Archives For International/Team USA

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 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.

Over in Lithuania, at the EuroBasket Tournament, Pau Gasol is rolling. He’s playing efficient basketball and again showing why he’s considered one of the best players in the world. In Friday’s Spanish drubbing of Serbia, Pau was the leading scorer with 26 points in only 23 minutes of action, missing only 4 combined field goals and free throws (going 8-10 and 7-9 respectively), while grabbing 8 rebounds, dishing 3 assists, blocking 2 shots, and committing only a single turnover. Needless to say, this is the Gasol we’ve grown to love and appreciate in his Laker career.

But more than the numbers and his overall stellar production, it’s the role in which he’s being asked to play while still producing these statistics that has me encouraged. Simply put, Gasol is being asked to be the man for his home country and he’s delivering in spades.

Gasol is notorious for being one of the game’s most unselfish players and often adapts his game to try and play within the team concept. Even when he speaks out to the press about wanting the ball more it’s nearly always within the context of wanting more touches rather than wanting more shots. When expanding on this idea he’s always speaking within the terms of how to best utilize not just himself, but the rest of his teammates in order to produce the best results. Some view this as a passive-aggressive way of complaining about his teammates (cough, cough Kobe) but I’ve always taken these statements at face value and to mean that he wants everyone (including himself) more involved while not putting anyone above the team’s success.

However, when playing for his home country, Pau is taking on a different role than the highly skilled #2 to Kobe’s #1. He’s being asked to do more; he’s being asked to be the focal point of his team’s success. It’s no coincidence that Spain lost its only game this tournament when Pau sat out nursing a sore ankle or that Spain pulled away from Germany in the 2nd half of their match up when Gasol asserted himself on offense and raised his game. Pau is thriving as the driving force behind his team’s success. If you’re a Laker fan, this is a great development and the biggest reason to be encouraged about Pau bouncing back when the NBA season resumes.

You see, Gasol may be the number 2 behind Kobe, but his value to the Lakers’ success is equal to that of #24. In the Lakers’ recent championship seasons Gasol has come up huge and it’s that level of contribution that will lead to another chance to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy next season. Of course there will need to be a balance to his game as he will be returning to a roster that not only has Kobe, but other talented teammates that deserve the ball and opportunities to help the team. But it’s undeniable that Pau will also need to channel that part of his game that puts him up front as a focal point of the team for the Lakers to win it all as they did in 2009 and 2010. And in order to achieve that level of individual play, Gasol also has to embrace his role as a co-conspirator to Kobe, not a guy that stands behind him.

And make no mistake, Pau is getting that chance as Spain’s leading man this summer. The fact that he’s embracing it and succeeding  is why I’m feeling good about Pau Gasol. And why you should be too.

I didn’t get a chance to catch this game live, so I watched the replay on while I was at work and documented Pau’s progress during the game. As the title suggests, Pau finished with 29 points and (an unofficial) six rebounds. This is broken down by quarter with each note ending with how many points and rebounds he had when I made said notes.

1st Quarter

– Pau wins opening tip. Sprints to the right block to post up, Marc Gasol travels on his way to the basket. 0 points, 0 rebounds.

– Can’t tell whether or not Pau’s first shot is a long two or a three pointer. It’s a miss either way. On Spain’s next possession, Pau gets the ball in the paint on an out-of-bounds play from the baseline and gets fouled. Makes both free throws. 2 points, 0 rebounds.

– Pau’s 1st rebound of the game comes after a Rudy Fernandez miss. He misses the put-back, but another Spanish ORB leads to Juan Carlos Navarro getting into the paint and finding Pau, who is fouled again. Pau misses the front end, but makes the second. 3 points, 1 rebound.

