In midst of intense season, USA Basketball planning for Tokyo Olympics continues

0 Comments

MIAMI — USA Basketball men’s national team assistant coach and former Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce had a one-day coronavirus scare a few weeks ago and had to stay in his hotel room while the matter was sorted out.

The bad news: He missed practice.

The good news: He didn’t have to miss a USA Basketball staff call that head coach Gregg Popovich had scheduled for that day, because it would have conflicted with that practice.

“This is how smart Pop is,” Pierce said.

If the rest of the plan comes together as well as that day did, USA Basketball will be very happy this summer. The start of the team’s training camp in Las Vegas is now about four months away — July 1 is a target date, though not absolutely finalized — meaning the decisions on who will play for the Americans at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics are getting closer and closer.

The Americans are expected to have about 60 players in the pool of Olympic prospects for this summer, then will pare that down significantly before bringing a team to Las Vegas. Assuming schedules do not change, that camp would begin during the NBA conference finals and with four teams still playing — meaning it’s a safe bet that some players USA Basketball will want for Tokyo might otherwise be busy at that time.

That’s why this Olympic selection process is going to have to be different than usual for the Americans, and multiple contingency plans must be mapped out.

Some of the questions that the USA Basketball coaches — Popovich’s staff includes Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Villanova’s Jay Wright, as well as Pierce, who will remain on staff — are currently mulling included these, as Pierce recalled Sunday:

“Who do you wait for? Who’s worth waiting for? How long do you wait? How do you manage your roster because we’re going to play four or five games in July in Vegas, kind of a mini-bubble of teams and just kind of keep everything there? And how do you manage a roster, knowing there may be some pretty important guys potentially that may still be playing. And then, what do you do in the event of some random emergency when you have to leave on the 19th for Tokyo?”

Most of the league’s biggest American stars — LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant among them — were part of the player pool last year and are expected to be part of the pool this summer.

Pierce, Kerr and Wright were all with Popovich as assistants when USA Basketball finished seventh at the Basketball World Cup in 2019. More than 50 players were part of the U.S. plan at one point or another for that tournament; of those, 12 went to China, two got cut after the first week of training camp and the other three dozen or so dropped out on their own.

“There’s only so much to discuss,” Kerr said. “We talked about roster possibilities and that sort of thing, and logistics. And the logistics are kind of up in the air, so we’ll just play it by ear — and when the time comes, we’ll be ready to go to work.”

Pierce said the U.S. is trying to simultaneously be pre-emptive and proactive when it comes to figuring out how this summer might work in terms of personnel.

“We haven’t talked about style of play and things like that,” Pierce said. “I think there’s a lot of other factors that are really important right now leading into that.”

The U.S. men will open the Olympics against France — the team that beat them in the World Cup quarterfinals and ended their medal hopes in that event — on July 25. The U.S. men will also face Iran on July 28 and a still-to-be-determined team on July 31.

The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal. The Tokyo Games are scheduled to open July 23, one day after the NBA says is the last possible date for this season’s NBA Finals.

Houston acquires 2025 2nd-round pick in eight-player trade with Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Sacramento Kings
Getty Photo
0 Comments

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski described this as a “cap-centric deal”, since it helped the Thunder get around $10 million below the luxury tax, while Houston added a 2nd-round pick by taking on $1 million in cap space.

The Rockets acquired Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Moe Harkless, Theo Maledon and a protected 2025 2nd-round pick from the Hawks and sent David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss to Oklahoma City.

The 2nd-rounder from Atlanta is protected 31-40, and it will become the second best 2026 2nd-round pick between the Mavericks, Thunder, and 76ers if it doesn’t convey in 2025.

A tweet from Jackson Gatlin of Locked On Rockets indicates that Houston will also receive $6.3 million in cash from the Thunder.

Previous reports indicated that Derrick Favors was unlikely to remain with the Thunder this season, while Ty Jerome wasn’t participating in training camp as his representatives worked with the team to find an exit strategy for him. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported that Houston plans to waive Jerome. Harkless was traded for the third time this summer. He was dealt from Sacramento to Atlanta in July as part of the Kevin Huerter deal, and then was shipped to OKC for Vit Krejci earlier this week. Hopefully he’ll be able to settle in with Houston this season.

As he enters his seventh season, this will be the sixth team that Nwaba has suited up for. The journeyman has had a few solid seasons, including averaging 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.0 steals for Houston during the 2020-21 season. Among the players in the deal, he’s the most likely candidate to carve out a role on his new team next season.

Brown, Burke, and Chriss were already traded once this summer as part of the deal that said Christian Wood to Dallas. Now, they’ll be depth pieces in Oklahoma City if the team decides to keep them around.

Daily Thunder’s beat writer Brandon Rahbar pointed out that the trade wouldn’t have been possible without the Disabled Player Exception that the Thunder received because of Chet Holmgren’s injury.

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
0 Comments

Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

0 Comments

Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.

 

Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen

0 Comments

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.