Winning fourth straight Olympic gold medal will not be easy for Team USA

0 Comments

Kobe Bryant, a few months before he died, made an appearance at the Basketball World Cup in China and was asked about the future of USA Basketball.

His message was clear: Gold medals will no longer come easily.

“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S.,” Bryant said. “It’s that the rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time.”

He wasn’t wrong. The U.S. finished seventh at that World Cup, the worst finish ever by an American men’s team at a major international tournament. Now comes a chance for redemption, with the U.S. heading to the delayed Tokyo Games in search of a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

The Americans — coached by Gregg Popovich — will be led by Kevin Durant, seeking his third Olympic gold, and have past gold medalists Kevin Love and Draymond Green back on the roster as well. The rest are Olympic first-timers, including Phoenix’s Devin Booker, Miami’s Bam Adebayo and Portland’s Damian Lillard.

“We’ll find out after the Olympics just how far people have come or didn’t come,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

There will be no shortage of legitimate medal hopefuls in the 12-team field: The U.S. tops the list, of course, but Spain, Australia, France and Argentina are among the other nations that can make strong cases as to why they’ll reach the top of the podium in Tokyo.

Spain is the reigning World Cup champion. France knocked the Americans out of medal contention at that World Cup. Argentina has tons of experience, and Australia has been on the cusp of what it believes is an international breakthrough for some time.

“There’s a goal of trying to win a gold medal for Australia, which we’ve never done — or trying to win a medal, which we’ve never done,” Australia guard Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz said. “That’s something that’s been a goal of mine since I made the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and we haven’t been able to do it.”

Some other things to know about the Olympic men’s tournament:

GAME IS DIFFERENT

It doesn’t sound like much, but a shorter game — 40 minutes under FIBA rules, as opposed to 48 minutes in the NBA — is sometimes an adjustment for NBA players. There are other rule differences such as goaltending (in FIBA play, once a ball hits the rim, anybody can tap it in or swat it away without deference to being “inside the cylinder”) and a five-foul limit as opposed to six fouls in the NBA.

FORMAT CHANGE

Instead of two groups of six teams, the Olympic format has been changed to three groups of four teams. That means fewer games.

The U.S. played eight games at the 2016 Olympics — five in group play (one against each members of that group), then a quarterfinal, semifinal and the title game. But in the new format, teams will be capped at six games, with three in the group stage, then the quarterfinals and followed by the medal round.

It’ll be the fewest games played by a gold medal-winning team since the inaugural Olympic tournament in 1936, when the U.S. won the gold with a 5-0 record and played only four games. Its first opponent at those Berlin Games was supposed to be Spain, which didn’t arrive because of the Spanish Civil War — so the Americans were awarded a 2-0 forfeit win.

NBA PRESENCE

There were a record 46 NBA players on the rosters for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and it seems likely that there will be even more in Tokyo. After the U.S. — which fields a 12-man team entirely of NBA players — the team with the second-most NBA faces in Rio was Spain, with seven.

Nigeria may wind up with 12 NBA players on its roster for these games as well, which would make it almost a certainty that the number from Rio would be eclipsed in Tokyo.

WELCOME BACK

The host nation automatically qualifies for Olympic tournaments, so Japan is in the men’s basketball field for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Games. It’s likely that the hosts will have NBA players Rui Hachimura (Washington) and Yuta Watanabe (Toronto) on the roster.

WORLD RANKING

FIBA, the sport’s global governing body, has the U.S. ranked as the top men’s team in the world, followed by reigning World Cup champion Spain, Australia, Argentina and Serbia rounding out the top five. FIBA recognizes 168 different national federations in its rankings.

NBA world reacts to video of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

“How did that video get leaked?”

That was the primary reaction of players on Twitter after TMZ got ahold of the practice video showing Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole during a Warriors practice. The video has gone viral in NBA circles and brought an issue the Warriors hoped was in the rearview mirror front and center again.

Trae Young played the instigator on Twitter with his response (although the rumor of Green wanting to join the Lakers if the Warriors don’t extend him has been floating around the league for a while).

While some other players talked about the incident, most players were focused on how something they consider private — a practice — became public.

Former Grizzlies executive John Hollinger posted the response of the 29 other teams.

Leaked video of Draymond Green punch of Jordan Poole means incident not just going away

0 Comments

The Warriors thought they had the situation handled. Sure, Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole during practice but Green apologized to the team and discipline was being handled “internally.” Nothing to see here, move along.

Then TMZ got ahold of a leaked practice video that shows things being much uglier than most imagined.

It shows Green and Poole had their beef and were talking, Green walked up on Poole, then Poole pushed him away with two hands and Green came back with a vicious punch to the face that was a massive escalation.

The Warriors do not practice on Friday and nobody from the organization is scheduled to speak to the media. Green is expected to rejoin his teammates in practice on Saturday, coach Steve Kerr said previously.

The Warriors likely will say this changes nothing, they had already seen the video before settling on a punishment. Plus, punches have been thrown in NBA practices more times than anyone could count — including Kerr getting punched by Michael Jordan in a legendary Bulls practice.

But there was never video like this leaked before.

The Warriors reportedly are investigating the leak of the footage to TMZ.

The video being public increases the inherent tension around the situation, keeps the news cycle alive and gives fans (and media pundits) some context and facts to discuss whether the Warriors are letting Green off easy.