– Pau gets the ball in the post for the first time about three minutes in the game. After a couple dribbles, he kicked it out to Jose Calderon for a three-point attempt. After the miss, Pau grabs his second offensive rebound and puts it in with is left while being fouled. Basket counts, free throw made. 6 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau’s second look in the post ends with a lefty hook in the lane. He’s been very patient in the paint thus far. 8 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau’s 1st defensive laps comes with about five minutes left to play in the quarter. Poland’s Lukasz Koszarek drove the lane toward Pau who failed to step over and help, allowing a wide-open layup (cue Dallas series memories). 8 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball on the left block for the first time. Again, he’s very patient. With his back to the basket, he looks over his left shoulder for available cutters. With no one open, he takes one dribble and makes an awfully decisive move to drop step with his right foot and finish with the left hand off the glass. Fantastic footwork, great patience and he finished while being fouled for the second time. So far, Pau has not been double-teamed. At the 4:45 mark, Spain has 13 points, Pau has 11 of them. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau takes his first break with about 3:30 left in the first. Very solid first quarter.

2nd Quarter

– Pau re-enters game at around the 7:10 mark. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau receives a great entry pass from JCN and what appears to be an open lane to the basket. Instead of taking the layup, Pau passes the ball immediately, which results in his first turnover of the contest. 11 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau was fouled away from the ball while trying to come off a screen to get to the weak side block. With Poland in the penalty, Pau gets to put in two more free throws. 13 points, 2 rebounds.

– Pau records his most interesting basket of the game as he brings the ball out to the perimeter with no numbers on the fast break. He gives the defender a few crossover dribbles before starting to back him down from 15-feet in. Then he picks up his dribble, gives the defender the drop step with is right again, reverses it, then goes back toward the basket to finish while he’s fouled. He misses the subsequent free throw. 15 points, 2 rebounds.

– Spain goes into the half with a 44-31 lead largely due to the efforts of Pau and Juan Carlos Navarro (11 points). Pau also finished the half with two blocks on the defensive end of the floor, where he did some nice things. Spain’s defensive philosophy revolves around getting ball handlers to the sidelines and keeping them out of the paint. For the most part, Pau is doing his job, showing on the high P&Rs, and keeping penetration at a minimum. However, I don’t recall one defensive rebound from Pau, just the two offensive boards from the first quarter. It would be nice to see him get a little more active on the glass in the second half.

3rd Quarter

– Poland goes to a zone defense to start out the second half. Pau catches the ball at the left pinch post (where he’s spent a lot of time in the Triangle), and attempts a touch pass to Marc Gasol who is on the left block. The pass is high and goes through Marc’s hands. This is Pau’s 2nd turnover by my unofficial count, both from quick passes. Considering Poland is in a zone, this might be an opportunity for Pau to take advantage of some backside rebounding. 15 points, 2 rebounds.

– Right on cue, Pau picks up his 3rd offensive rebound on Spain’s next possession. It was a long one on the back side after a Navarro three pointer. Looks as if Pau is going to be working solely in the high post as long as Poland is in a zone. Pau hasn’t even taken a step closer than 15-feet in these two possessions. 15 points, 3 rebounds.

– On the same possession, Pau gets a 2nd offensive rebound that just happened to fall into his lap right next to the basket. He puts it in immediately for the easy deuce. 17 points, 4 rebounds. Still no defensive rebounds.

4th Quarter

– Pau left about midway through the 3rd quarter with Spain holding a comfortable lead. He comes out to start the fourth with Spain only leading by nine. 17 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball on the left block. He turns, faces up and knocks down a smooth 12-footer. 19 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau spots up and knocks down a three pointer. The announcers say that he has 20 points, but I have him at 22. I don’t know where I added an extra three points, or why they’re behind two, but I’m hoping to figure this out before the game ends.  22 points, 4 rebounds.

– Pau grabs his first defensive rebound that I can remember with just under eight minutes left to play in the game. 22 points, 5 rebounds.

– Pau gets the ball in the low post with an extremely undersized defender guarding him. The announcers wonder why Pau doesn’t take the ball to the basket instead of kicking it out to Rubio who ends up traveling. Pau, however, makes the right decision. There were two defenders waiting to double once Pau made his move, depending on which direction he decided to go. Even though the results don’t agree, Pau made the right decision here.

