Team USA Gets a Wake-Up Call

U.S. national basketball team players (L-R) Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose take a break while warming up at Madrid

Source: Yardbarker.com

Team USA got a message Saturday night in Madrid. Winning the World Championships in Turkey will take a lot more than just out-talenting a slew of competitors.

Prior to Saturday, Team USA hadn’t had many problems in their contests against international opponents, easily disposing of China and France in two exhibitions last weekend in New York City. It was a different story a week later, though, as Lithuania gave the Americans a run for their money in the first half.

Without the Olympian superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and the rest, this year’s national team is overwhelmingly devoid of players with notable international experience, and that shined through on Saturday.

Team USA was not expecting Lithuania’s physicality, as players repeatedly took beatings as they drove the lane, which forced them to settle for jumpshots that did not fall in the first half. It was the first time that the lack of depth up front for the U.S. was truly an issue, as the Lithuanian bigs bruised and battered the Team USA guards.

But it wasn’t just an insufficient interior presence that caused problems. The team appeared to lack chemistry, often turning the ball over unnecessarily and making bad decisions. Furthermore, there were environmental problems. The floor seemed oddly slippery, causing problems for the quick USA guards. In addition, the rim seemed less generous than Ebenezer Scrooge at Christmas time — at least in the first half.

In the second half, Team USA swept Lithuania under the rug, in part thanks to a 17-0 run but more because the coach of Lithuania wanted to save its offensive plays and sets for the games that are going to count.

Even though Team USA didn’t lose, the struggles in the first half were an important milestone in the development of this team. For a bunch of players who haven’t played together that long, this helps to reduce the overconfidence that was evident among the younger players.

Now they know they can’t take any plays off, can’t take bad risks, and can’t be flashy lest they miss dunks like Rudy Gay. Lithuania is hardly the best team the U.S. will face in this tournament, with Spain and Greece as very formidable opponents. But at least Team USA knows it is no longer bulletproof. It’ll take a lot more hard work and a lot more concentration and effort to come out on top in Turkey in a couple weeks.


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Carmelo Anthony Likely Headed Out

It looks like Carmelo Anthony could be headed out of Denver, reports ESPN the Magazine’s Ric Bucher:

All signs continue to point toward the eventual divorce between Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets.

League sources say it is now a matter of when, not if, Anthony and the Nuggets will go their separate ways.

Anthony is weighing whether to sign a three-year, $65 million extension offered by the Nuggets. His dilemma, league sources say, is what affords him the best chance of continuing his career elsewhere. Anthony could sign with Denver and convince the team to then trade him. His other option would be to not sign the extension, thereby forcing the team to move him rather than risk losing him next summer as a free agent.

It’s obvious that Anthony is envious of LeBron’s attention this summer, so he’s going to try to emulate his style and get all the love and money he wants. The difference this season might be in how the team handles it.

In light of how doomed the Cleveland Cavaliers are now that their superstar is gone, the Denver Nuggets might look to avoid that by dealing Anthony to a team he wants before the deadline this February. It would have to be with a team that Melo likes, as indicating that he wouldn’t re-sign with a particular team is a de facto no-trade clause for the small forward.

Who might he agree to? The Knicks, a destination that has been mentioned for another superstar trio, or the Nets, who will be in Brooklyn in two years where Melo grew up, are the two frontrunners at this point.


Eric Gordon and Team USA

I’m currently in New York City covering USA Basketball for Clippers.com as the team prepares for the World Championships next month. Here’s an article I wrote about today’s scrimmage against China. You can find it here:

In preparation for Sunday’s Global Community Cup game against France, Team USA took to the floor of Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon in a friendly scrimmage against China, one of the cup’s two other participating countries. The teams played four 10-minute quarters, but the score reset for each of the periods.

Over the course of the afternoon, USA largely dominated play, winning each of the first three quarters by scores of 20-11, 27-15, and 35-8. In the contentious fourth quarter, China struck back, narrowly edging out Team USA 17-16. Danny Granger paced the team with 22 points, while Yi Jianlian led the Chinese with 13 points.

For Eric Gordon, things got off to a slow start. After Coach Mike Krzyzewski elected to sit him for the entire first period, Gordon came out on the floor to play the first five minutes of the second. He hit one of his three 3-point attempts in the quarter and picked up a steal as well for a respectable first half.

In the third quarter, though, Gordon really turned up his game, racking up 8 points (of his 15 total) on two long-range makes and a pair of free throws. Gordon also stood out on the defensive end, nagging ball handlers and poking the orange away on a few occasions.

