#DigSportsDesk - The Lede
USA Basketball Opens Training Camp
By Terry Lyons
LAS VEGAS - When the late, great Chuck Daly took on coaching duties for the 1992 USA Basketball Dream Team, there was a general consensus that his toughest chores in preparing the team for international competition would be rolling out the ball racks and setting up tee times, so he could both bond and golf with his best player, Michael Jordan. This summer, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his talented group of assistant coaches have a much tougher assignment to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Truth be told, Coach Daly had the benefit of the entire Basketball Tournament of the Americas, held June 26-July 5, 1992 right in the dear old US of A, in Portland, Oregon before making basketball and sports history in Barcelona from July 25-August 10. Coach K enjoyed being an assistant coach on that team, learning much from the old sage Daly. Former Seton Hall head coach and ’92 USA Basketball assistant PJ Carlesimo undertook the heavy lifting in Barcelona, toiling nightly with video scouting duty and not leaving anything to chance in preparation for the vaunted Dream Team’s next opponent.
That scenario is now, in the metamorphosis of the game of basketball, ancient history.
It’s often stated by professional and college coaches, television commentators and media pundits, “the rest of the world is catching up with the USA.” That phrase is more than 16 years old and outdated. The rest of the basketball world caught up much faster than anyone is willing to admit and that process started before the ’92 Games. However, the ’92 Barcelona Olympics became a springboard for the acceleration of the game, globally.
Back then, similar to today, the NBA was beaming its games to 200-plus countries and territories throughout the world, and, as time passed, the league saw its rosters flooded with talented international athletes (players from outside the 50 US States and DC). Prior to the ’92 season, some 23 international players dotted NBA rosters. This year there were 100. At the recent NBA Draft, 26 of the 60 players drafted were from outside the 50 States, including 14 of the 30 first round picks and six of the top 10. Ben Simmons, the top pick who hails from Australia, wasn’t born until the USA was defending its ’92 Olympic gold medal in Atlanta in 1996. He grew up with a truly global game of basketball.
In fact, right in Sydney, Australia, at the 2000 Summer Games, the fourth USA team with NBA pros dodged its first big scare of the modern, pro-infused Olympics, narrowly defeating Lithuania 85-83 in the semifinals. A bronze in 2004, a sixth-place finish in the 2002 Worlds and another bronze during Coach K’s first assignment as national team coach in the 2006 Worlds in Japan, certainly put the words “catching up” in past tense. In fact, close games against and occasional upsets of top U.S. competition date back to 1987, when the great Oscar Schmidt put on a show for Brazil and defeated the USA at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis, never mind the shenanigans that took place in 1972 in Munich, which is ancient history but still stings for any USA Olympic basketball fan.
This week, Coach K and the latest version of USA Basketball’s men’s senior national team will compete in a four-day training camp, often scrimmaging against a USA Select team with a roster that would be any coach’s dream. The Vegas training camp might be the four most important dates of the summer for the USA, and if not, the series of five USA Basketball Showcase exhibition games surely will provide the fine-tuning this group will need to properly prepare for the competition in Rio, which begins on August 6.
What is Krzyzewski’s biggest challenge going into training camp and the tour, comparing this team to his previous USA squads?
"It’s the same, and that’s adapting,” said Krzyzewski. "How quickly will we adapt to one another, because you only have a limited amount of time? We have six guys who have never played for our staff, so we’ll need the help of the six guys who have, and we need their leadership. We’re a very versatile team. I’m anxious to see how we all mesh.”
During camp and the five-game showcase, there is a significant amount of work to do and some intrinsic basketball values to learn. Adapting, as Coach K noted, means a lot, including adapting to each other, adapting to new and different roles and varying amounts of playing time in the shorter FIBA contests (40-minute games), a nuance quite different from the 48-minute NBA game when a player can let the game and competition come to him. Additionally, absorbing and fitting into new offensive and defensive schemes can take some time while learning the particular timing and tendencies of teammates who are usually opponents. The game rules add another twist, and let’s not even mention the brand new, slippery game balls and non-experienced referees, since everyone has to play with those peripheral opponents.
From July 22 (vs. Argentina in Las Vegas), to August 1 (vs. FIBA Africa zone champion Nigeria in Houston), the USA will play five games, with stops in Los Angeles (vs. China on July 24), Oakland (vs. FIBA Asia champion China on July 26) and Chicago (vs. FIBA Americas champion Venezuela on July 29th).