– After Poland gets the deficit down to five points, Spain goes right to Gasol, who gets fouled. He knocks down both free throws with 3:30 left to play in the game. 24 points, 5 rebounds. (In case you’re wondering, my score now matches with what the broadcast has.)

– With only a six point lead, Poland’s Thomas Kelati drives right by Pau to cut the lead to four. Another horrible display of help defense, this time in a much worse situation. Pau grabbed a defensive rebound on an earlier possession. 24 points, 6 rebounds.

– On the ensuing possession, Pau catches the ball at the three point line, straight away. He dribbles a few times between his legs while moving toward the basket. He’s fouled and heads to the free throw line. He misses the front end, makes the second. 25 points, 6 rebounds.

– After Poland cut the lead to three, Spain went right back to Pau who made himself big on the inside. Caught the ball and finished in the paint while being fouled. He knocked down the free throw. 28 points, 6 rebounds.

Pau would go on to knock down one more free throw with just a few seconds left on the clock. Overall, Pau had a great showing in Spain’s opening EuroBasket game. The thing that stuck out the most was Pau’s ability to finish with contact in the paint. Spain looked to him on possessions when a basket was crucial, and he delivered more often than he didn’t. I’d like to see Pau attack the glass more and play better help defense as this tournament goes on. There aren’t too many negative things you can say about a guy who finishes with 29 points and an unofficial six rebounds.

Everyone loves some home cooking, right?

Well, if you don’t, Pau Gasol certainly does. While he may not be playing in his native Spain, he is putting on his national colors to compete in EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania to help his home country qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. And in Spain’s first contest leading up to the tourney, it was Pau that led the way in helping his team down France in yesterday’s “friendly” match up. From the game report:

Spain reminded France they are a very different team when Pau Gasol is in the line-up. Gasol, the EuroBasket 2009 MVP and the player the French couldn’t stop in the teams’ Quarter-Final showdown two years ago that Spain won 86-66, had a game-high 19 points to lead his country to a 77-53 romp over Les Bleus in Almeria on Tuesday. Playing alongside his brother Marc as twin towers in the starting five, the elder Gasol dominated. He skipped last year’s FIBA World Championship to take a well deserved break but has returned to the national side and looked as good as ever as Spain won their first friendly of the summer.

After the game, I asked Sebastian Pruiti of the fantastic NBA Playbook to send over his thoughts on the Lakers’ Gasol from the match with France and he obliged. Below are his brief thoughts:

Gasol looked really confident in his jumper.  He started out playing away from the rim with Ibaka and his brother sharing the inside duties.  As soon as he caught it, if he was open, it was going up.  (He) knocked down two threes in the 1st quarter and a long two with his foot on the line. He was also running the floor well, getting ahead and getting the ball and finishing.  Had 3 or 4 fast break buckets where he beat either Turiaf or Noah down the court just with his speed. As always he was comfortable in the post, drawing fouls and getting the rest of his points from there.

All in all, it was a very solid performance, where Pau Gasol looked extremely comfortable, and that is before you consider how uncomfortable he looked in the post-season with the Lakers. I don’t know if it is the fact he’s like the elder statesmen with that team or if the freedom with the Spanish team is helping, but he looks a hell of a lot better, like the Gasol who started the year with the Lakers (though slightly more outside oriented with Spain).

Based off these observations, it’s very encouraging to hear that Pau is back to playing well against solid competition. Noah and Turiaf are both NBA quality bigs (with Noah being one of the better defensive bigs in the game) and it speaks well about Pau that he was able to run the floor well (check out this clip of him changing ends well and then finishing off a sweet dish from his brother) while also being assertive on offense.

One tidbit that is particularly noteworthy is that Pau was decisive with his offense and looking to score with little thought about what he should do once he made the catch. One area in which Pau struggled towards the end of the season and into the playoffs was his decision making, often seeming unsure of what he wanted to do with the ball after he’d receive a pass. Too often he would hold the ball only to get himself into a position where he wasn’t getting a good shot or end up making a pass with little accomplished towards progressing the team’s offense. The fact that Pau was looking for his shot – be it a jumper, in the post, or when running the floor – and not over-thinking possessions is a good indicator that he’s mentally in a good place on the court.

