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Olympics postponement should force USA Basketball to change roster strategy

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USA Basketball named 44 finalists last month for the Tokyo Olympics.

No Zion Williamson. No Ja Morant. Not even Trae Young, who’s already an All-Star starter and on track to get even better.

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo explained: Though young players would eventually get their turn, the 2020 Olympics would be for players who previously represented the U.S.

Except there will be no 2020 Olympics.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been postponed to 2021. By then, USA Basketball’s plan to build an older roster – already a suspect strategy – will become even less tenable.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup showed the Americans’ vulnerability. They finished seventh – their worst-ever finish in a major tournament. The United States’ advantage is depth of star talent. That has carried Team USA through deficient cohesion and comfort with international rules/style. The 2019 squad lacked the usual star power.

Anything USA Basketball does to lower its talent level – including giving preferential treatment to past-their-peak players based on prior contributions – increases risk of another letdown.

Chris Paul sounded ready for Tokyo. But he’ll turn 35 this spring and would have been one of the oldest players ever on Team USA if competing in an on-time Olympics. LeBron James – who is at least open to another Olympics – is even older than Paul. Several other aging veterans are in the mix.

Already, half the finalists will be in their 30s by the time the Games were originally scheduled to begin.

Though that doesn’t necessarily mean the final roster would have been old, it’s a telling starting point. The average age of the finalists is 28.1.* In 2016, it was 26.4 In 2012, it was 26.8.

*On Feb. 1 of that year

Again, the final roster could have shaken out differently. But imagine this team:

A little backcourt-heavy? Yes. But so is the United States’ top-end talent.  Will Stephen Curry play? His father said yes, though that was before Curry was sidelined even longer than he expected. So, there’s plenty of room to quibble with the selections. But it’s at least a reasonable facsimile of the final roster.

The average age* of that group: 29.5.

That’d be the second-oldest Team USA in the Olympics, shy of only the 1996 squad. It’s even older than the original Dream Team, which – as the first Olympic team to include NBA players – definitely prioritized rewarding career accomplishments.

Here’s the average age* of each Team USA since NBA players began competing in the Olympics:

*Age for Team USA’s first game or, in 2020, first originally scheduled game of the tournament

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see taking that same group to Tokyo in 2021 would make it Team USA’s oldest-ever squad, advancing the average age a full year to 30.5.

Plenty will change in the next year. It’s easy to project growth from players like Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. But whether or not those three in particular meet expectations, other young players will rise. Some of these older players will decline further.

Of course, there will still be room for some veterans in 2021. Chris Paul is flourishing with the Thunder and could continue to play at a high level. LeBron James is so dominant, he has plenty of room to decline while remaining elite.

But USA Basketball should be open-minded about emerging young players. That’s the only way to ensure a maximumly talented roster.

In 2020, it was foolish to pretend it’s 2016 or even 2012.

It’d be even more misguided to do so in 2021.

Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas reported early leader for Bulls’ top job

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What do the Bulls want in a new top executive? Near the top of the list: someone who can build an organization that drafts well and develops that talent. That’s why executives from Miami, Utah, and Toronto were high on the wish list.

Enter Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, who has done exactly those things in Denver. Karnisovas is the early frontrunner, reports Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.

Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas is the leader in the clubhouse…

Sources said [team president Michael Reinsdorf] wants someone who has a presence publicly, especially given the reticent nature of Paxson and Forman the last several years. The Bulls have embraced analytics the last few seasons but having someone who can discern how to apply the numbers against other basketball factors is important to Reinsdorf…

“He wants someone who’ll surround himself with smart people, a great talent evaluator. There’s a need to get better in the player development department, too,” a source told Yahoo Sports.

Karnisovas has worked mostly in the background in Denver, with Tim Connelly being the face of the basketball operations. That would be a big change for Karnisovas, but one he may be ready for.

John Paxson is helping Reinsdorf with the search, but Paxson reportedly will take on whatever role is asked — or step aside completely — to make things smooth for whoever takes over the organization.

While NBA taking big financial hit, rumor is salary cap will not see huge drop

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No NBA games are being played, no fans paying for tickets or buying arena beers, no revenue is coming in. The NBA playoffs will not start on time. If games are ramped up at any point in the next couple of months, it will not be in front of fans, just television only.

Which is to say, the NBA is taking a big financial hit right now. How much is impossible to say, but a billion is not out of the question.

