Brook Lopez on Team USA facing Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘He’ll try to tear our heads off’

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

SHENZHEN, China (AP) The U.S. men’s basketball team figured that it would eventually cross paths with Giannis Antetokounmpo at this World Cup.

And the Americans were right.

For the first time, a reigning NBA MVP will play against the U.S. on a major international stage. Antetokounmpo and Greece (2-1) will be the opponent when the U.S. (3-0) opens second-round play on Saturday night, in what’s essentially a must-win game for the Greeks in their quest to reach next week’s quarterfinals.

“Oh, he’s going to come out to kill us. There’s no question,” said U.S. center Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo’s teammate with the Milwaukee Bucks. “He’ll try to tear our heads off. I wouldn’t expect anything otherwise.”

Greece has already survived one must-win game in this World Cup, beating New Zealand 103-97 on Thursday night to clinch the 16th and final available spot in the second round. Had they lost, the Greeks were going to the classification round and relegated to no better than a 17th-place finish in the 32 team tournament.

Instead, they get the U.S. in a game that’s sure to command major attention.

“For us, we go as far as Giannis goes,” Greece’s Nick Calathes said. “Not just offensively because offensively he can score, he can pass. But defensively, he’s a big impact for us. We’ll be ready to go. We’re not afraid of anybody. Obviously, USA is the best team in the tournament right now so we’ll be prepared and have the right mindset coming in.”

All second-round teams play two games before the quarterfinal field is set. The U.S. will play Brazil in the second-round finale Monday, while Greece will play the Czech Republic.

There is no mystery about what this event means to Antetokounmpo.

“To represent my country, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Antetokounmpo said. “You really cannot explain it. But one thing I’ll say is when you play for the national team, you don’t only play for yourself. You represent every single Greek person.”

He said in the weeks leading up to the tournament that he would trade the MVP award for the World Cup crown.

If only it were that easy. Greece will face a U.S. team that is coming off a 53-point romp against Japan to finish first-round play.

“Our opinion has been all along that all these players from overseas that play in the NBA are obviously good players or they wouldn’t be there, and Giannis is pretty special as far as good players are concerned,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “But when they play for their countries, we like to say that they become superheroes.”

Greece will probably need Antetokounmpo to find his superhero cape if this upset is going to happen.

He’s averaged 15.7 points so far in three games in China, shooting 50 percent from the floor and only 17 percent from 3-point range. The Greeks have been careful with his minutes and his best game of the World Cup, by far, was Thursday when he logged 30 minutes and scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out six assists.

Greece coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos likely won’t be cautious with his star’s minutes Saturday.

“Giannis is the superstar of the team and everybody knows what he can do,” Skourtopoulos said.

The Americans struggled at times in their opener against the Czech Republic, nearly lost to Turkey in their second game and arrived in China last week a few days removed from a loss in Australia. All that has led to plenty of questions about their vulnerability.

Skourtopoulos isn’t buying that notion.

“The USA team, of course, even with a lot of stars missed, the roster is great,” Skourtopoulos said. “The coaching staff is more than great. It’s a very good team and we’ll have to be 100 percent ready if we want to go against them and take the victory against this great team.”

There’s a very distinct familiarity for Lopez and U.S. wing Khris Middleton, since they see Antetokounmpo in Bucks practice every day during the NBA season. And three members of the Boston Celtics who are on the U.S. roster – Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart – faced Antetokounmpo in the second round of last season’s playoffs, the Bucks winning in five games.

Brown is eager for Saturday.

“Looking forward to it,” Brown said.

Middleton said he hasn’t done any chatting with Antetokounmpo since the World Cup started. And he cautioned that focusing too much on Antetokounmpo could be problematic for the Americans.

“He is the MVP, but at the same time they do have other great players on that team,” Middleton said. “They have Calathes, they have a couple bigs, couple shooters. So it’s not just all about Giannis. He’s a smart player who knows how to use his teammates. We can’t just focus on him.”

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
Harry How/Getty Images
0 Comments

In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

0 Comments

In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
Getty Images
0 Comments

Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

0 Comments

Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.