“We had a good rhythm as a team. When you have good rhythm as a team, everybody starts hitting shots. I know I got going, hitting a lot of threes, and it was good for me, but as a team we were rolling pretty good,” Gordon said after the game.

In the fourth quarter, Krzyzewski relied on Gordon down the stretch, playing Gordon for the final five-and-a-half minutes of the game, in which he added four more points — two of which came on an impressive breakaway dunk. “Eric been playing very well.” Krzyzewski said. “He hasn’t had one bad day.”

Krzyzewski’s satisfaction with Gordon’s abilities manifested itself at the end of the final period. With Team USA down one point with about 1.5 seconds to play, Krzyzewski drew up a side out of bounds play off the timeout designed to get either Granger or Gordon — the team’s two highest scorers for the contest — the final look. As the play developed, Gordon turned out to be the one open. He fired up a three off Rudy Gay’s inbound pass from the left wing as time expired, but, unfortunately it fell short off the front rim.

“It was a good look,” Gordon said. “The ball was so slick. It was on target but I just couldn’t get it far enough, but it was a good shot.”

Granger echoed Gordon’s feelings: “I think he got a good look. We played it right. One of us was going to be open. He was, and he got a good shot off. It just so happened he missed it.”

With one game left to play Sunday against France, Gordon must continue to excel in order to secure a spot on the final roster. Krzyzewski suggested that he would cut the team to 13 or 14 players for further competition before making the final cut down to 12 by August 26.

In reference to his process for making the final selections, Krzyzewski said, “It’s about combinations. It’s not about evaluating one guy or another guy. It’s trying to figure out how they all fit together and these guys have put us in the position where they’re all playing hard, they’re all unselfish, and hopefully we can come up with the right group to give us the best chance to win.”

Granger sung Gordon’s praises, pointing out that the Clippers guard’s skill set fits the team well in international play.

“Whenever you have a guard like Eric who’s strong, can shoot it, in international competition, that’s deadly because they’re afraid of our quickness,” he said. “We have guys like Derrick Rose and [Rajon] Rondo and [Russell] Westbrook, for that matter, who are really really quick, so they pack it in. And the way you attack that is with shooters,” he continued.

Gordon himself said he was confident he would take the team, but “whoever they choose, they choose. All I try to do is hit 3-pointers and make shots and play really good defense.”

Gordon’s last chance to show off those abilities before the next cut will be tomorrow at 1 PM eastern against France.


Looks Like Paul’s Staying in the Big Easy

Cross off Chris Paul as a potential franchise trade target for this season. After what happened today, it looks like he’ll be a Hornet at least until he becomes a free agent in 2012.

Early Wednesday, the New Orleans Hornets, New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets, and Indiana Pacers agreed on a four-team trade that involves a number of notable personnel moves. Here’s the breakdown of what each team got:

Hornets get: Trevor Ariza (from Rockets)

Nets get: Troy Murphy (from Pacers)

Rockets get: Courtney Lee (from Nets)

Pacers get: Darren Collison and James Posey (from Hornets)

The ostensible winners of this deal are the Pacers, who get the long-awaited point guard in Collison — who’s quite a catch — and the defensively sound Posey. With Collison, Danny Granger, and first-round pick Paul George, the Pacers are developing quite a stock of young talent.

The Hornets make a move to appease Paul, getting rid of his surprisingly talented competition at point guard and adding a seasoned defender and shooter to help the team in the short term. It’s evident now that Paul won’t be going anywhere in a deal, as New Orleans no longer has the safety net of Collison to fill Paul’s absence.

For the Rockets, this move starts to clear up a potential power struggle at the wing position, as Ariza wants to be a top option and Kevin Martin already is. Now there’s no doubt in Houston who the No. 1 scorer is. Lee adds defensive toughness for the Kobe Bryants of the Western Conference, and he showed in Orlando that his shooting can be an asset when he’s a fourth or fifth option.

As for the Nets, this move is all about the future. While the move does a lot to constrict their cap space for this season, Murphy is only a temporary solution at power forward so that Derrick Favors has a year to develop coming off the bench and making spot starts if Murphy can’t play. Furthermore, Murphy’s expiring $11.1 million deal makes the pursuit of Carmelo Anthony next summer more of a viable option.


Nets and Raptors to Play Two Games in London

For the first time ever, a regular-season NBA game will be played in Europe. In fact, the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors will play two games at the O2 Arena in London in March. From the AP:

LONDON — The NBA is taking regular-season games to Europe for the first time.

NBA commissioner David Stern announced Monday that the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets will play a pair of regular-season games in London this season.

