Archives For International/Team USA

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  August 10, 2012

It’s the day after the night of the big news, and I don’t know that there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said (although you can be sure that it will be said again, many times over). The arrival of Dwight Howard after a prolonged and sometimes awkward dance, is a major milestone in the Lakers’ timeline. Credit Mitch Kupchak, who swung for the fences this summer in his measured and quiet way, and parked a couple well over the fence. There’s also the matter of the Olympics – Team USA is in the midst of their semi-final, playing against Argentina. If they advance, they’ll play Spain. Do I seem at all distracted?

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports was the first to break the news yesterday, and updates his report this afternoon.

Brian Kamenetzy at the Land O’Lakers examines why it was so crucial to keep Pau in the fold, during the Dwight trade.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register writes about Mitch Kupchak and the magic of the crystal ball.

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen & Roll, reports that it’s official, and breaks down what we got and what we sent.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times looks at five ways in which Dwight helps the Lakers. Mark also just reported on Jodie Meeks signing for about $3 million over two years.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation brings us Kobe’s reaction.

Steve McPherson at Hardwood Paroxysm takes a Glengarry Glen Ross look at the Lakers’ newest acquisition.

***

To say that the Laker roster looks to be in good shape, is only saying a little. As fans, we have every right to be happy and unapologetic about our good fortune. Yet, it’s still the middle of a long, hot summer. Training camp is months off, and then come the adjustments and acclimation for a team that will look, and play differently. There will be an 82-game regular season and I for one, don’t expect any romp to the finish line. Darius wrote a nice goodbye to a kid that we all watched grow. And best wishes to Josh McRoberts as well. I always liked his hustle and his attitude. From halftime to the start of the 4th quarter as I write – Durant and Carmelo are bombing away, and USA is opening up their lead. Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

* Okay, I cannot NOT update this, moments after posting. Team USA blows it open and goes for gold Sunday!  Yes!!

– Dave Murphy

With the Olympic Ceremony already happening (we’ll get to watch it at 7 p.m. on NBC if you’re out here in the West Coast), Team USA hoops is right around the corner. Before they take the floor for the first time in this tournament against Tony Parker’s French National team, lets take a look at some of the positives and negatives that I’ve noticed from Team USA on the floor.

The Positives

The Stretch Four
Throughout the five games Team USA played, one of the problems that we consistently saw was a propensity for taking way too many long range shots. The athleticism on this team should call for a lot more penetrating and finishing around the rim and posting up mis-matches. Everyone who has handled the ball around the perimeter has taken at least one ill-advised three pointer. However, two guys were able to somewhat-consistently knock down shots from behind the arc during the course of the five games — Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. During the five games, Durant and Anthony combined to shoot .489 from range while the rest of the team shot .404 (it should be noted that Anthony Davis shot a perfect 1.000 from three, he was one-for-one). Furthermore, a lot of those threes were a direct result of either pick-and-pops or guys penetrating, drawing defenders and kicking out to either Durant or Anthony. Of course, both of them took their fair share of ill-advised threes off the dribble, but Durant and Anthony shooting off the catch have been better than anyone else on Team USA. Also, having those two straddle the perimeter or as the pick man in P&Rs have taken opposing fours away from the rim and opened the lanes for guys like Paul, Williams, Westbrook and LeBron to do what they do best. Truehoop’s Beckley Mason has even gone on to say that Melo can take his role as the four for Team USA.

Small Ball Defense
With a roster featuring only one true center, Coach K has had the liberty (or has been forced to depending on how you look at it) to play around with some unique lineups, seeing both LeBron and Anthony spend some time at the 5. While this is a big cause for concern on the interior with the lack of size, it has allowed all five parts of the defense to move interchangeably through screens. With five athletic guys who can all defend along the perimeter, it has given the defense — in these small lineups — the freedom to switch on nearly everything. Because of this, rotations become shorter, they’re able to use their collective athleticism to jump into passing lanes, and it takes the pressure off of one guy to have to work too much on an offensive player who moves around a lot. In the game against Argentina, Kobe was assigned to Manu Ginobili. With the Argentinians running the Flex offense, Ginobili often started sets in the corner and is run through a series of screens to free him up for open jump shots or cuts through the lane. One on possession in particular, Ginobili ran Kobe to one screen and Anthony picked him up. Ginobili ran Anthony to another screen and Deron Williams picked him up. Ginobili then ran Williams to a screen and LeBron picked him up. Ginobili didn’t touch the ball on that possession and a contested jumpshot was taken. Of course, they’ll try to avoid any match ups in which a point guard is forced to take on a big, but they have the speed along the perimeter to really disrupt what opposing offenses are trying to do with their small ball lineups.