Much to the players’ credit, conditioning, which used to be a factor in the ‘70s, ‘80s and maybe ‘90s, is much less a concern for coaches now, with the fact that the world class NBA players of today are in tip-top shape and relish in the competition, endurance-testing, and physical nature of the game of basketball. But so, too are their opponents. A half-dozen teams can score an upset, especially come the medal round.
It’s time for some hoops, coming soon to Rio and a USA city near you.
Duncan Calls It Quits
SAN ANTONIO - (Staff and wire Service Report) - Tim Duncan called it quits this week and, as usual, he did it quietly and on his terms. Duncan's announcement Monday marked the end of an era for the Spurs. The 6-foot-11 power forward superstar also won two MVP awards, was a three-time NBA Finals MVP, made 15 All-Star appearances and was named to the All-NBA First Team 10 times in his career. He also made the NBA All-Defensive First Team eight times.
Duncan, who turned 40 in April, was the No. 1 overall pick out of Wake Forest in 1997.
Duncan, teaming with head coach Gregg Popovich and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, was the backbone for the franchise's championship run.
Ginobili wrote on Twitter: "Even tho I knew it was coming, I'm still moved by the news. What a HUGE honor to have played with him for 14 seasons! #ThankYouTD."
The Spurs tweeted: "#ThankYouTD, for everything."
Duncan spent his entire career with the Spurs, leading the team to titles in 1999, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2014.
The Spurs posted a 1,072-438 regular-season record since drafting Duncan -- the best 19-year stretch in NBA history.
"More cutthroat than people give him credit for," Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who also retired after the 2015-16 season, told ESPN's Marc Stein on Monday upon learning of Duncan's retirement. "I loved everything about him on the court."
Shaquille O'Neal told ESPN: "Greatest power forward of all time. Unbreakable power forward. No 'bow could break him. No loss of a championship could break him. Nothing could break him."
Duncan's final game was a 113-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 12. In his career finale, he scored 19 points, with five rebounds and a block in 34 minutes.
Duncan finished his career with averages of 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocks per game. He ranks 14th all-time in points (26,496), sixth in rebounds (15,091) and fifth in blocks (3,020).
Last season, Duncan was hobbled by a sore right knee and played in only 61 games, averaging 8.6 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Popovich will discuss Duncan's retirement decision at a news conference Tuesday. Duncan and Popovich have the most wins by a player-coach duo in NBA history (1,001).
"Timmy's never been a very outspoken or emoting sort of individual on the court," Popovich said earlier this year. "Everybody does it differently."
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who played with Duncan for four seasons, said it will not be the same without Duncan on the court.
"When you think of a Spurs game, you think of the opening tip and Timmy cradling the ball and looking down at Pop and Manu and Tony," Kerr told ESPN. "The four of them really kind of define who they are. But Tim is the main guy obviously.
"They'll still be the Spurs based on what they've built. And maybe that's Timmy's lasting legacy. He helped build something so strong that's still going after he leaves."
Durant Joins Forces with GS Warriors
OAKLAND - (Wire Service Report) - Draymond Green said the Golden State Warriors made a pretty simple, straightforward recruiting pitch to free agent Kevin Durant. The pitch last weekend in New York included two-time MVP Steph Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson and small forward Andre Iguodala along with Green and head coach Steve Kerr, supporting the mantra of "Strength in Numbers." General manager Bob Myers and assistant general manager Kirk Lacob also attended.
"We asked him how many championships do you think we can win with the way the team is now? How many championships can you win without us? How many do you think we can win together?," Green told ESPN.
Green said Durant was concerned he might disrupt the dynamic chemistry the Warriors developed in winning a regular-season record 73 games in 2015-16 before falling one win shy of repeating as NBA champions last month. Over the course of the two-hour meeting, the promise of more than open 3-pointers – a guarantee Green said the Warriors' contingent did make – seemed to pique Durant's interest. On Monday, Durant started the July 4 holiday with the first major fireworks of NBA free agency, agreeing to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to be a part of the Warriors.
"We told him he didn't have to change who he is. He doesn't have to change how he plays. We will get him shots. If he shot 40 percent from 3-point line contested, how would he shoot wide open?" Green said.
Durant helped the Thunder to the Western Conference finals last season but has only one NBA Finals appearance, losing to the Miami Heat and LeBron James. But Durant heard twice Friday from Curry, who Green said sent a text message to Durant to profess his commitment to championships, not endorsement deals or MVP awards. ESPN reported the text from Curry to Durant was all about supporting teammates, not caring who sold shoes or won individual awards. Curry told Durant it would not matter which superstar was the face of the franchise. The move sent shockwaves across the NBA but was not a total surprise to the Thunder. General manager Sam Presti said the team had a "pretty good indication" Durant was gone before his announcement Monday morning.