The NBA is set up for the players and owners to split revenue, basically 50-50 (it’s more complicated than that, but it stays close to that range). If Basketball Related Income (BRI) drops around the league, then the salary cap drops and players get less money.

The league’s income is going to suffer, but the salary cap may not that much the NBA players union told agents in a call today, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

What this implies is salary cap smoothing — the league would keep the cap artificially high in the short term, but when revenue spikes back up in the following years that rise will be artificially slowed a little to even things out. The idea is to smooth out the cap number rather than have wild fluctuations.

This is likely part of the negotiations going on between the league and players union over the force majeure clause of the CBA, which allows owners to reduce salaries if games are canceled. If the players give up salary now they don’t want to see future income fall too because the cap cratered for a season or two.

Most likely, the owners and players can work out a cap-smoothing compromise that works for both sides (something they could not do when the new NBA TV deal kicked in and the cap spiked back in 2016). The league’s cap projections were already reduced some by the loss of revenue from China following the Daryl Morey Tweet controversy, the missed games obviously will reduce it further.

How much further appears to be under negotiation.

Bulls’ John Paxson reportedly willing to play small role, or even step aside, for new front office

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It all seems a little too coincidental.

Early reports about a shakeup in the Bulls’ front office had John Paxson, the current vice president of basketball operations, retaining at least some power. There also was a push to help current coach Jim Boylen keep his job.

Then the Raptors’ Bobby Webster, Pacers’ Chad Buchanan, and Heat’s Adam Simon all dropped out of the running for the Bulls job.

Suddenly, there has been a series of reports that Paxson was willing to give up his power and is ready to play whatever role the new GM wants. There was this from K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

But the perception that Paxson will be some hovering presence, going kicking and screaming into the night, is simply wrong. Early this season, Paxson communicated his vision to ownership for a new-look, more modern front office. He initiated some of this need for change.

Michael Reinsdorf likely would have arrived at the same conclusion anyway and has taken the reins on addressing the issue. Well before news broke over All-Star weekend, he began performing due diligence and background on a wide variety of candidates.

Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times took it a step further.

A source told the Sun-Times on Tuesday that not only is Paxson all for stepping aside from his position and acting more as an adviser to the Reinsdorf family when the front-office restructure is finalized, but would completely step down from the organization if the Reinsdorfs and the new-look executive group deemed it better for the rebuild to continue.

Was the “perception that Paxson will be some hovering presence” just among fans, or did it exist among potential candidates, too? Each of the three candidates that dropped out have positons of some power in quality organizations, each is only going to leave for just the right offer, one with total control of the organization.

It all seems a little too coincidental that they all dropped out and then came the rash of reports about Paxson not wanting to retain power. Whether it was true or not Paxson was always willing to step aside, perception matters.

Chicago did interview Utah’s Justin Zanik, another experienced executive from a stable organization who could be a good fit with the Bulls. The Jazz have set up the kind of strong draft-and-development program (Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, etc.) that the Bulls should try to emulate. The Bulls are also expected to interview Nuggets’ general manager Arturas Karnisovas and Magic assistant general manager Matt Lloyd.

With no games going on, there is no rush to make a hire by the Bulls, they have plenty of time for due diligence (as do the candidates). Chicago will want its new head man and his front office staff in place before what is likely a compacted draft and free-agency period, whenever that comes.

Potential lottery pick Arizona point guard Nico Mannion declares for draft

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His coach had said this was coming, and while it took a while to become official, it did on Tuesday.

Arizona point guard Nico Mannion is entering the NBA Draft.

In what is a down draft, Mannion looks like a late lottery or mid-teens pick. However, on an NBA court he projects more as a backup point guard.

Mannion is 6’3″ with a good feel for the game who averaged 14 points and 5.3 assists a night for the Wildcats this season. He reads the game well and seems to understand when he needs to score and when he needs to facilitate. The challenge is he’s neither athletic or long by NBA standards, and his shot needs to get a lot better — 39.2 percent shooting overall and 32.7 percent from three last season. He’s had some challenges finishing at the rim against college-level defenders. His ability to improve his shooting will go a long way in determining his NBA future (that and how much he can improve on defense).

Still a smart move for a lock first-round pick to come out and start getting paid.

The NBA Draft is scheduled for June 25 but nobody knows when it will actually happen and in what form. There are restrictions on how teams can evaluate and talk to prospects. The league will decide when the draft will take place after it figures out what to do with the rest of the season and the playoffs, a decision that will not come until May at the earliest.