Whether this trend continues into the actual tournament remains to be seen but these early returns are exactly what I’d like to see from Pau this summer. Be it fatigue (mental or physical) or some other issue, Pau clearly was not the same player in the recent playoffs as he’d shown during the rest of his tenure with the Lakers. If Pau can use his time in Europe to find his groove and come back as the confident player that many hailed as the most complete big man in the game, all of the fixes we’re discussing with this team become less important. Pau Gasol is that good a player and can make that type of an impact when at his best. Here’s hoping we see more of that Pau for the rest of the summer and into the season.

In Praise Of Team USA

Darius Soriano —  September 13, 2010

ISTANBUL, TYRKEY. SEPTEMBER 13, 2010. USA's Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom (L-R front) hold up the trophy as the US team celebrate their 81-64 victory over Turkey in the final of the 2010 FIBA World Championship at Istanbul's Sinan Erdem Dome. (Photo ITAR-TASS/ Roman Kruchinin) Photo via Newscom

Yesterday, Team USA did what many thought they could or would not do – they won the FIBA World Championships Tournament and cemented their status as the best basketball playing nation on the planet.  The American team defeated host nation Turkey 81-64 and cruised to the title by playing the type of pressure team defense and Kevin Durant fueled offense that carried them the entire tournament.  A hearty congratulations to the U.S. team.

This is a team that earned our respect for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost is the fact that many actually picked a different nation to claim this title.  With the U.S. not returning a single player from the 2008 Olympic gold medal team, many saw a young, inexperienced team, that lacked size and leadership.  Many labled them the B-team.  But, as Kevin Durant tweeted after the game: “B-team huh?? Haaaaa we got it done…US, seat pleasant, dc, oklahoma city…we did it for yall..GOLD MEDALIST”. 

Secondly, they played a brand of team basketball that many were unsure they could actually play.  Guys that many may see as second (or even third) tiered players that are asked to carry their NBA teams on most nights, abandoned any selfishness and contributed to wins by playing to their individual strengths that can sometimes be dormant when they put on their NBA jerseys for their respective teams stateside.  I mean, watching Andre Iguodala become a defensive and rebounding force while eschewing taking shots for the betterment of the team? Rudy Gay doing the same?  Eric Gordon hustling on defense to the point that he caused shot clock violations almost single handed?  Sure these players have shown in flashes that they are capable of playing this way, but to show a nearly complete committment to playing the role(s) that the coaches envisioned for them on a nightly basis was a great treat.  The fact that their perseverance was rewarded with the ultimate payoff only reinforces what the U.S. is capable of doing in international competition – regardless of the make up of the roster.

Below are a few notes on some of the players with some random thoughts gleaned from the gold medal game and the tournament as a whole:

*Kevin Durant is a monster.  I suppose you could say that we knew this already and that this is no revelation.  However, his performances in the elimination portion of the tournament were exceptional.  Not only was his scoring fantastic (99 points combines in the final 3 games) but his defense and rebounding were top shelf too.  Plus, his ability to raise his game in the big moments was just fantastic.  It seemed like any time the U.S. needed a big bucket, Durant was there to put the ball through the hoop.  Whether by driving to the hole, showing off his impressive handle and mid range game, or by bombing away from long distance, Durant continued to prove he’s as dynamic an offensive player we have in the world while also showing a great understanding of “the moment”.  Some players that show that they’re the former never quite prove to be the latter, but Durant is both.  What a talent.

*As far as explosive guards go, I don’t know if there is one better than Russell Westbrook right now.  Sure, there are more complete PG’s (Paul and Williams immediately come to mind) and there are better floor generals (Nash, Rondo) but Russell is the type of guard that can get you out of your chair in an instant.  His quickness, strength, and athleticism combination is unmatched (even by Derek Rose) by any other point guard and measuring these traits for a “pound for pound” argument, I would say he’s right up there with some of the best athletes in the entire league (yes, even Lebron, Wade, and Howard).  And sure his jumper needs some work and he can be a bit out of control at times, but focusing on the things he struggles with means you’re missing the point with this player.  Westbrook is just a fantastic young player that will only continue to grow and get better.  The sky is the limit for him.  (On a side note, you notice the first two players I’ve mentioned play for the Thunder? Yikes.)

