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2019 FIBA World Cup will have international star power

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The reigning NBA MVP is headed to the basketball World Cup. So are three other members of this past season’s All-NBA squad, and so is the starting center from the team that won the NBA championship a couple months ago.

Most of those guys won’t be playing for the United States.

The majority of America’s best players are sitting out the World Cup, while many of the best international players are not. NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece, fellow All-NBA players Nikola Jokic of Serbia and Rudy Gobert of France, and Marc Gasol of Spain – a significant part of Toronto’s run to the NBA title – are among the headliners who won’t be in U.S. colors when the tournament starts Saturday in China.

“We’re going to China with the goal of a medal,” Jokic said.

The Denver star isn’t just looking for any medal. He’s seeking gold.

And the Serbians would seem to have as good a chance as anyone in a tournament that suddenly looks wide open.

France and Australia – which is coming off a 98-94 victory over the United States on Saturday that ended the Americans’ 78-game winning streak in international play – are expected to have five NBA players on their rosters for the World Cup, and Serbia is likely to bring four. In all, more than 60 players with NBA experience are likely to participate in the tournament and only 12 of them are playing for the U.S.

“A lot of teams can be in the medal spots and it’s going to be intense, very hard for every team to be in those spots,” said France’s Nicolas Batum – the only player from the last World Cup All-Tournament team in 2014 who is expected to compete in this year’s event. “But every team, including ours, is going to fight for it, to play at its best level to try to come back home with a medal.”

The only U.S. World Cup player who was an All-NBA pick this past season is Kemba Walker, then of the Charlotte Hornets and now of the Boston Celtics. Look at the NBA stats from last season for World Cup-bound players and the leading scorer, the top three in assists per game and the top seven rebounders all are on international rosters.

The world is getting better.

That means the U.S. is no lock in this tournament.

“There are a lot of contenders out there,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.

The Americans are the only team with a roster composed entirely of NBA players, but that isn’t stopping some from scoffing at the notion that the U.S. is vulnerable heading into this tournament because its World Cup roster doesn’t have anything close to a Dream Team-esque level of star-studded names.

Spain coach Sergio Scariolo bluntly dismisses that notion.

Scariolo, a Toronto assistant coach when he’s not leading Spain, is quick to point out that a glance at the NBA salaries of the U.S. players dwarfs the combined salaries of every other World Cup roster. When the Americans played Spain in an exhibition earlier this month, the U.S. sent out a starting five that will make roughly $105 million this season.

So yes, in terms of earning power, no other team in the world comes close to the roster that the Americans are bringing to China this week.

But as evidenced by how Australia battled the U.S. twice in a pair of exhibitions in Melbourne, and beat the Americans there on Saturday, at least some of the world’s best teams aren’t exactly fearful of the two-time defending World Cup champions.

“Let’s let them play their basketball and we will play ours,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic now-famously said earlier this month. “And if we meet, may God help them.”

Clearly, the tournament means quite a bit to Serbia. It means plenty to other nations as well.

Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee star who won NBA MVP this past season, even said earlier this month that he would give back the award if it could be exchanged for a World Cup gold medal for Greece.

“I believe him,” U.S. center and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks teammate Brook Lopez said. “That’s how much he wants this.”

Coach of the Year predictions: Quin Snyder, Brad Stevens, or maybe Doc Rivers?

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With the start of the NBA season just more than a week away — it’s predictions time. We’ll be covering most of the postseason awards between now and the opening tip of the NBA season.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks. Today…

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Quin Snyder (Utah Jazz). This race, like the NBA itself this season, is wide open. And also like the NBA this year, don’t sleep on Utah’s coach picking up some hardware. Outside of that guy in San Antonio, no coach has built a better system and culture than Snyder has in Utah. He has constructed an elite defense around Rudy Gobert owning the paint. On offense, the Jazz can’t just throw the ball to a Stephen Curry or James Harden, so Snyder has implemented a ball and player movement system that keeps defenses off balance. Utah won 50 games last season and this season adds quality veterans in Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic — guys who will fit in with that culture. The Jazz are a high profile, potential contending team this season because of what Snyder has built, and the improved status will have voters wanting to recognize Snyder.

Dan Feldman: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics).  Stevens is a good coach. He has flaws, most notably recently his inability to connect with a star like Kyrie Irving. Irving can be particularly difficult to coach, but some of his issues follow most top talents. Stevens will have to show growth in his ability to guide a championship contender. But with these Celtics, Stevens can coach to his strengths — communicating clear roles to his players in a sound scheme. There’s a clear path for Boston to have a good record in the East, and credit for Stevens would likely follow.

Dane Delgado: Alvin Gentry (New Orleans Pelicans). The New Orleans Pelicans have a tough road ahead, with several new players and an outstanding rookie that still needs to get accustomed to life in the NBA. But there’s a lot of hope in The Big Easy that Zion Williamson and the Pelicans will be a postseason team this year, and you can count me in the camp of folks who believe New Orleans will make that leap in it 2019-20. If that’s the case, head coach Alvin Gentry will be tops on the list out west to take home the award for best coach in the NBA. Gentry has a bit of a head start — he’s a proven coach, and last year his team battled admirably through the Anthony Davis trade fiasco. If Gentry can go from 33 wins to the playoffs, one season removed from losing a franchise cornerstone player, I’m not sure who else would even challenge him for Coach of the Year.

Harrison and Brittany Barnes to pay for funeral of Atataina Jefferson

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Harrison Barnes now plays for the Sacramento Kings, but he and wife Brittany still have ties back in Texas. Barnes played for two-and-a-half seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, and now the couple is stepping in to help the community back in Dallas in a big way.

According to multiple reports, the Barneses have offered to pay for the funeral of Atatiana Jefferson, a Texas woman shot and killed by a Forth Worth Police Department officer last week.

That officer, Aaron Dean, has since resigned and been charged with Jefferson’s murder.

Via Twitter:

Jefferson was reportedly watching her 8-year-old nephew when a neighbor called in a welfare check to the non-emergency police line. The neighbor noticed her door was open, and police responded at 2:25 a.m.

From NBC News:

Body camera footage shows the perspective of the officer outside the home, peering inside a window using a flashlight, spotting someone inside standing near a window and telling her, “Put your hands up — show me your hands,” before shooting seconds later. At no point does he identify himself as an officer.

This is extremely generous on the part of the Barnes family and another example of how players can come to grow close to the places they play in.

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.