The teams will face each other March 4 and 5 at the O2 Arena, the same venue that has hosted preseason games over the last several years.

Stern said on a conference call he wasn’t yet sure if the regular-season games would be an annual occurrence for the league.

“We’ll need to assess how we do in March,” Stern said. “It would not surprise me if this becomes an annual event. But I don’t want to make a commitment on it.”

The NBA has been looking to expand overseas for years, and Stern has said in the past he would like to play a meaningful game in London before the city hosts the Olympics in 2012.

It’s not surprising that the Nets — even coming off a very, very bad season — are one of the teams who will play these contests. New owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the league’s first foreign owner, has been persistent about his desire to make his new franchise a global icon for basketball. Playing games in Europe certainly isn’t a bad start.

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LeBron James Thanks Cleveland Fans

July 09, 2010 - Miami, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - epa02243341 LeBron James (L) joins with Miami Heat Dwayne Wade (C) for a laugh as Chris Bosh tries out his Spanish while they greet fans during NBA basketball team Miami Heat

Source: Yardbarker.com

In his first public appearance since announcing his intention to play with the Miami Heat, LeBron James rode at a bike-a-thon in his hometown of Akron — and thanked his fans in Cleveland for their seven years of support.

“To the city of Cleveland, my fans in Cleveland, my fans in northeast Ohio,” James said. “I want to say thank you for the last seven years and the years that continue to go in the future.

“So I want to thank the city of Cleveland, also northeast Ohio, for all the great years that I’ve had,” he continued.

A lot has been made of the nature of James’ relationship with the city of Cleveland, and the conflict was only exacerbated last week when LeBron took out an advertisement in an Akron newspaper that thanked fans of his hometown but made no mention of Cleveland.

While it is said that something that comes late is better than something that never comes at all, the belated status of James’ gratitude seems to show that it’s something he was reluctant to proclaim — and that others encouraged him to do it.

Now that his thanks are on the table, though, the fans of Cleveland aren’t necessarily satisfied. In fact, most of them were more likely expecting something in the apologetic range from their former King, but it seems very unlikely that will ever happen.

I’ve made no secret of my support for James’ right to make the decision he did and that he owes nothing to a city that he was really only contractually committed to.

However, when fans start burning your jerseys and pronouncing death threats, maybe it is just best for you to swallow your pride and throw the dogs a bone. Maybe James could just say he’s remorseful (even if he’s not) and make a hefty donation to the city in some way.

That way, the only storyline when the Heat come to the Quicken Loans Arena will be the beatdown that they put on the Cavaliers and not that James is being rushed to the hospital after being hit with a bullet.


Anthony Won’t Sign Extension With Nuggets

Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets will not sign a contract extension this summer and will likely test the waters in next summer’s free agency. From Yahoo! Sports’s Mark J. Miller:

The Denver Nuggets wanted their three-time All Star, Carmelo Anthony(notes),to sign a three-year extension this summer, but HoopsWorld reports that the 26-year-old small forward won’t be signing anytime soon.

The deal would have paid him $65 million, so Anthony is walking away from some serious dough if HoopsWorld is correct. If he doesn’t sign an extension, Anthony will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Anthony’s no fool. He saw what happened this summer. He knows that he can get a lot more money next year and can either go somewhere else or stay with the Nuggets; he’s keeping his options open.

The case for signing an extension this summer was that he could guarantee his money with the looming threat of a lockout next year, but he likes the chances the owners and the players work it out (I, too, think the concerns of no basketball in 2011-2012 are entirely premature).

That said, this report only further increases the chances that there’s a new supergroup brewing. He very well could be on his way to New York next year, with Chris Paul not far ahead or behind.


Shaq to Ball in Europe?

According to Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Shaquille O’Neal is now weighing the possibility of taking his talents eastward, to play basketball in Europe next season.

Sources have indicated he’s even tested the market in Europe trying to land one last $10 million payday. But all of that is unlikely. Indeed, the Cavs may consider re-signing Shaq to a short deal that would pay him $5 million-$7 million and wait for a contender to get desperate to match up with the Lakers or Magic.

The thing is, Shaq would have to be OK with taking a lesser role on a rebuilding team and be a good citizen while biding his time. If he’s as motivated to get the money as he seems to be, he might, but it might be a gamble with chemistry for the Cavs.

To be honest, this might be Shaq’s best move. No team over here is even close to awarding him the money and playing time he wants for one last go-’round. Over in Europe, the NBA products of which are traditionally known as softees, Shaq would be a rare physical specimen, and many teams would be happy to have him at center. Heck, he might put up some decent numbers, too.