"I hope he feels like the experience in Oklahoma City was a big part of his growth as a person and a player, and that he'll take that on with him, because he certainly was an integral part of the birth of our franchise, evolution of our franchise, and the legacy of our franchise," Presti told USA Today. "Although it ended before we had hoped, no one will change the fact that he started here and I think evolved tremendously as a result of his hard work."
Presti would not directly engage in conversation about personnel or where the Thunder look from here to rebound, but focused on positives with Durant and Russell Westbrook, "founding fathers" of the franchise since it moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City nine years ago. Speculation ranging from the Thunder dealing Westbrook to maximize return – he's a free agent after the upcoming season, and the Thunder get nothing in return for losing franchise cornerstone Durant – and giving him a massive contract extension was rampant Monday night. Presti said no immediate action is necessary.
"I haven't spoken with him. I've texted with him, and he and I have been in contact, as I have been with a lot of our players through this process," Presti said of Westbrook in the USA Today interview. "This is a group of people who have been through quite a bit together, so he and I will have our conversation, and reflect on it, but I would let Russell convey and express however he feels."
Whiteside Stays with Heat
MIAMI - (Wire Service Report) - Hassan Whiteside returned to the Miami Heat on the first day of NBA free agency, agreeing to terms on a four-year, $98 million contract.
Whiteside, who played internationally and bounced around the developmental league before blossoming with the Heat, made $980,000 with the Heat last season.
"I played on eight teams since college," Whiteside told the Players Tribune on Friday. "I'm not ready for their to be a ninth."
The Heat had the first meeting with Whiteside at the open of free agency on Friday at 12:01 a.m. and reiterated he was key to their future success. Dallas met with the 7-footer shortly after the Heat and Whiteside posted pictures to snapchat in the early morning hours of Friday indicating a decision would be made in the morning. Heat boss Pat Riley said Whiteside was the team's top priority even as talks with 34-year-old shooting guard Dwyane Wade fell apart late last week. Riley said Wade, the pillar of Miami's successful run since he was drafted in 2003, is still coveted by the Heat. Whether another team bumps Miami with a contract that trumps what the Heat might offer is to be determined. Whiteside was reportedly offered a five-year, $130 million max deal from the Mavericks.
Walton Gears Up as New Lakers Coach
LOS ANGELES - (Wire Service Report) - Luke Walton is going from the top of the mountain to the bottom, but he's ready for the challenge that awaits with the Los Angeles Lakers. The 36-year-old Walton officially took over as the Lakers coach after completing his run as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The former Lakers player returns to a franchise that has fallen on hard times since he played on teams with recently retired Kobe Bryant that won two NBA championships.
"There is work to be done," Walton said Tuesday during an introductory news conference at the team's practice facility in El Segundo, Calif. "But that's, to me, exciting. That's why you do this. The timetable? Who knows? It's us coming to work every day. It's us working hard. It's watching improvement in the young guys that's exciting. It's watching us get better as a team. That's what I'm looking forward to doing."
The climb back to respectability is steep. The Lakers finished the 2015-16 season 17-65 after struggling to an only slightly better 21-61 record the previous season.
Walton hopes to use what he learned while serving as an assistant with the Warriors, who won the NBA title a year ago and lost in seven games to the Cleveland Cavaliers this month. While serving as interim coach while Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery this season, Walton led the Warriors to a 39-4 record before Kerr returned to the bench and the team finished the season with an NBA all-time best 73-9 record during the regular season. The Lakers don't have nearly the level of talent in place that the Warriors have with players such as Steph Curry, but Walton's objective is to create a winning mentality similar to what Golden State has.
"What I can affect is what's going to happen next year and the year after that," Walton said. "We're going to put a stamp on the culture that we want, and it’s going to be joy. Our players are going to like coming into practice every day.
"We're going to play a brand of basketball that the L.A. fans will appreciate. We're going to compete. All these things going forward, with my vision of how we're going to do things, is what I can control."
The Lakers aren't completely devoid of talent. The roster includes D'Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and Julius Randle. And the Lakers have the second pick in this year's draft, which likely will be Duke's Brandon Ingram, and $55 million to spend in free agency now that Bryant has retired after 20 years and five NBA titles. Walton was already trying to sell the Lakers to potential free agents as an attractive destination.
