THE USA NEEDS TO RE-THINK THE PAN AM GAMES

The USA is currently playing in a major international basketball tournament. The Pan Am games are underway in Toronto, and the United States is one of eight teams competing for gold on the men’s side. Americans are used to having the most talented team, by far, 2004(2)in any international tournament. Anomalies such as the 2004 Olympics aside, they are also accustomed to winning.

USA Basketball has taken a different approach to the Pan Am games, routinely fielding inferior teams and failing to take home the gold medal that should be the birthright of the greatest basketball nation on the planet. The USA took home the bronze at the last Pan Am games in 2011, and finished fifth in 2007. In fact, it’s been 32 years since the USA took home the gold at the Pan Ams.

When we look at this year’s roster, we begin to develop an understanding of the reason for these Ron Bakerdisappointing finishes. This years’ team is made up mostly of college upperclassmen like Ronald Baker of Wichita State and Malcolm Brogdon of the University of Virginia, alongside a handful of NBA Journeymen such as Ryan Hollins and a couple of international players in Bobby Brown and Keith Langford.

The USA could be forgiven for not fielding an Olympic-calibre Dream Team for the Pan Am games. While a major tournament, it is not the Olympics or the World Cup. It is not even the biggest international tournament of the summer, with the Olympic-qualifier Tournament of the Americas set to tip-off on August 31st.

This does not mean that USA is justified in mailing this one in in the way that they are. First of all, America has a reputation to uphold. The 2004 Ryan HollinsOlympics were a major blow to the nation’s basketball identity. Failing to win gold in three consecutive Pan Am games should not be viewed as any less of a failing. While Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are unlikely to show up for a lower level tournament like the Pan Ams, the USA could certainly have fielded a better team than the one currently in Toronto, and should have done so for reasons of pride alone.

Secondly, the USA is missing out on a great opportunity to bring young players into the USA Basketball fold and gain valuable international basketball experience. None of the players on the Pan Am roster will ever play in the Olympics or World Cup – the two marquee international basketball events and the clear priorities for USA Basketball. The challenge faced by the USA in these tournaments is not a lack of talent – the USA could field five teams with enough talent to place 1-5 in any of those events.

2004The challenge faced by the USA in any international tournament is bringing together a group of superstars and getting them to play with sufficient cohesion to let their talent carry them through to a gold medal. As seen in 2004, this is not always an easy task. Moreover, the rest of the world is quickly catching up to the USA. Spain has fielded teams with multiple NBA all-stars for years. Canada now has the potential to produce a roster comprised entirely of NBA players. Other nations have routinely competed with much more talented American teams because of experience playing together and familiarity with the systems run by the national program.

By ignoring tournaments like the Pan Am games, the USA is foregoing the opportunity to build this kind of cohesion and familiarity. Instead of fielding a team of players that will likely never again don a USA uniform, the American team should be comprised of future potential dream teamers, players that would not make the 2016 Olympic team, but who might have a shot at the 2020 or 2024 Olympics. This is what teams such as Canada are doing, playing Kentucky-bound point guard Jamal Murray significant minutes at the age of 18. While Murray is unlikely to be a factor in the Olympics, he should be a fixture with the team over the next 10-15 years. By giving him an important role now, Murray builds international experience, becomes familiar with Team Canada’s systeArgentinams, and maybe most importantly, builds a relationship with and loyalty to the Canadian National Team.

The 2004 Olympic Team was headlined by Allen Iverson, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade, and was captained by Tim Duncan. The Argentinian squad that beat the Americans was talented, but with the possible exception of Manu Ginobili, had no one that would have come close to making the American Team. If that American team had played together in the 2003 Pan Am games, or in Olympic Qualifying or in the 2002 World Cup, the 2004 Olympics might have turned out much differently.

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The Meddling Doctor Rivers

Doc Rivers is a good coach and, by all accounts, a decent human being, but he needs to learn to respect an agreement.DR

On July 3rd, DeAndre Jordan verbally committed to signing a four-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks. This was a major coup for the Mavs and a massive set-back for the Clippers – threatening to dislodge them from their spot as a perennial contender in the ultra-competitive western conference.

Some kind of drastic action was necessary, but what Doc and the Clips chose to do was all wrong.

Rather than respect the deal reached by DJ and the Mavs, the Clippers chose not to accept Jordan’s decision, and sought to undermine the agreement by taking advantage of the senseless moratorium on finalizing free agent deals and continuing to pursue DJ even after he had committed to the Mavs.

As we all know, the Clippers ultimately succeeded in this effort and, on July 8th, DJ backed out of the deal with the Mavs and committed to remaining in LA. Marc Cuban’s hurt feelings aside, thisCuban became a huge problem for the Mavs. When DJ committed, they presumably stopped chasing their second, third and fourth choice free agents. By the time they learned of DJ’s change of heart, those guys would have been snapped up by other teams. While the Mavs ultimately managed an upgrade at the point guard position by taking Deron Williams off the Nets’ hands, they are nowhere near the team they would have been with Jordan, and are likely to find themselves battling to make the playoffs this season.

