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Carmelo Anthony caps Olympic odyssey with 3rd gold medal

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carmelo Anthony had one last thing to teach his young teammates.

On the podium wearing his third Olympic gold medal, Anthony, who led this inexperienced U.S. team from the moment it first gathered weeks ago in Las Vegas, pointed toward one end of Carioca Arena, to the spot where the American flag was about to rise.

“I just told them, `Look at the highest flag,”‘ Anthony said, “and that’s what we did.”

Now there’s nothing left to do for Anthony, whose Olympic career began in disgrace and ends with him being the most decorated player to ever wear a USA jersey. It’s a comeback almost hard to believe.

“I don’t think I can explain how I feel right at this moment,” he said, later adding he will retire as an Olympian.

The only U.S. male player to be chosen for four Olympic teams, Anthony became the first to win three golds as the Americans saved their best for last and crushed Serbia 96-66 on Sunday.

The blowout win capped a remarkable 12-year journey around the five interlocking rings for Anthony, only 20 and fresh off his rookie year in the NBA when he played on a 2004 team remembered for failure.

The Americans lost three times at the Athens Games, and the sight of them wearing olive wreaths on their heads, bronze medals around their necks and disappointment on their faces, was a low point for the sport’s standard of excellence. USA Basketball was down and deflated.

But along with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and others, Anthony helped pump pride and power back into the U.S. program, which remains on top of the world.

Anthony grew over his Olympic run spanning games in Europe, Asia and South America. He matured as a person and found his voice, which he has used to address social issues at home. He became more than just a player whose talents seem to perfectly suit the international game. Anthony, so often criticized for not winning NBA championships, became the model for U.S. players.

He showed commitment, dedication and heart. While James and Paul and other skipped these games, Anthony signed up for another tour of duty to represent his country.

“It’s just his love for the game,” said U.S. forward Paul George, who completed his own amazing story following a horrific leg injury. “It’s his passion for the country and his love for the game, that’s all that it comes down to.”

During his stay in Brazil, Anthony became the leading scorer in U.S. history and he returned late in the second half of Sunday’s rout just so he could snatch one rebound and move past David Robinson on the career list.

However, Anthony’s most significant mark in Rio may have come when he visited the city’s favelas, blighted areas he compared to Baltimore’s inner city of his youth.

It’s another sign of his maturity, which outgoing U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski saw developing 10 years ago.

After the Americans lost to Greece in 2006 in the FIBA World Championships at Tokyo, Anthony sat at the postgame podium with Coach K and expressed humility and determination.

“He didn’t make any excuses,” Krzyzewski said. “He took responsibility for the loss and gave credit to the Greek team and we’ve built on that. I call it character, and in that moment, sometimes after a loss, you find out a deep character in someone. That’s what happened with Carmelo and in the commitment of LeBron and Kobe and Chris, all these guys have great character and it just built to where we now have a great culture.”

The Americans haven’t lost since, winning 76 straight games counting exhibitions. And Anthony has collected three golds as precious to him as an NBA ring.

A fifth Olympics isn’t in his plans, but neither was a dozen years wearing the red, white and blue.

“I’m hanging these things up, USA Basketball-wise,” he said. “It’s been a fun journey for me. It’s been a fun ride. I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve seen the losing side and I’ve seen what it feels like to win three gold medals. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.”

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-