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Kobe Bryant says USA will no longer cakewalk to gold: ‘The days of 1992 are over’

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It’s been the common refrain from American basketball observers in the wake of the USA finishing out of the medals — seventh or eighth, actually, depending on Saturday’s game against Poland — in the FIBA World Cup in China:

The USA didn’t send their best team, and the rest of the world is too good at the game now for America to get away with that.

Kobe Bryant said this is nothing new and American audiences had better get used to it.

“I hear that a lot – did we send the best possible team that could come out here. The Redeem Team, we needed a helluva fourth quarter to beat Spain, and we still needed a really late push to beat Spain in the gold medal match,” Kobe said of the 2008 USA Basketball team he was on with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and other stars. “Put the best players that you think are gonna make the best U.S. team out on the floor – it’s still not gonna be a cakewalk.

“The days of 1992 are over.”

That 2008 Redeem Team was an alignment of the biggest stars in the game at the time, fueled by Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski taking over USA Basketball after the USA took bronze in the 2004 Olympics, then finished out of the running at the 2006 World Championship (which FIBA now calls the World Cup because it desperately wants to be like its soccer counterpart). The USA won gold at every major international tournament between 2008 and 2016, but this World Cup was different, with many of the USA’s top players choosing not to come.

Kobe said he understood why many elite players chose not to come to China this year, as some dealt with injuries, while others tried to navigate recovery and moves to new cities (or teams that underwent a roster overhaul). It’s a big commitment to come.

Kobe was in Beijing during this World Cup’s final four — Argentina and Spain will face off for the title on Sunday — as an ambassador of the sport. At his press conference (attended by Rachel Thompson of NBC Sports) the questions about Team USA kept flowing, but his answer was always in the same vein — the world is changing and the USA needs to adapt to that reality.

“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S., the rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time,” Kobe said. “It’s to the point where us in the U.S. are gonna win some, gonna lose some, there’s just great basketball being played. Whether it’s Redeem 2, no matter what team it is, it’s not gonna be easy.”

After this showing, expect many of America’s top players to sign up to come to Tokyo next summer for the Olympics. Guys did not want to commit two summers in a row to Team USA, and guys will always choose the Olympics — still a huge deal in America — over the often overlooked World Cup.

Just don’t expect it to be easy for those guys to win gold, either.

Luka Doncic Terance Mann land fists, but not necessarily punches, on each other (video)

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How much force is required for a punch?

That was the question NBA referees had to consider in an altercation between Mavericks rising star Luka Doncic and Clippers rookie Terance Mann last night.

Mann’s physical defense forced Doncic into travelling. After the whistle, Mann swiped the ball from Doncic so L.A. could have it. That’s when the altercation really got heated.

Doncic stuck a fist into Mann’s chest. Mann responded by putting his fist on Doncic’s neck.

I wouldn’t describe either action as a punch. Neither players really swung through. But both landed fists on their opponent. They’re fortunate referees let this go with only a double technical foul. Doncic and Mann left themselves open to bigger penalties.

On a grander sense, the NBA should do something about the initial problem – a player grabbing the ball from an opponent after a turnover. This happens frequently and too often leads to dust-ups. Only a referee should get the ball from a team that lost it. An opposing player trying to take it should receive a tech. A player holding the ball too long should receive a delay of game. Enforcing those rules would end a lot of tension.

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.

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