Admittedly, we are told that Jordan initiated the renewed discussions with the Clippers and, of course, because of the moratorium, Jordan had the right to back out of his deal in Dallas. Nevertheless, the actions of Doc and the Clippers were entirely inappropriate.

Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11Upon being approached by Jordan, the Clippers should have told him that they were not prepared to speak to him as long as he had an outstanding verbal commitment to another team. Jordan could then have made the decision to tell the Mavs he has withdrawing his verbal commitment and would continue to speak with other clubs.

Shockingly, this is the second time in less than a year we have seen this kind of underhanded behaviour from Rivers. When Kendrick Perkins signed with the Cavs after being waived by Utah, Rivers reportedly continued to pursue Perkins even after he had committed to Cleveland, again seeking to undermine an agreement between another club and a player.

NBA teams like the Mavs and the Cavs need to know that, once they’ve made a deal with a player, Feb 26, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Kendrick Perkins (3) reacts in the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sportsit will be respected, and that other clubs won’t try to steal committed players out from under them. The NBA, whether formally or informally, needs to censure Rivers for his  behaviour. Because of the formal moratorium, there isn’t much the NBA can do, unless it wants to change that rule (which it should). The rest of the league, however, can institute its own discipline, and if I was an NBA GM, it would be a long time before I was willing to have any kind of trade discussions with Doc or the Clippers.

HASN’T PAUL GEORGE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH?

After a season to forget in 2014-2015, the Pacers are looking to come back in a big way for 2015-2016. A solid draft, the signings of Jordan Hill and Monta Ellis and the addition by subtraction PG2of the good Dr. Hibbert give Indiana plenty of reason for optimism. The biggest reason that the Pacers faithful are looking forward to next season, however, is the return of former All-NBAer Paul George from the most disgusting injury to happen on a basketball court since Kevin Ware’s leg broke off in the 2013 tournament.

Prior to the injury, we saw George begin to emerge as a superstar. In 2013-2014, George put up over 20 ppg along with 6 boards and three assists, and was widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, perimeter defenders in the game. The last two NBA Finals MVPs have won the award for the job they did guarding Lebron, and neither was nearly as effective against the King as was George.Larry Plays

PG’s emergence came while playing almost exclusively at the 3. Which is why it’s so baffling to hear Larry Bird, Pacers team President and master of the soccer-throw jump shot, talk about moving him to the 4.

The Hick from French Lick thinks PG will be liberated offensively if he’s playing in the post, and that he’ll stay healthier if he doesn’t have to spend games chasing little guys around the perimeter. Larry compares George’s situation to his own playing career, in which he made the switch to the 4 spot later in his paying days and is grateful he did so.

The problem is that Paul George is not Larry Bird and that unless Larry knows some sad facts about PG’s recovery that he’s keeping from the rest of us, a position change at this stage would be a bad move for George and for the Pacers.

First of all, unless Larry has something in the works, the Pacers don’t really have anyone to plug into the three-spot if PG moves to the 4. Solomon Hill is a serviceable backup, but cannot be a starter for a team that likes to act as though it has championship aspirations. Conversely, the Pacers DO have a valid alternative at the 4 spot, having picked up Hill this off season. The loss of David West and, likely, Chris Copeland, leave them thin behind Hill, but moving George to the 4 just creates a bigger problem at the 3 spot.

More significantly, George simply will not be as effective as a power forward. We’ve seen nothing in George’s time in the leagPGue that would lead us to believe that he has any kind of post-up game – and he’s certainly not going to have any success close to the hoop if he’s matched up against bigger, stronger 4s. If the Pacers have some hope that George will add a post-up game, he’s much more likely to do so if he can retain his height advantage by matching up with small forwards. It could be argued that George will gain an advantage on the perimeter if he’s matched up with bigger, slower 4s, and that might be true, but if the plan is for him to hang out on the perimeter, then he’s not really playing the post, is he? If that’s the plan, the Pacers are more turning the 4 spot into another perimeter player than turning PG into a 4. Other teams will catch on to that pretty quickly and just defend PG as the perimeter player he is.

The bigger problem is likely to arise on the defensive end. Paul George is a great perimeter defender because he’s quick enough to stay in front of guards, but tall enough and long enough to contest shots and keep his hands in passing lanes. He is tall enough and athletic enough that he would be a passable post defender, but to make that shift would rob him of the advantage of his height and his athleticism. Athleticism always helps, but post defence is more about size and strength than it is about quick feet. Against most 4s, George is going to give up a couple of inches and several pounds, and will simply be physically unable to be the dominant defensive presence he is on the perimeter.

We just have to look at the top power forwards in the Eastern Conference to get a sense of how this is going to turn out. George is 6’9, 220 pounds. Paul Millsap is an inch shorter, but more than 30 pounds heavier. Pau Gasol is 7’0, 250 pounds. Kevin Love 6’10, 243 pounds. Chris Bosh, 6’11, 235 (Bosh is listed as a center but will line up at the 4 spot next to Hassan Whiteside). More importantly, these are guys that have been NBA post players for years, and know how to play with their backs to the hoop. George does not. You could argue that these guys are the best of the best in the East, but if PG is going to play meaningful minutes at the 4 and if the Pacers are going to be competitive, he will have to not only be effective against this kind of competition, but find a way to stay healthy. If Larry Bird thinks chasing little guys around the perimeter is bad for PG’s health, what does he think banging with these monsters night in and night out is going to do to his body?

