One year out from World Cup, USA Basketball prepping for the games

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
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LAS VEGAS  — There is no roster of players. No schedule for games, either. USA Basketball hasn’t even qualified for next year’s World Cup yet, and probably won’t be able to clinch one of the 32 spots in that field until November at the earliest.

The countdown is on anyway.

Thursday marks exactly one year until the beginning of the next men’s Basketball World Cup, with the first games set to be played on Aug. 25, 2023 at the event that will be hosted by Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines. It’s not the Olympics and won’t get the same attention, yet is a major priority for the Americans especially since the U.S. finished seventh — the senior national team’s worst showing ever at a major international event — at the most recent World Cup in China three years ago.

“Humility is a powerful tool,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said when asked what the Americans took away from that finish in China. “And, you know, it doesn’t hurt to have that and be reminded of it. Not that we’ve been arrogant or disrespectful to our opponents, but it’s just a reminder that we’ve got to keep working and not take it for granted.”

That work resumes on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Americans, using a roster filled by players who will likely spend the coming season either playing internationally or in the G League, play host to Uruguay to open the second round of World Cup qualifying.

A win Thursday moves the U.S. closer to qualifying, and a sweep of this two-game window — the Americans play at Colombia on Monday — would likely put them on the brink of clinching a spot. After this window, the next round of qualifying games is in November.

None of the players who will be in uniform on Thursday — names like David Stockton, Mac McClung and Langston Galloway — were there when the Americans finished seventh at the last World Cup. They won’t be there with the Americans at the next World Cup, either; those roster spots will be offered to big-name NBA players. But they are the ones tasked with doing the actual qualifying and giving the Americans a chance to erase the disappointment over finishing seventh.

“You never want to feel like you need it,” said Sean Ford, the U.S. men’s national team director. “But if you don’t learn from it, you’re really going to take a back seat a little bit. We learned a lot. We’re learning a lot because the NBA game has changed over the last seven or eight years, too. There’s much more shotmaking. It’s just unbelievable, incredible the amount of 3-point shots that are taken, the freedom of movement, the flow of the game. But the international game has stayed the physical way.”

Steve Kerr has mastered coaching one of those styles. Now, he’ll have to master the other one.

Kerr’s Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions — with four titles in the past eight seasons — are the epitome of what Ford talks about when discussing the evolution of the pro game, relying on 3-pointers, movement and spacing to win. Kerr is very familiar with how the international game is different since he was with the U.S. as an assistant under then-coach Gregg Popovich for both of the last two major tournaments; the seventh-place showing in China, then the gold medal at the Tokyo Games last summer.

It was a logical progression for Kerr to take over for Popovich. And the tasks in 2023 and 2024 have been on his mind for some time now, as evidenced by him making a recruiting pitch to Stephen Curry on the night the Warriors won this past season’s NBA title.

“He’s missing an Olympic gold medal and I think he really has to focus on being on the 2024 Olympic Team,” Kerr said that night in Boston, as the Warriors were celebrating. “That’s the last thing for his career. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.”

Jokes aside, this is serious business for the U.S. A win in qualifying games, or clinching a spot in the World Cup, won’t generate much attention. Losses, or failure to qualify, would. Getting the Americans into the World Cup is a task that has largely fallen on the shoulders of Jim Boylen, who will coach the U.S. again in these next two games; he’s gone 5-1 in three qualifying windows to this point.

“We have a responsibility,” Boylen said. “A great responsibility, to play as hard as we can, to play the right way, and the reason we have to do that is because the big team has got to qualify. That’s our job.”

Kerr has been resting quite a bit this summer. He’s spent some time overseas, getting plenty of downtime with his family, preparing for the challenge of once again leading the Warriors through the grind of defending a championship.

USA Basketball is hoping he doesn’t get so much relaxation next summer. Or the one after that, since the World Cup will serve as the primary qualifier for the Paris Olympics.

“When an opportunity like this comes along, you don’t stop and say, ‘I wonder what my legacy will be.’ You say, ‘I can’t wait to dive in with the players and the coaches,’ and you go for it,” Kerr said. “When all the dust settles, you keep going forward. Hopefully, we will put together a great team and a great effort and we’ll see how we do.”

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

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

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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’

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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.