comment

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s moment has arrived.

He won Most Valuable Player, yes. But he’s also the center of speculation as he approached 2021 unrestricted free agency. He could head that off by signing a super-max extension with the Bucks this summer.

In the meantime, every word he says will be scrutinized for clues about his future.

That includes grainy video today from Greece, where – because Milwaukee already got bounced from the playoffs – Antetokounmpo conducted a conference call with reporters and an interview on NBA TV about his award.

The Bucks’ season is so far in the rearview mirror, Antetokounmpo already met with Bucks ownership and returned home. Now, attention turns to his long-term outlook.

Antetokounmpo:

I have two great agents that help with that, and I know they’re going to put me in the best situation to be successful with the team or another team. But at the end of the day, I had a great conversation with the owner. And as I know so far, we’re on the same page. And I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship.

As long as everybody is on the same page and as long as everybody is fighting for the same thing … every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years?

I believe Antetokounmpo prefers to find a way to stay with the Bucks. But even while professing his loyalty, Antetokounmpo had made clear he doesn’t hold blind allegiance to Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo’s agent, Alex Saratsis, said in February, “Everything is open.”

Yet, this is the first time I recall Antetokounmpo himself so directly mentioning the possibility of joining “another team.”

The other time he supposedly said something like that, he claimed he was misquoted.

Of course, you could focus on other portions of his responses today like: “I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career.” Yet, there’s that “we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship” caveat.

Two major questions:

1. How willing are the Bucks to pay the luxury tax to maximize Milwaukee’s title chances?

2. Even with a financial commitment from ownership, how equipped are the Bucks to win after a couple years of shortcuts?

Antetokounmpo must evaluate.

But he’s not just putting the onus on the organization. He spoke about working to continuing to improve, doing his part to achieve his main goal.

When talking about his 2019 MVP, Antetokounmpo said at the time, “Please, after this day, don’t call me MVP because until I win it again next year.”

Is he ready to be called MVP now?

Antetokounmpo:

Don’t call me MVP. Don’t call me two-times MVP until I’m a champion.

LeBron James surpasses Michael Jordan in career MVP voting shares

Leave a comment

Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP.

As for the rest of the voting?

Here are the results with first-, second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place votes and total voting points (10-7-5-3-1 points from first to fifth):

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks): 85-16-0-0-0-962

2. LeBron James (Lakers): 16-84-1-0-0-753

3. James Harden (Rockets): 0-1-64-10-10-367

4. Luka Doncic (Mavericks): 0-0-14-36-22-200

5. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers): 0-0-9-31-30-168

6. Anthony Davis (Lakers): 0-0-5-14-15-82

7. Chris Paul (Thunder): 0-0-3-1-8-26

8. Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers): 0-0-1-4-6-23

9. Nikola Jokic (Nuggets): 0-0-2-2-2-18

10. Pascal Siakam (Raptors): 0-0-2-1-4-17

11. Jimmy Butler (Heat): 0-0-0-2-3-9

12. Jayson Tatum (Celtics): 0-0-0-0-1-1

No, LeBron didn’t win. Nor should he have.

But the only other player in the top eight of voting still alive in the playoffs? His Lakers teammate, Anthony Davis. LeBron has a prime opportunity to bolster his legacy with another championship.

In the meantime, LeBron also boosts his resumé even with his runner-up finish.

LeBron received 753 voting points. A unanimous MVP would’ve received 1,010 voting points. So, with 75% of that total, LeBron gets .75 MVP voting shares.

That puts him ahead of Michael Jordan on the career MVP-voting-shares leaderboard:

Getting a vote every year of his career, LeBron also tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most seasons receiving an MVP vote:

A big caveat: MVP ballots had just one or three slots prior to 1981, when they went to the current five-player format. So, LeBron has had more opportunities to get lower-ballot votes.

Another caveat: LeBron’s lone fifth-place vote last season came from NBA.com fan voting.

But he didn’t just sneak onto the back end of ballots this year – even at age 35. Only Karl Malone, who won 1999 MVP at 35, has finished top two while so old.

And LeBron has been receiving MVP votes since he was a teenager.

He didn’t get the trophy that will endure. But this silver-medal finish still reflects just how incredible his career has been – and continues to be.