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At 34, Raptors’ Marc Gasol will carry Spain’s World Cup hope

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SHANGHAI (AP) — Marc Gasol is 34 years old, which means he’s particularly fond of offseasons.

He didn’t get much of one this year.

There’s a very good reason for that – a most unusual and, he thinks, worthwhile opportunity. After helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA championship in June, Gasol is now looking to lead Spain to a World Cup title in September. And although the 7-foot-1 veteran center’s body may have preferred some more downtime before the grind of another season begins, Gasol could not pass up this chance.

“It’s a special group of guys,” Gasol said. “It’s always special when you put on this jersey. And I couldn’t leave them hanging. That’s what my heart told me and that’s what it keeps telling me.”

Gasol was on the team that won the World Cup – then called the world championship – for Spain in 2006, rolling past a Greece team that had just beaten the United States in the tournament semifinals. He helped Spain win silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, losing both times in the title game to the U.S.

He’s the oldest player on a very seasoned team that will play for Spain in this World Cup. Out of the 12 on the final roster for coach Sergio Scariolo, eight have celebrated their 30th birthdays already. But it’s also clear that Gasol, even on a roster featuring the likes of Phoenix’s Ricky Rubio and Real Madrid standout Sergio Llull, is the leader of the bunch.

“It was probably a key move for us, one of the important ones, the most important one,” Scariolo said. “We need somebody to be the guy who you can give the ball in the tough moments, not necessarily for the shot but to make a good play – whether it’s to create a shot for a teammate, to take a shot himself, to draw a foul and be a solid free throw shooter. He’s extremely important and the rest of the players respect him a lot.”

That respect was there before Toronto topped Golden State in six games for the NBA title.

But the ring Gasol will be getting on opening night certainly adds to his legacy.

Among players born outside the United States, Gasol is one of only seven – a list that also includes his older brother Pau Gasol, who would have played in this World Cup had he not gotten injured last season – to have amassed more than 11,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 2,700 assists at the NBA level. And when the Raptors added him in a trade last February, their entire makeup seemed to change.

“I think we started passing the ball, our assists started going way up, we became the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the league because of the extra passes and the contagious passing,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who is coaching Canada at the World Cup. “And our team’s sense of who they thought they could become went up.”

The same could ring true for Spain.

The U.S. has won the last two World Cups, though a third consecutive gold in the event – something that no nation has ever accomplished – hardly seems guaranteed. Spain lost to the Americans by nine in an exhibition earlier this month in Anaheim, California, a game where neither side was exactly in tournament form.

Spain should have little, if any, trouble getting through its group phase: It faces Iran, Tunisia and the Dominican Republic in its first three games at Guangzhou, China starting on Friday. The top two teams will advance to the second round. Those first three games will likely become mere tune-ups for Gasol and the Spainards, as they get ready for the bigger matchups later in the tournament.

“The teams that are in the past, they’re in the past,” Gasol said. “What matters is the guys who are playing today and their talent and their qualities.”

There has been minimal rest for Gasol this summer.

The Raptors won the title, had a parade a few days later, and within a few days after that Gasol was simultaneously starting recovery and workouts for the FIBA challenge. Spain spent about a week in the U.S. for the game against the Americans, using that as a bonding trip of sorts. Then it was back to Spain for more games, before heading out to China.

All worth it, Gasol said.

“I cherish every second of it, every practice, every trip, every lunch that we have together,” Gasol said. “I know how special it is. Obviously it’s not ideal, but I think it was completely worth it to play all the way to June. … Whenever it is, 10 years from now, when I’m sitting on the beach in Spain, I won’t be able to reproduce this feeling.”

Report: Clippers likely would’ve ousted Doc Rivers with any result shy of title

Doc Rivers and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer
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The Clippers’ loss to the Nuggets was devastating. L.A. was a huge favorite. Blowing a 3-1 lead added to the misery. As did the Clippers’ history of futility, which was supposed to end with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

But Doc Rivers’ job appeared safe in the aftermath.

Then, the Clippers suddenly ousted him as coach yesterday.

What changed?

Jovan Buha of The Athletic:

There was no aha moment or event that led to the Clippers’ and Doc Rivers’ decision to mutually part ways on Monday afternoon, league sources told The Athletic.

Following the Clippers’ premature postseason ouster, Rivers and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer held several candid meetings and conversations, league sources said.

They discussed where things went wrong for the Clippers in the playoffs and forecasted their visions of the organization’s future, including the team’s style of play, the makeup of the roster, player development and on- and off-court leadership.

After hours of back-and-forth, the sides concluded they had differing visions of the team’s path forward

Even if the Clippers had lost deeper in the postseason, say, to the Lakers in the conference finals or to the Heat in the finals, Rivers likely would not have been back next season.

Of course, the Clippers want to present themselves as having made the rational decision. Nobody wants to be the organization that overreacted to a single situation.

The Clippers’ issues – specifically a lack of chemistrymanifested throughout the season. Rivers handled that poorly. That’d be true whether or not the Clippers had enough talent to get by the Nuggets or Lakers, anyway.

Process over results is a nice ethos.

It’s difficult to implement, though.

The collapse against Denver left such a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. However people think they would’ve reacted to a different outcome, it’s impossible to know for certain. So, I have some skepticism about whether Rivers still would’ve been ousted if he guided the Clippers to the Western Conference finals and especially NBA Finals.

That said, he didn’t. Not this year. Not any year.

So, it was easier for the Clippers to move on with a coach they viewed as flawed. They never faced the difficult decision on a coach they viewed as flawed but also had more success. We just can’t know with certainty how that would’ve gone.