*I already mentioned Iguodala, but he deserves even more praise.  His rebounding and defense were top notch the entire tournament and the self-less way he played deserves recognition.  And while his size and physique (you saw his Karl Malone arms, right?) sometimes had him miscast as a defensive stopper against some of the smaller, quicker guards in this tourney, his overall play on that side of the floor was stellar.  Add that to the fact that he willingly moved the ball and really only looked for his shot in transition situations and off hard penetration showed me that he’s also extremely coach-able and understanding of what winning basketball is.  I know when he goes back to Philly they’ll ask him to be the do it all scorer/playmaker for his team, but I shudder to think of what he could be playing next to an elite scorer like Durant where all you asked him to do defend, rebound, and slash off the ball.

*Quietly, Lamar Odom did exactly what he was asked to do and did it well, overall, for this U.S. team.  Yes he showed that his inconsistencies can be as great as his talent level, but in the end he battled hard in the medal round and once again proved his worth to a winning team.  The man just does all the little things well and it was very nice to see him step up in the second half of the gold medal game to help turn a semi-contested game into a contest that wasn’t that close down the stretch.  Whether it was rebounding, bodying up bigger offensive players, starting the American’s fast break with pin point outlet passes, or slashing into the open space for either finishes or to make the extra pass on offense, the man filled a bunch of roles for this team and deserves his credit as a World Champion twice over (FIBA and NBA) in the same year. 

*On a not so positive note, I was not that impressed with Chauncey Billups in this tournament.  While he showed good presence as a floor general by aligning his teammates in the half court offense, he also often broke off too many possessions to fire up long range jumpers early in the shot clock.  I know that Billups has long been a fan of the “dagger” three pointer that can salt away the hopes of the opponent, but in the last few games I thought he went for these shots too often and did so in situations where it was not required.  I thought his defense was good, but that it wasn’t to the level of Westbrook and Gordon. 

*Lastly, on a confused note, I’m not sure why Kevin Love didn’t play more.  Without a representative (be it Coach K or anyone else) commenting on it, I would assume it had to do with the want to always have the most athletic team on the floor at all times that saw Love’s minutes decrease.  But, for a guy that rebounds and passes very well while also having some range on his jumper to only see one minute of game time in the gold medal game?  I just don’t get it.  When Turkey was really giving the U.S. fits in the first half with their zone defense, I really thought a Love/Odom front court with Durant, Westbrook, and either Billups or Gordon would have been a great line up to try out.  But alas, Coach K kept the T’Wolves’ big man glued to the bench.

Team USA Live Blog

Phillip Barnett —  September 11, 2010

USA's Lamar Odom (C) shoots under pressure from Angola's Joaquim Gomes (R) as Angola's Carlos Morais (L) looks on in the first quarter during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Team USA tips off against Lithuania at 9:00 a.m. PT. Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant and co. need one more win to play in the title game. I’ll be updating the blog as the game unfolds. Feel free to add comments of your own during the course of the game.

— (8:30 1st Q) Team USA has come up empty on their first three possessions and have given up two layups. I can tell you now, if they’re going to beat Lithuania, they’re going to have to move the ball much better than what they’ve been doing all tournament. Lithuania plays a pretty unforgiving zone.

— (6:45 1st Q) It looks like Andre Iguodala will have the defensive assignment of taking on Linus Kleiza, who has had a great tournament thus far.

— Kleiza has been stripped on 2 of his 3 post-ups. Once by Billups, once by Iguodala. (via @johnschuhmann)

— (4:33 1st Q) Kevin Durant has things going early, scoring 12 of Team USA’s first 14 points.

— (1:30 1st Q) Lithuania was very efficient their fist few possessions, but Team USA seems to have figured out how to play their S&R offense. They’re currently on a 12-0 run.