The Negatives

Zone Offense
The biggest hole in Team USA’s game is their inability to show any consistency attacking zone defenses. Starting late in the 2nd quarter, Argentina really just packed the paint and allowed the Americans to fire away from the perimeter, keeping Argentina in a game that they were down early. There was very little gap penetration, and all ball rotations were just along the perimeter. Yes, shots opened up, but it was the shots the Argentines wanted Team USA to take. Against Spain, things didn’t look any better against zone defenses. The score doesn’t really coincide with how much Team USA struggled with getting shots around the rim against Spain’s zone because they hit 13-three pointers as a team. The reality is that they shot 54 percent from three against man-to-man and only 25 percent against the zone (numbers per ESPN Stats and Information’s Ryan Fieldman). LeBron has been the best at busting zones, especially when he’s able to catch the ball near the free throw line and either attack or facilitate, but even he has been prone to just taking perimeter jumpers like the rest of the team. We should expect to see many more zones against this Team USA, and I’d like to see them counter with gap penetration and jumpers only after the ball has touched the paint. Putting pressure on the defense by attacking the rim is the easiest way to get teams out of the zone, and if they’re going to try to shoot themselves out of zone defenses, Coach K might want to have both Melo and Durant on the floor simultaneously.

Protecting the Rim
Earlier, I noted how well Team USA has defended teams around the perimeter, stopping them from getting into their sets and forcing contested jump shots and turnovers. On the flip side, they’ve been susceptible to back cuts and hard rolls in P&R sets, especially when Tyson Chandler is on the bench. Case in point is Serge Ibaka’s personal 10-point run early in the game against Spain. Chandler got in early foul trouble and Ibaka scored on a series of P&Rs and back cuts. When the defense wasn’t able to keep the ball on the perimeter, Ibaka had a field day with being guarded by Durant/Anthony/James in the paint. Furthermore, perimeter defenders were repeatedly beat back door in games against Brazil, Spain and Argentina. I remember at least two times where Kobe himself was beat back door by Ginobili in the Argentina game. These things are less of a problem with Tyson Chandler holding down the fort, but with only five fouls allowed in international play, Coach K will really have to watch his minutes should he get in any early foul trouble.

That said, Team USA are the clear favorites to take home the gold as their positives far outweigh their negatives — but their close calls against Brazil and Argentina show that this team is beatable under the right circumstances. Their opening game against France is at 2:30 p.m. local time, which would make it 6:30 a.m. PST, if it did that right (feel free to correct in the comments if necessary).

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  July 27, 2012

The 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony is tonight, with NBC kicking off coverage via various tape delay configurations, at 7:30 pm for both EST and PST, and 6:30 pm for CST. Plus a plethora of video updates, podcasts and the like from ESPN and Yahoo and others, as well as live streaming feeds for all events via NBC online, except for the opening and closing ceremonies. Are we all clear now? Or, to make things simpler, USA Men’s Basketball squares off against France, Sunday night.

In other news, the seismic chart representing Dwight Howard trade activity is currently registering at low levels, at random intervals. Which is fine by me, I’m fairly bored by it at this point. Which is not to say that I won’t avail us all of timely D-12 linkage until it, whatever “it” is, either bleeds out completely or becomes something real. Ready?

Brian Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, reveals that Mitch Kupchak is still interested in activity that he can’t by rule actually discuss.

Ben Bolch at the L.A. Times takes a look at the newly released NBA schedule.

Janis Carr at the OC Register offers up Steve Nash’s latest video parody.

An editorial by C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll, about Dwight and the possible winds of change.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation rekindles the Jodie Meeks rumors.

