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Team USA perilously low on star power

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In the aftermath of Team USA’s stunning and disappointing bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics, then-NBA commissioner David Stern called Jerry Colangelo.

“We’ve got to re-do our whole USA Basketball program,” Colangelo recounted Stern saying.

Colangelo took over. He preached commitment. He emphasized expectations. He changed how Team USA was selected, how it trained, how it traveled (“no entourages and no families,” Colangelo said).

The plan paid dividends in the very next Olympics. The Americans won gold in the 2008 Games (and, since, 2012 and 2016).

But too much emphasis has been placed on cultural modifications.

Why did Team USA perform better? Better players.

Whatever adjustments Colangelo made in USA Basketball’s setup were only the means to an end. The United States’ improvements were nearly completely due to an improved roster.

In 2004, only one All-NBA player participated (Tim Duncan). In 2008, Team USA had six All-NBA players (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer).

That’s the difference.

With several stars sitting out the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the U.S. is once again veering toward a talent danger zone. An American gold medal shouldn’t be assumed.

Only one All-NBA player is set to play for the Americans in China this year – Kemba Walker, a third-teamer.

The World Cup (formerly called the World Championship) typically draws less star power than the Olympics. But even by World Cup standards, this U.S. roster is quite lacking.

To rate a Team USA’s star power, I used All-NBA selections the same year. The scoring system follows All-NBA voting – five points for first team, three points for second team, one point for third team.

Here’s every Olympics and World Cup/World Championship since NBA players began competing in 1992. Olympics are red. World Cups/World Championships are blue. The background color represents the United States’ medal:

gold (1)

2019 World Cup

  • Kemba Walker (third)

2016 Olympics

2014 World Cup

2012 Olympics

2010 World Championship

  • Kevin Durant (first)

2008 Olympics

  • Dwight Howard (first)
  • Chris Paul (first)
  • LeBron James (first)
  • Kobe Bryant (first)
  • Deron Williams (second)
  • Carlos Boozer (third)

2006 World Championship

  • LeBron James (first)
  • Elton Brand (second)
  • Dwyane Wade (second)
  • Carmelo Anthony (third)

2004 Olympics

  • Tim Duncan (first)

2002 World Championship

  • Jermaine O’Neal (third)
  • Paul Pierce (third)
  • Ben Wallace (third)

2000 Olympics

  • Gary Payton (first)
  • Jason Kidd (first)
  • Kevin Garnett (first)
  • Alonzo Mourning (second)
  • Vince Carter (third)

1998 World Championship

None

1996 Olympics

  • Penny Hardaway (first)
  • Scottie Pippen (first)
  • David Robinson (first)
  • Karl Malone (first)
  • Hakeem Olajuwon (second)
  • Grant Hill (second)
  • John Stockton (second)
  • Gary Payton (second)
  • Reggie Miller (third)
  • Charles Barkley (third)
  • Mitch Richmond (third)
  • Shaquille O’Neal (third)

1994 World Championship

  • Kevin Johnson (second)
  • Shawn Kemp (second)
  • Derrick Coleman (third)
  • Shaquille O’Neal (third)
  • Mark Price (third)
  • Dominique Wilkins (third)

1992 Olympics

  • Chris Mullin (first)
  • Clyde Drexler (first)
  • Michael Jordan (first)
  • David Robinson (first)
  • Karl Malone (first)
  • Charles Barkley (second)
  • Patrick Ewing (second)
  • Scottie Pippen (second)
  • John Stockton (second)

This is the United States’ second-weakest All-NBA representation of this era. Only the 1998 World Championship team had less. Anticipating a lockout, NBA players didn’t participate. Instead, USA Basketball turned to college players, minor-leaguers and Americans playing professionally abroad. The group won bronze.

The next-lowest Team USA by All-NBA points was the 2002 World Championship squad. Only third-teamers Paul Pierce and Ben Wallace played that year. The Americans finished sixth – a precursor to their 2004 Olympic flop.

After that, it’s a tie between the 2004 Olympic bronze medalists and 2010 World Championship gold medalists. Lacking stars doesn’t preclude a U.S. victory. Likewise, having stars doesn’t guarantee one. The 2006 squad had the most All-NBA points of an American World Cup/World Championship team in this era and still finished third.

But every time the Americans have come up short of gold, they’ve been low on star power.

The United States faces a couple key disadvantages. With an ever-churning roster, the U.S. lacks the cohesion of other top competitors. The U.S. is also less comfortable with international rules and style of play.

Elite talent compensates.

It just won’t much this year.

At least Team USA is slated to include a couple non-All-NBA All-Stars, Khris Middleton and Kyle Lowry. Kemba Walker is also used to lacking star teammates.