— (End of 1st Q) 23-12 Lithuania’s offensive efficiency has really came to a stand still during the second half of the first quarter. Team USA got their hands on a lot of balls, creating deflections and getting into transition. Kevin Durant finished the first quarter with 17 points, Lithuania really has no answer for him.

— (7:40 2nd Q) Lamar Odom picks up his first points of the game on a tip in after a missed layup.

— (5:35 2nd Q) Team USA finally got some really good movement against Lithuania’s zone which led to Odom feeding a cutting Iguadala. Beautiful basketball.

— Lamar Odom doing all the little things that he never gets credit for. Great pass led to an easy dunk. (via @JonesOnTheNBA)

— (3:50 2nd Q) Lithuania has weathered the early storm and seems much more comfortable against USA’s athleticism. They’ve cut down their turnovers and have taken away a lot of Team USA’s fast break points. They’re only down eight points: 33-25.

— (2:10 2nd Q) Lithuania guard Martynas Pocius has been good thus far. Nine points and four rebounds. Most importantly, no turnovers.

— (End of 2nd Q) Team USA extended their lead back out to 15, going into the half 42-27. Kevin Durant, as always, has been brilliant with 24 points at the half. Lamar Odom has been doing a lot of really good things. He has six points, five rebounds, an assist, a block and no turnovers. He’s been great defensively sliding to help side on the S&R and closing out on shooters. He’s having one of his patented all around nights, doing a lot of things you won’t find in box scores.

The first half has gone pretty smoothly for Team USA. They have 12 turnover, which is way too many. They’ve also missed a lot of shots around the rim, something that I talked about in their preliminary games. @jose3030 posted Russell Westbrook’s missed dunk late in the first quarter, something that he’s done all tournament:

Team USA really just needs to keep the pressure on Lithuania on both ends of the ball. If they keep the ball pressure at a high level, they’ll be able to continue to score in transition.

— (8:31 3rd Q) Andre Iguodala’s offensive rebound started a sequence of five passes finishing with Lamar Odom scoring and getting fouled. They came up empty in their first two possessions. Iguodala’s offensive rebound was huge. Don’t want to come out of the half cold.

— (5:30 3rd Q) Eric Gordon missed a dunk on a fastbreak leading to a Lithuania three pointer. The  five point swing cut the US lead to 10.

— Odom has been huge. Hopefully he’s exhausting himself for the NBA season. (via @celticshub)

— (1:40 3rd Q) Lithuania’s shots are starting to fall and have picked up their intensity. They’re on an 8-0 run. Timeout USA.

— Kevin Durant has 27 points on 16 shots. 74.2% True Shooting. Yeah, he’s been pretty good. (Via Darius; @forumbluegold)

— (End of 3rd Q) It was an up and down half for Team USA. Lithuania was finally able to knock down some shots, but they weren’t really able to pick up too much ground on the Americans, down 12 going into the fourth quarter: 65-53

— (8:15 4th Q) LO with a great sequence there. Instead of forcing a bad pass while trapped underneath the rim, he was patient and hit a cutting Chauncey Billups. He didn’t give up on the play, and tipped in Billups’ missed layup for his 12th and 13th points.

— (4:26 4th Q) This game has been much closer than what the score board shows. Outside of that huge first quarter, Team USA has only outscored Lithuania by two points. 77-64.

— (2:20 4th Q) Kevin Durant sets the USA scoring record in international play with his 38th point. He’s 14 for 24 from the field and has added seven rebounds. Fantastic individual performance.

— (End of 4th Q) Team USA remains unbeaten in the 2010 World Championships after beating Lithuania 89-74. Kevin Durant paced everyone with 38 while Lamar Odom was second in scoring for Team USA with 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Team USA will play in the title game tomorrow against the winner of the Turkey/Serbia game, which promises to be a very good basketball game. Turkey and Serbia tip off at 11:30 a.m. PT today on ESPN Classic. Tomorrow’s bronze medal game begins at 9 a.m. PT and the Gold Medal game tips off at 11:30 a.m. PT.