Jordan Conn at Grantland, writes about the summer league and the last hopes of redemption.

Eric Freeman at Yahoo’s Fourth Place Medal reports on Kobe Bryant’s weight loss for the Olympics.

This is normally where I place the back end of the wraparound bumper, with some sort of pithy basketball commentary. I got nothing but a headache, and I’m hungry for lunch. Tonight though, the temperature will drop a bit, the TV will warm up, and I’ll watch the opening ceremonies. Once again, they’ll stretch on too long and once again, I’ll get caught up in the excitement and the rite of passage these games always seem to symbolize. Enjoy the weekend everyone, I know I will.

– Dave Murphy

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  July 13, 2012

The ink on Steve Nash’s contract has had time to dry, and talk has turned to systematic issues. Yesterday, Darius used a Henry Abbott article as an entry point in the conversation about Nash’s offensive modus operandi, and how to find the balance. The topic will be revisited many times, in many ways. We’re now officially into the Nash era, and if you missed his presser on Wednesday, take some time to watch. In a word, it was impressive.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, offers the purple and gold butterfly effect, a chronicling of the many twists and fortuitous turns that it took to put Nash in a Lakers uniform.

Yesterday, Kobe Bryant tossed out an off the cuff assertion that the 2012 USA Team, could pull out a win against the Dream Team. In its essence, it’s one of life’s most common observations, that one could beat another. Yet in this heightened snapshot age, the comment went instantly viral. Here’s a take from Dan Devine at Yahoo’s Fourth Place Medal, incorporating the one and only Barkley.

Alex Dewey at Gothic Ginobili, takes a hilarious look at a Mike Brown plan of action for newcomer Nash – the Circle Offense.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register, brings the Nash conversation back to earth, and the idea of reaching a point in life where priorities change and realities crystallize.

Mike Trudell at the NBA.com Lakers blog, has an in-depth look at how Mitch Kupchak was able to bring Steve Nash into the fold.

The saga of Dwight continues, with Houston gaining momentum. Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo, has the story.

An AP report covers the U.S. Team’s win against the Dominican Republic, Durant’s 24 points, Blake Griffin’s injury, and a great, extended video of Kyrie Irving trash-talking Kobe.

On the subject of Kobe and the Olympics, this SB Nation article by Andrew Sharp, is well worth the read.

Apart from the home run sweepstakes, there’s still a lot of small pieces of the Lakers puzzle that need to be put together. Royce Young at Eye on Basketball writes about Grant Hill who turns 40 this year, and is looking at the Lakers, Thunder, and Heat.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times Lakers Now, profiles Jordie Meeks, the 76ers free agent shooting guard.

Suki Thind at Lakers Nation asks if Antawn Jamison would be a good fit for the Lakers.

And finally, Tim Gossett from the terrific Eight Points, Nine Seconds blog, has an article about our old friend Brian Shaw, a leading candidate for head coaching positions in both Orlando and Portland.

***

Summers are often a slow time of the year. Not so this one – summer league is upon us and it’s time to get a look at rookies, hopefuls, and the eternal chasers of the dream. The Olympics are also around the corner, always a momentous occasion, filled with personal stories of triumph over adversity. From free agency to fall training camp, there’s a palpable energy in the air. And for Lakers fans, anticipation for a season and a team that promises to be very different, thanks to the arrival of a 38 year-old soccer enthuiast from British Columbia.

– Dave Murphy

Yesterday, Jack McCallum’s highly anticipated book “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles And The Greatest Team Of All Time Conquered The World And Changed The Game Of Basketball Forever” was released for purchase (you can get a copy here). A few of us here at FB&G were able to get an advanced copy of the book to review and, well, we loved it. What follows is our email conversation about the book…

Darius Soriano: First things first, what did you guys think of the book?