Why are so many American stars staying home? There are multiple reasons. Among them: More foreign players are occupying the All-NBA spots I’m using to measure stardom.

Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece will be the best player in the tournament. Another All-NBA first-teamer, Nikola Jokic, will play for Serbia. Second-teamer Joel Embiid is Cameroonian.

The U.S. can still win the World Cup. There’s no shortage of Americans who are good players. But with fewer stars, assembling a roster of players whose skills complement each other will be more important than ever.

Lakers exercise 4th-year contract option on Kyle Kuzma

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Lakers have exercised their contract option on forward Kyle Kuzma for the 2020-21 season.

The Lakers made the move Thursday on Kuzma, who is currently out with a foot injury suffered while playing for USA Basketball during the summer.

Kuzma was the 27th overall pick in the 2017 draft out of Utah. He has become a solid NBA scorer, putting up 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds last season while starting 68 games for the Lakers.

Kuzma will make over $3.56 million next season in the fourth-year option of his rookie contract. He is making $1.97 million this season.

The Lakers expect Kuzma to return to action soon. He has been cleared for noncontact basketball activities.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-NBA

John Wall will be an assistant coach for the Wizards this season

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John Wall won’t be playing for the Washington Wizards of this season, but he will have a chance to do something for the team that’s helpful. With Bradley Beal back on board after signing a 2-year, max-level extension, Wall will be helping coach Scott Brooks from the sidelines.

According to a new story from NBC Sports Washington, Wall will be helping Brooks this season in an assistant coaching role. For his part, Wall has said that he is excited about the opportunity, and that it’s a chance to see what his life after basketball might hold when it comes to potentially getting into coaching.

Via NBC Sports Washington:

“I think this year will tell me whether I can be a coach or not,” Wall told NBC Sports Washington on the Wizards Talk podcast.

“I think you have to have a lot of patience and you’ve gotta know how to interact with every player. Every player’s attitudes and character and mood swings are totally different. I learned from when a coach tried to coach me when I was young and I wasn’t the guy to coach.”

This is a good idea to keep Wall around the team and engaged. It would be sort of weird if Wall just wasn’t around while he did rehab, then expected to come back as the top dog next season.

He may never be the player he was before his injury, but if Wall remains with Brooks on the sideline for the remainder of the season it would mean he’s at least committed to taking the culture seriously in D.C. That, or he doesn’t want Beal to usurp his throne.

Fans plan to give out pro-Hong Kong t-shirts at Lakers, Raptors opening nights

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We are not yet out of the thick of things regarding the NBA and China. There are murmurings about how upset people are up with Daryl Morey back here domestically, and the beginning of the season will start with a sort of weird pall over it. NBA fans, perhaps the most socially progressive in major American sports, won’t soon forget responses from Adam Silver and LeBron James on the matter, which they’ve seen as limp-wristed.

To that end, there are two fan groups who are looking to spread pro-Hong Kong t-shirts during opening night games in the NBA next week.

Folks at Staples Center in Los Angeles should expect to see t-shirts in solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong being handed out as the Lakers take on the Clippers on Oct. 22. A reddit user going by the pseudonym Sun Lared posted to the Lakers subreddit about printing up t-shirts, and their GoFundMe reached a reported $43,000 before donations were disabled, according to LA Mag.

Via Twitter:

Inspired by Lared, another GoFundMe has reached $34,000 as of publication to hand out free t-shirts as the New Orleans Pelicans travel to Ontario to take on the Toronto Raptors on October 22nd.

Mother these t-shirts make it onto the backs of fans, and whether they make it inside the arenas for those basketball games is another thing altogether. It certainly will be an interesting PR debacle if the NBA continues to confiscate pro-Hong Kong t-shirts and signs the way they’ve done during the preseason already.

This isn’t going away any time soon.

Zion Williamson has right knee soreness, won’t play final preseason game

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It’s the preseason, and so teams are trying to be extra cautious with their stars. That will apparently be the case this week as No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has reportedly not traveled with his New Orlean Pelicans for the final preseason game of the year against the New York Knicks.

Williamson has apparently strained his right knee, and his not heading to New York with the team isn’t looking like it’s just for rest as the regular season approaches. Williamson may actually have a bit of soreness working against him right now, which is the last thing any NBA fans want to hear right now.

Via Twitter:

The release from the Pelicans says that Williamson remained in Louisiana to undergo further testing on his right knee.

Hopefully this is nothing serious and the season can get off to a thrilling start. It certainly looks to be headed in that direction based off of how Williamson has performed already in preseason action.

New Orleans kicks off the regular season on Oct. 22 against the defending champion Toronto Raptors in Ontario.