Doc Rivers failed to deliver in playoffs for Clippers

Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers
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Listen to all the praise being heaped upon Doc Rivers – as both a coach and person – in the aftermath of his firing. He has earned that. It’s why he’s already in demand for openings around the league.

But it’s impossible to ignore his teams repeatedly falling short in the postseason.

The Clippers hired Rivers specifically for his ability to win deep in the playoffs. He guided the Celtics to the 2008 championship and back to the 2010 NBA Finals. For a downtrodden franchise like the Clippers, getting Rivers looked like a coup.

In Rivers’ seven seasons, the Clippers averaged winning 63% of their regular-season and seeding games. There have been 152 seven-year stretches that good in NBA history.

All of them produced at least five playoff-series victories.

Except the Clippers of this era.

Rivers’ Clippers won just three postseason series in seven years.

Rivers didn’t even emphasize the regular season. He often eschewed practice to keep his players fresh. And his teams still won so many regular-season games, which speaks to the Clippers’ star power.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and  DeAndre Jordan then Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – Rivers’ teams were loaded.

They also never advanced past the second round.

Of course, that requires more context.

Beating the Warriors in the 2014 first round looks even better in hindsight, considering Golden State turned into a dynasty. The 2015 Clippers-Spurs series, which L.A. won, had no business being in the first round with teams that good. The Clippers lost in the second round to the Rockets when Josh Smith and Corey Brewer – Josh Smith and Corey Brewer! – got hot on 3-pointers. The Clippers lost to the Trail Blazers in the 2016 first round after Chris Paul and Blake Griffin got hurt. Griffin got hurt again in a first-round loss to the Jazz the next year. The Clippers overachieved just to make the 2019 playoffs.

Maybe Rivers would’ve been the right coach for the Clippers in the 2021 postseason. New issues arise, and he already proved he can coach a team to a championship. The Clippers are taking a huge risk with this move.

But this year’s historic collapse against the Nuggets reflected particularly poorly on Rivers, who has now blown three 3-1 leads as a coach. The Clippers were disjointed – an issue that lingered throughout the season. His personnel and tactical decisions were suspect.

And – perhaps most importantly – there was no track record of success in L.A. to fall back on.

The Clippers’ problems weren’t all Rivers’ fault. The timing of his ouster, after his job appeared safe, raises questions.

But it might just be this simple: Rivers was hired to win in the playoffs. He didn’t.

Report: Doc Rivers was surprised to learn Clippers were ousting him

Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers
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The Clippers framed the conclusion of Doc Rivers’ coaching tenure as, “Doc Rivers Departs LA Clippers” and “Chairman Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers have reached a mutual decision that Rivers will step down as head coach of the LA Clippers.”

What really happened?

Dan Woike and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

people with knowledge of the situation said Rivers was surprised to learn the Clippers wanted to move on.

Internally, Rivers enjoyed support even after the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. But ultimately, the sting from yet another disappointing end to a season prompted the change.

The Clippers suffered a historic upset by blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets. In a season with legitimate championship aspirations, the Clippers fell short of even the conference finals for a record 50th straight year.

Of course, the coach was going to face scrutiny for that collapse. And Rivers deserved plenty.

But once the smoke cleared, Rivers appeared safe.

What changed?

Despite the Clippers’ initial spin, it’s becoming increasingly clear Rivers got fired. Still, many questions remain about the shocking move.

LaMelo Ball not worried about where he gets drafted, “Anywhere is a great fit”

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Lavar Ball has his opinion. Always. When the patriarch of the Ball family went on the “Road Trippin'” podcast a couple of months ago, he said he didn’t want his youngest son, LaMelo Ball, drafted by the Warriors because he would have to come off the bench behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. “Michael Jordan didn’t come off the bench,” was his logic.

LaMelo Ball is about as interested in his father’s opinions as most 19-year-olds.

“I’m my own man. He’s his own man. He has his opinions, I have mine,” the younger Ball said of his father on Monday while speaking to reporters via Zoom as part of the NBA’s pre-draft process.

“I feel I could play on any team and do good anywhere I go,” Ball said. “Anything that happens, I’m positive.”

Ball is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, scheduled for Nov. 18. Rumors have bounced around the league that if the Timberwolves keep the No. 1 pick they will select Ball to pair with D'Angelo Russell in the backcourt. The Warriors have the No. 2 pick, the Charlotte Hornets select third, followed by Chicago then Cleveland.

Ball spent a chunk of his time with reporters denying having had contact with many teams at the top of the draft, although he said he didn’t know about Minnesota. He did say he had contact with the Knicks, who pick eighth, adding they just wanted to get to know him as a person (outside the online persona). Ball will not be on the board when New York makes its pick (the Knicks could trade up to get him, all the teams at the top of the draft are listening to offers).

Ball’s consistent point was he could fit in with any team.

“Anywhere is a great fit,” Ball said. “It’s the NBA. You put me with good players, I feel like it’s even gonna be better.”

Ball said he has adapted to the unprecedented pre-draft process, in part because his path to the NBA is untraditional. He said he realized back when his father had him playing in Lithuania at 16 he was not going to have the more traditional route to the NBA that his brother Lonzo Ball had, but LaMelo embraced it. LaMelo spent last season playing in Australia before returning to the states to prepare for the draft.

“I feel like I am dealing with it well,” Ball said. “I kinda like it, that nobody has been through something like this, it’s kinda unique, like me… I’m one-of-one.”

For now, Ball is in the Detroit area working out, preparing for the draft. He said some of that Detroit toughness is rubbing off on him.

But he’s happy to bring that with him wherever he gets drafted.