Phillip Barnett: Off top, it was just an absolutely fantastic read. I’m a bit younger than both of you, so I really only got to watch the tail end of the career of most of these guys (I was only five in the Summer of ’92). For me, I can only rely on ESPN Classic games and accounts like Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team” book to get a feel for how much this team meant to the game of basketball. That said, I think the best thing about this book is the format in which it was written. Instead of a long, drawn out chronological tale about how the Dream Team came about and how dominant they were, the book is broken down into 40-someting smaller chapters that allowed McCallum to tell a lot of the back stories that went into building this team and gave him the freedom to do a lot of character building — which isn’t always the case in non-fiction narratives. “Dream Team” reads more like a novel than it does a historical account of a hoops team, and it allows for younger guys like myself to learn a bit more about the individuals on the team, the relationships built and even some of the animosity between guys who were and were not on the Dream Team. Furthermore, the book takes a few “Where are they now” glances at some of the players with six interludes throughout the book which provide for some interesting — and some would even say juicy — nuggets in which the players didn’t hold back on their feelings on others on the team. In one of the interludes, Clyde Drexler suggested that Magic was getting the “benefit of the doubt” because people “kept expecting him to die” following his AIDS announcement and went on to suggest that there was nothing that Jordan could do that he could not. It was really those kind of anecdotes, and the more fun ones like Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing’s unexpected friendship, that kept me turning pages. Were there any back stories in particular that you two found more interesting than others?

J.M. Poulard: After reading multiple books on superstars who also happened to play on the Dream Team (Bird, Magic and Jordan), it always felt as though the 1992 Olympics served more as a footnote in their illustrious careers as opposed to one of its bigger events.

After reading “Dream Team”, that sentiment has been rendered null and void. McCallum covers all bases in order to give readers a detailed depiction of the team. Whether it’s the decision to finally allow NBA players to compete in the Olympics or the reasons that prevented the team from staying in the Olympic village; the author goes to great lengths for all to understand what actually transpired.

If there is one back story that struck me more than any, it’s the dynamic between Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.

Both were icons at the time and continue to be even today and the book captures that perfectly.

Magic had always exhibited a seemingly unparalleled ability to communicate with people — whether it’s teammates, opponents, coaches, media or fans — thanks in large part to his smile, charm and willingness to voice his opinions.

Michael on the other hand was known as a leader that practiced hard, led by example and chastised teammates whenever they failed him.

And yet in Barcelona, their personalities blended together as Magic serving as the team’s voice while Jordan was its motor and its heart. McCallum relates this perfectly and gives us the lenses to view the two leading alpha males on a team composed of such individuals.

It’s worth noting that “Dream Team” perfectly captures the pulse of the team through interviews and tales that were shared with Jack McCallum almost 20 years after the team won the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

Darius: I couldn’t agree more about MaCallum’s approach to the book. By giving readers the backstories to the players and then providing fascinating tidbits of information about the dynamics between them in the lead up to and throughout the Olympics, he gives readers an insider’s perspective that takes you along for the ride.

And, I also completely agree about how the Magic/MJ dynamic proved captivating. Having just met in the Finals a year prior to the formation of the team, it was clear that there was both a healthy respect and rivalry still at play between the teams’ two top names. In fact, I think Magic’s portrayal in the book is one of the more interesting aspects touched on.

McCallum did an excellent job of giving the reader so many sides of a very complex man within the context of this extraordinary team. Not only was there the Drexler interlude that touched on Magic’s HIV, but there was also how his disease served as a backdrop for Magic’s hands on approach to leadership and how it (seemingly) drove him to prove that he was still at the top of his game (and thus still one of the team’s best players) after not competing in the league since that Finals loss to Jordan (outside the 1992 All-star game).

On the other side, though, was the respect that Magic had amongst his peers, how his mates saw him as a genuine leader – and mouthpiece – for the team, and how his past accomplishments (remember, at that point Magic had 5 championships to his name whereas Jordan only had 2 while Bird had 3) gave him some bragging rights within the group. All of this combined to create a complex character that could rub his teammates the wrong way and inspire respect.

Besides the stuff on Magic, though, there were so many other parts of the book that stood out to me. The Bird/Ewing friendship, the Isaiah Thomas exclusion, the narrative surrounding how the NBA got involved in the Olympic process, and the behind the scenes descriptions of the now infamous practices and scrimmages were all so great.

What about for you guys? Was there one story in particular that stuck with you?