"As far as being a young coach and being able to help rebuild an organization and a team that I love and that I grew up with, it's all exciting to me," Walton said.
Russell is excited about the prospect of playing for Walton, who replaces Byron Scott.
"A lot of us are coming out of college and just really want to be able to experience and play and have fun," Russell said. "He just mentioned having fun and being able to run as much as possible. So I think that's what we need."
Cavaliers Take 2016 NBA Title
OAKLAND -- Kyrie Irving buried a 3-pointer over Stephen Curry to break a tie with 53.0 seconds remaining Sunday night, sending the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA championship, 93-89 over the Golden State Warriors. The dramatic finish capped a three-game sweep for the Cavaliers, the first-ever in NBA Finals history, after they had fallen behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. The three-game losing streak was the Warriors' first in the two-year Steve Kerr coaching era. Cleveland became the first team since the Washington Bullets in 1978 to win a Game 7 on the road.
LeBron James, the unanimous MVP, had a 27-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double and Irving added 26 points as they became just the third and fourth players in NBA history drafted No. 1 overall to win championships for the team that selected them.
The Cleveland defense was as critical in the win as Irving's winning shot. The Warriors missed their final eight shots, including six 3-point attempts, and never scored after Klay Thompson tied the score at 89-all with 4:40 to play. Each team missed six consecutive shots over a stretch of almost four minutes before Irving got Curry on a switch and went one-on-one. Unable to get around his counterpart, Irving settled for a 24-footer that swished through the net for Cleveland's first basket since the 4:51 mark. Golden State had an opportunity to tie, but an offensive possession went nowhere and Curry was forced to try a well-defended 3-pointer that was off the mark.
The Cavaliers rebounded, and after Irving almost lost the ball going to the basket, he was able to find James, who was fouled while attempting a flying dunk. James made the second of two free throws with 10.6 seconds remaining, increasing the Cleveland lead to four.
Curry missed another 3-pointer, his fourth of the game-ending drought, starting a wild Cavaliers celebration on the Golden State court.
The victory made the Cavaliers' Tyronn Lue just the second coach in NBA history to win a championship in his first season. The Warriors' Kerr had accomplished the feat last season. J.R. Smith was a third Cavalier scoring in double figures with 12 points. Cleveland won despite shooting just 40.2 percent from the field and 6-for-25 (24.0 percent) from 3-point range.
Draymond Green had 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Warriors, who were held to 38.6-percent shooting.Two-time regular-season MVP Curry had 17 points, but missed 13 of his 19 shots, and Thompson finished with 14 on 6-for-17 shooting for the Warriors.
The backcourt All-Stars combined for just six 3-pointers in 24 attempts. The Warriors shot just 15-for-41 from beyond the arc in the game. In a series where no previous game was decided by fewer than 10 points, neither team held a double-digit lead.
Up 76-75 entering the period but down 83-80 five minutes into it, the Warriors got a 3-pointer from Curry and two-point hoops from Thompson and Green in a 7-0 burst that put them back on top by four, 87-83, with 5:36 left. But James countered immediately with three free throws and then a 3-pointer, giving Cleveland the upper hand at 89-87 with 4:51 to go.
The Cavaliers trailed by seven at halftime, but the deficit didn't last long once the third period began.
Smith, who missed all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half, buried two in succession in an early 8-0 Cleveland flurry that produced a 54-all tie. Then after a Curry 3-pointer helped Golden State re-establish a five-point lead, the Cavaliers ran off 11 straight to go up 65-59, with Irving delivering seven of them on a layup, two free throws and a three-point play.
Cleveland went on to lead by as many as seven later in the period before Green buried a 3-pointer and three free throws after getting fouled on a 3, and Harrison Barnes bombed in a 3 of his own, helping Golden State retake a 76-75 lead by period's end. Thanks mostly to a 22-point flurry by Green, the Warriors held a 49-42 lead at halftime. But a key nine-second sequence late in the second period helped give the Cavaliers life.
After 3-pointers by Green and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa had fueled a 9-2 burst that opened a 47-40 lead, Curry went for the kill with one of his 30-foot building-exploders.
The shot was off the mark, however. And nine second later, Curry was called for his third foul, sending him to the bench for the final 1:09 of the half and fitting him for defensive handcuffs the remainder of the game. The Warriors built the halftime lead despite just 14 combined points on 5-for-17 shooting from Curry and Thompson.
