Associated Press

Leading man: Carmelo Anthony embraces role as US team’s leader

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carmelo Anthony was the last one to take the practice floor Friday, joining his U.S. teammates after wrapping up interviews where he was asked about everything from the opening ceremony to his diet.

He was in heavy demand.

With two Olympic gold medals and a chance to be the first men’s player to win three, Anthony has become the unlikely face of USA Basketball, a rise that couldn’t have been imagined 12 years ago.

This star-studded American squad, missing some big names but still ferocious, needed someone to show the way. And like Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James before him, Anthony has emerged as the ring leader inside the five rings.

“Carmelo is the veteran and a super-likable guy,” said Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. “We got 12 Alphas in here. But he’s the leader of this team and we follow him.”

Probably to the top tier on the medal platform.

The Americans’ journey to a probable gold begins Saturday against China, a team the U.S. drubbed by 49 and 50 points in two recent exhibitions. The matchup will likely dissolve into another lengthy layup drill, but it will give Brazil’s passionate hoop fans inside Barra Carioca Arena the chance to snap selfies and scream for every thunderous dunk and 3-pointer by players they’ve only seen on TV.

Anthony, though, has warned his teammates not to take any opponent lightly. It’s a lesson he learned in his first Olympics at Athens in 2004, when the U.S. was stunned by Puerto Rico in the opener and then fell to Lithuania and Argentina while stumbling to a bronze – and worldwide embarrassment.

“He’s very open about what happened there,” forward Draymond Green said, “and he’s very open about how that pushed them into wanting to get back to the top.”

While close friends James and Chris Paul skipped Rio and a chance at winning their third golds, Anthony, the New York Knicks All-Star often criticized for not winning more and not making his teammates better, embraced the chance to take a leading role in this summer blockbuster.

This is an Anthony those outside his inner circle have rarely seen, a player unafraid to raise his voice on and off the floor, one who demands with compassion. Following the recent police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and the ambush on officers in Dallas, Anthony was moved to take social action.

During the pre-Olympic tour, he organized a community event in Los Angeles to help curb gun violence, and it’s possible he and his U.S. teammates could use these games to promote causes to a global audience.

The 32-year-old Anthony said he hasn’t changed, but his actions say otherwise. Bryant and James may have been more extroverted as Olympians, but Anthony says he’s always been willing to express his opinion, provide advice or steer a straying teammate back on track.

He’s just doing it more.

“Even with those guys around, I’m still the same and so my role hasn’t changed since 2007 when we first started creating what we wanted to create,” said Anthony, who along with Kevin Durant are the only holdovers from 2012. “Even though guys lead in their own way, that Olympic experience and the type of player that I am and the type of person that I am, it’s been easier and it’s been more genuine.

“I’ve always been a person who has embraced that role and it’s just become more visible now to people. If you’re around us or at our practices, they know that this is who I am and this is not anything new.”

It’s nothing Jim Boeheim hasn’t seen before. He coached Anthony for one year at Syracuse and the U.S. assistant sees his elevated status as an extension of his personality.

“He’s the most vocal,” Boeheim said. “They all look at him as the senior guy and this team has a lot of guys that qualify as leaders because they all play hard, they all do the right things. That’s what leadership does, anyway.”

Although U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski has not officially named a captain, Anthony is the one he meets with to discuss scheduling practices, team meetings and anything else that might pop up.

Krzyzewski, who served as an U.S. Army Captain, believes leadership is earned.

“First of all, a leader has to lead by example,” he said. “A leader always has to have courage and whatever the leader says, he has to back up. And by doing that he’s trustworthy. Those things help a really good player become better because that means you have to be `on’ all the time.

“I’ve always said that if your best player is a leader he’ll be a better best player.”

And, in Anthony’s case, a third-time gold medalist.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.

Losing Kemba Walker would always sting. Hornets made it nearly as painful as possible

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets faced a miserable choice this summer:

  • Lose not only their by far best player, but the greatest player in franchise and someone with a deep connection to the community
  • Sign a point guard to an expensive contract that will further inhibit an already-strapped team from competing at even a moderate level

Charlotte’s choice? Both.

The Hornets let Kemba Walker leave via free agency and replaced him with Terry Rozier (three years, $56.7 million). That’s a failure, not one of solely this offseason, but a failure nonetheless.

At 29, Walker would’ve likely become a negative value on a long-term deal. But at least he would’ve kept Charlotte more firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the near term – not that on the fringes of that competition is a great place to be. There were reasonable arguments for and against keeping Walker.

But if the Hornets were willing to offer him only $160 million (about $62 million less than his super max), they should have traded him before it got this far. Why did they keep him past last season’s trade deadline? To have him represent Charlotte in the All-Star game there? To make a longshot run at the No. 8 seed? Without knowing exactly what other teams offered, that seems highly likely a mistake.

The Hornets weren’t good enough to make the playoffs with Walker. What makes them think they’ll be good enough with Rozier?

Losing Walker always would’ve invited a year of pain. Charlotte is too capped out, too veteran-laden to pivot in a meaningful way. But at least Bismack Biyombo‘s, Marvin Williams‘ and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s contracts will expire next summer. Nicolas Batum‘s and Cody Zeller‘s will expire the following year.

Now, Rozier is on the books another year after that.

Maybe Rozier, 25, will become a key part of the Hornets’ next successful era. He has the requisite athleticism and has shown flashes of being a good starting point guard. But he’s coming off a down year. That counts, too.

It’s easy to pin Rozier’s struggles on a tough situation behind Kyrie Irving. That surely factored. Still, most players on a starting track would’ve fared better in those circumstances.

Credit Charlotte for creativity. By signing-and-trading Walker to the Celtics for a signed-and-traded Rozier, the Hornets got more spending power. But they probably would’ve been better off with a point guard in the mid-level-exception range like Tomas Satoransky, Delon Wright or Tyus Jones. It’ll take a major jump for Rozier to justify his near-$19 million-per-year salary.

Charlotte isn’t giving him much help. Jeremy Lamb left in free agency. Even though they have enough breathing room under the tax line to use the rest, the Hornets haven’t used their mid-level exception other than sliver for No. 36 pick Cody Martin.

Internal prospects look limited. Charlotte didn’t place anyone on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years. No. 12 pick P.J. Washington probably won’t change the franchise’s arc.

The Hornets didn’t reach this dismal point in one offseason. But this summer worsened the predicament.

Offseason grade: D-