Phillip: Not to completely overdo the Magic aspect, but he really was one of the keys, not only in this book, but really in getting this whole team together. McCallum — and the Dream Team documentary a few months ago to some extent — spoke about how no one really thought the NBA’s brightest stars would buy into playing for the Olympic team. It was Magic who enthusiastically signed on first and helped push some of the other key guys (Bird and Jordan, namely) to join on as well. McCallum described Magic’s and Jordan’s leadership roles metaphorically when he said, “Magic was the Sun and Jordan was the North Star,” and there was a lot of truth to that. Like Darius noted, Magic was the vocal leader of the team and took on a lot of duties to make sure the  — how do you say this — general ideology of who this team was revolved around him. There were anecdotes about Magic taking number 15 so his name would be called last and him holding the flag when the team was introduced for the first time. But as much as the team revolved around him in almost every aspect off the court, Jordan was the unquestioned leader on the court as the team seeked his direction once the ball was in the air. I found that dynamic fascinating.

I also ate up everything on Barkley. Even though I really only remember his career as a Houston Rocket, he’s always been my favorite NBA player after Eddie Jones. I continue to save a special place in my heart for undersized forwards who can rebound the ball, but Chuck was one of those special, once in a lifetime kind of athletes. He often seemed overweight, but got off the ground so easily, was deceptively quick in the open court and was nearly unstoppable when he got a head of steam going toward the basket. Then you get to couple that generational talent with one of the most unique personalities the league has ever seen and you’ve got yourself one of the most memorable ball players ever. McCallum has a few Barkley anecdotes that really stuck out — one of them being that Larry Bird said he was a student of Barkley’s game and even added a few of his tricks to his own repertoire. The fact that such a talent almost missed out on the Dream Team is hard to wrap your head around. But the fact that his talent generally overrode his off the court antics speaks volumes just to how great he was.

Darius: Ah, good old Chuck. He definitely was one of the choice “characters” in this book.

The anecdote about Barkley that stood out the most to me had nothing to do with his escapades on the town in Barcelona, how his selection came about, or even is rivalry with Malone. It was how often it was hinted at that he was one of the most dominating forces on the team. I can’t recall how many times it occurred but multiple times coaches and teammates said that if the Dream Team ever needed a basket they could just “throw the ball to Charles”. Considering that team had Jordan on it, I thought that was the highest compliment that could be paid to him and his skill level at the time of the competition. He was an explosive force of nature that could play an all court game. I’m convinced we’ll see countless players of Jordan’s “type” (athletic wing players) before we ever see another player that’s like Barkley.

J.M.: Not too get too much away from the book, but I recall watching the Dream Team when I was younger and Barkley was by far one of the most athletically gifted players on the court at all times.

There were times it seemed as though he could breeze by guards on a fast break and his size was problematic for everyone.

For those only accustomed to Barkley through his TNT gig, McCallum does a great job of bringing us back to his playing days. Indeed, the Chuckster was a lethal weapon — fun fact, he led the team in scoring — that no one had an answer for.

It’s clear from the details of the book that Barkley always knew he was a great player, but showcasing his talent with the Dream Team gave him some validation that perhaps few remember today.

With that said, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the non-story of David Robinson. I have long theorized that the Admiral should have been one of the greatest players ever but he seemed to lack something.

McCallum provides some terrific insight into the player, but more importantly the man; and although it gives the readers a greater of appreciation of Robinson as an individual; one cannot help but feel cheated about the Spurs center.

For all of the criticism thrown at Shaquille O’Neal for not putting more into basketball, Robinson not only deserves the same amount throw his way, but perhaps more.

As great as he was as a center, he never had the edge needed to carry his team to the promised land and put the fear into the hearts of his opponents. And to his credit, Robinson is perfectly at ease with who he is and shows no sign of remorse whatsoever about how his career unfolded. Nonetheless, the question “what if” still looms…

Darius: I think we could go on and on with anecdotes and insights gleaned from this book. McCallum simply did a fantastic job of giving the reader so much information in an easy to consume format. At this point though, I’d rather not give away too much more and just suggest that everyone go out and buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.