James had 12 points and Irving nine for the Cavaliers. They combined to shoot 9-for-20, but their teammates were just 7-for-22, including 1-for-10 on 3-point FGs.
Hockey Legend Gordie Howe (1928-2016)
DETROIT - Hockey legend Gordie Howe, affectionately known as "Mr. Hockey" and recognized as the greatest NHL player ever, died Friday. He was 88. The Detroit Red Wings made the announcement on Twitter: "Thoughts and prayers to the Howe family as Gordie Howe passes away at the age of 88. #9RIP." Howe played 25 seasons with the Red Wings and helped them win four Stanley Cup championships. He holds NHL records for most games (1,767) and seasons (26). His 801 career goals rank second to Wayne Gretzky's 894.
"Today is a sad day for the Detroit Red Wings and the entire hockey world as together we mourn the loss of one of the greatest hockey players of all-time," Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said in a statement. "The Red Wings organization and the National Hockey League would not be what they are today without Gordie Howe. There is no nickname more fitting for him than 'Mr. Hockey.' He embodied on and off the ice what it meant to be both a Red Wing and a Detroiter. He was tough, skilled, and consistently earned success at the highest level. His achievements are numerous and his accomplishments immeasurable. It is truly a blessing to have had him both in our organization and our city for so many years. He will be deeply missed."
Howe, a native of Floral, Saskatchewan, arrived with the Red Wings in 1946 as an 18-year-old, scoring in his first NHL game. After the Red Wings, Howe went on to play one more season in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers and six in the World Hockey Association. With the WHA's Houston Aeros, Howe played alongside two of his sons, Mark and Marty, who were each beginning their professional careers. Howe, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, totaled 1,850 points over 26 NHL seasons. He retired from hockey when he was 52.
Howe played 1,924 NHL games (regular season and playoffs) and 497 in the WHA.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement:
"All hockey fans grieve the loss of the incomparable Gordie Howe. A remarkable athlete whose mastery of our sport was reflected by the longevity of his career and by his nickname, 'Mr. Hockey,' Gordie's commitment to winning was matched only by his commitment to his teammates, to his friends, to the Red Wings, to the city of Detroit and -- above all -- to his family. His devotion to Colleen through her illness and the fact that he extended his playing days into a fifth decade so he could play with his sons are only two examples of that true priority in his life.
"Gordie's greatness travels far beyond mere statistics; it echoes in the words of veneration spoken by countless players who joined him in the Hockey Hall of Fame and considered him their hero. Gordie's toughness as a competitor on the ice was equaled only by his humor and humility away from it. No sport could have hoped for a greater, more-beloved ambassador.
"On behalf of the generations who were thrilled by his play and those who only know of his legend, and on behalf of all the young people and teammates he inspired, we send heartfelt wishes of condolence, comfort and strength to the Howe family and to all who mourn the passing of this treasured icon of our game."
Recent years had been challenging for Howe, who had memory loss from the early stages of dementia and suffered two strokes in October 2014.
"Gordie Howe was an incredible ambassador for the game of hockey," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "He was as fierce and competitive as they come but away from the rink he was truly engaging and personable and always enjoyed his interaction with the fans. Gordie set the standard for this franchise during the Original Six era, winning four Stanley Cups, capturing numerous awards and setting an abundance of league records. We will miss Mr. Hockey, who was the greatest Red Wing of all time. Our deepest sympathies go out to Mark, Marty, Murray, Cathy and the rest of the Howe family during this difficult time."
Detroit Lions president Rod Wood: "We not only lost a sports legend today, but also one of the most iconic, impactful and beloved people our community will ever know. Gordie Howe's imprint on the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the game of hockey was generational and ever-lasting. While he was 'Mr. Hockey' to the sports world, he was that and so much more to Detroiters and Michiganders. He was a true gentleman and an inspiration to so many. His legacy will undoubtedly live on forever. On behalf of Mrs. Ford, her family and the Detroit Lions organization, we offer our deepest sympathies to Marty, Mark, Cathy, Murray; the entire Howe Family; and the Detroit Red Wings organization."
Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz: "The Chicago Blackhawks offer their heartfelt condolences to Gordie's family and the entire Detroit Red Wings organization. There is no greater rivalry in hockey than the one between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks -- and Gordie was a large part of that. The relationship between our family and Gordie is three generations long and we are grateful for what he gave to our organization, the National Hockey League and the sport of hockey. There's a reason why he is called 'Mr. Hockey,' because of what he did for the game, and we stand with the entire sports world, in mourning his loss."