It will also bubble up the subtext to all this about the Warriors’ future spending, something NBC Sports Bay Area’s Dalton Johnson and I discussed on a PBT Podcast previewing the Warriors’ season. Co-owner Joe Lacob has said that the Warriors’ salary and tax limit will make it hard to extend all three of Andrew Wiggins, Poole and Green at the prices they expect. Poole, the youngest of the group and a bridge to the future, is going to get his money (probably a little more than Tyler Herro just got from the Heat). There’s been speculation that Green would be the odd man out, be forced to opt-in for less than he wants, or he can opt-out and be a free agent this summer.

The Warriors thought this fight was in the rearview mirror. Green and Poole would have to address it with the media at some point, but the Warriors wanted to move on and focus on the season and their upcoming ring ceremony.

The leaked video changes that dynamic. The controversy remains on the front page and the Warriors will have to deal with it.

The only thing that is certain in all this is that the Warriors will fire whoever leaked this video, if they can find out who it was.

 

Adam Silver hopes teams don’t tank for Wembanyama. Good luck with that.

0 Comments

Victor Wembanyama came to Las Vegas this week and put the hype machine into overdrive: In two games against the G-League Ignite he scored 73 points with 15 rebounds, nine blocks, hit 9-of-18 3-pointers (and 22-of-44 overall). He is a 7’4″ freak that LeBron James called an “alien” and a “generational talent,” and Stephen Curry said he was a “2K create-a-player.”

Combine that with the play of the Ignite’s Scoot Henderson — who had scouts using a young Derrick Rose comparison because of his athleticism, body control and skill — and the reaction in NBA circles was clear: There will be a “race to the bottom” this season. With multiple franchise cornerstone players available (and a deep draft at the top beyond those two), tanking will be an epidemic in the NBA.

Adam Silver, speaking in the United Arab Emirates before an NBA preseason game between the Bucks and Hawks, does not want to see teams tanking for Wembanyama.

Good luck with that, Adam.

The league office hates tanking and even a discussion of it. They hate the idea of a fan base being told — or, worse yet, actively rooting for — their team to lose games. This season there will be an epidemic of it around the league. In a typical year, a front office may want to tank but their challenge is getting buy-in from ownership. Not this year — Wembanyama could add $500 million to the value of a franchise, one league executive told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It could make the NBA trade deadline in February wild as teams that started the season thinking playoffs but were out of the mix (due to injury or just not being good enough) pivot to tanking. For example, think Portland from last season after Damian Lillard had surgery. Of course, the Trail Blazers also can serve as a cautionary tale — they had the sixth-worst record in the league last season but fell to seventh in the draft. Tanking doesn’t always work.

There were already were teams clearly in rebuild mode and racing to the bottom this season — do you think it’s a coincidence Danny Ainge blew up the Jazz this past summer? — and some other teams with some promising young talent (Houston, Orlando) that are fine losing a lot of games while those guys learn on the job. But the bottom of the standings could get crowded.

The NBA flattened out the lottery odds a few years ago to discourage tanking: The teams with the three worst records have a 14% chance to get the top pick and the odds drop from there (fourth is 12.5%, fifth is 10.5%, and it keeps on going down). However, this year, because the prize at the top of the draft is so huge, more teams than ever could try to get into that top three, or at least do what they can to fatten their odds.

However, with the prize being Wembanyama this season, a lot of teams may be willing to take that risk.

Despite what Adam Silver wants.

 

Joel Embiid has Olympic-sized decision to make: France or USA

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Joel Embiid has two choices: the red, white and blue of the U.S., or the blue, white and red of France.

An Olympic medal might hinge on his decision.

France is still hopeful that Embiid – the reigning NBA scoring champion – will choose to wear its colors for the 2024 Paris Olympics even though he recently became an American citizen, national team coach Vincent Collet said Thursday.

Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers star, may choose to play internationally for the U.S. or France, but not both. It was widely presumed that he would play for France at the Paris Games and possibly even next year’s Basketball World Cup in the Philippines, until Embiid revealed last week that he now has American citizenship as well.

“Now he has both nationalities, and he has to choose one basketball nationality, which is not the same,” Collet told The Associated Press. “So, that is a choice. Nobody can do anything to change it.”

Embiid told AP last week that it’s too early to think about a decision. By rule, he will eventually have to declare a choice to FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, if he decides that he wants to play at the Olympics or World Cup.

France is the reigning Olympic silver medalist and is planning to have a team featuring Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum – and, quite likely, top NBA draft prospect Victor Wembanyama – at the Paris Games. France’s plan is to essentially take what will be its Olympic roster to the World Cup next year.

Without Embiid, that French core has been extremely formidable. On top of the 2021 silver in Tokyo, France won bronze at the 2019 World Cup and silver again at this year’s European championships.

With Embiid, that group would figure to be even better. Collet said Boris Diaw, the general manager of the French national team, has been in contact with Embiid to discuss options.

“I know he met some of our players to discuss,” Collet said. “I think he should play with us. But we will see. We will respect his decision whatever it is.”

Embiid was born in Cameroon and has held French citizenship. He has a Brazilian girlfriend – their son is American – went to high school in Florida and played college basketball at Kansas.

The five-time NBA All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection has spent his entire pro career with Philadelphia, averaging 26.0 points in his first six seasons and a career-best 30.6 points on his way to the scoring crown last season.