Ultimately, Larry’s comparison on his own career to George’s is misleading. Yes, both are oversized small forwards, but that’s pretty much where the comparison ends. Larry was great because of his Larry Nowhands and his head. He was a smart player who could shoot, handle the ball and pass, but he was never a great athlete. The Celtics didn’t lose much when Larry wasn’t defending the perimeter because, to the extent Larry was an effective defender, he was effective despite his athleticism, not because of it. Paul George is the opposite, he came into the league as an athlete, and has developed skills since then. If he loses his athletic advantage, he’ll be a solid NBA player, but not the superstar he could become if left in a position to fully take advantage of his physical gifts. Larry also needs to remember that the NBA has changed. At his size, Bird was not at a disadvantage against most power forwards, because you didn’t have seven footers playing power forward in the 80s, now we do, and that changes the degree to which guys like Paul George can move between positions.

So the question becomes, what is Larry really doing here? For all his aw-shucks, down-home country boy affectation, we know that Larry Legend is no dummy. He knows who he has on his roster, and he knows who Paul George really is. For my money, I think this all an effort to oversell what is really a plan to play a little small-ball, just like everyone else in the NBA, either that, or Larry’s just pulling PG’s surgically repaired leg…

HAVE THE LAKERS MANAGED TO COBBLE TOGETHER A PLAYOFF TEAM?

Answer: Absolutely not.

The NBA’s Western Conference remains the NFL to the East’s Arena League, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than the good doctor Hibbert to make the Lake Show a contender again. That said, the Lakers may surprise some people and have added more than enough talent to guarantee that the Sixers finally get to cash in that lottery pick that Lance Blanks earned for tricking Mitch Kupchak into paying a defective Steve Nash nearly $30 million. If nothing else, they should be a whole lot more entertaining to watch than the Carlos Boozer led 2014-2015 version.

For the third year in a row, LA’s other NBA team whiffed in free agency. They took a shot at LaMarcus “The Marcus” Aldridge, and Kobe ruined it. They made a bizarre attempt to make a deal for Boogie with George Karl, who did not and does not D'Angelohave the authority to trade him and, I assume, Kobe ruined that too. The Lakers clearly thought they were getting one or both of those guys, as it’s the only way the decision to pass on Jahlil Okafor for D’Angelo “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” Russell (of the 1:2 assist to turnover ratio in summer league) makes any sense. Presumably, the Lakers took shots at a myriad of other free agents, which Kobe also ruined, be it through action, inaction, or mere presence.

As a result of Kupchak’s ineptitude, the Lakers have adopted the “bunch of chuckers and a guy that can rebound” model of team building. It’s a variation on the model used by the Sixers in the late 90s early 2000s that helped AI drag the worst supporting cast ever to the make the Finals to be sacrificed at the altar of the Big Aristotle in 2001. On that team, The Answer was the only guy allowed to dribble the basketball, and the rest of the squad was there to defend, chase down boards, and pass the ball to Allen on the rare occasions it somehow slipped his grasp.

The Lakers have put themselves in a position to run the same kind of show, but with the role of AI being played by committee. To understand how this works, we need to first forget about Julius Randle and Untitled. I have my doubts about Russell, though I think Randle might turn into a decent player, but we’ve clearly reached the point where guys are getting drafted so young that only generational talents like D-Rose, KD and the King are likely to have a meaningful impact in their rookie seasons.

This leaves the Lakers with three legitimate offensive options – Kobe, Swaggy P, and the newly acquired Sweet Lou Williams. What do these three have in common? TheyKobe shrug’re top choice, grade A chuckers. Bean is one of the best 20 or so players ever to lace them up, and probably a top five all-time scorer. In fairness, the jury is still out on how the Mamba will recover from his achilles tear in 2013. Prior to the injury, Kobe looked like an ageless wonder, logging big minutes and performing at a clip comparable to to 2009 and 2010 Championship runs. Since then, however, his body has taken a beating, he’s aged two years (Kobe will turn 37 in August – an old 37 given his NBA debut at age 18). We’ve seen only 41 games since the injury, but the 35 we saw last season were not pretty. Kobe seems to continue to believe that he is good enough to be justified in putting it up every time he touches the rock, but appears to no longer have the game to back it up. 2014-2015 saw him put up over 20 shots per game (above his career average), but shoot below 40% for the first time in his career. Speculation abounded that we were seeing a player more interested in catching MJ on the all-time scoring list than winning. It may be that Kobe is now fully recovered, or that the Lakers have brought in enough talent to interest Kobe in chasing Ws again, but if those trends continue, look out for another depressing season from an all-time great well past his best before date.

If those disturbing trends continue, Kobe will fit in well with Swaggy and his nNew York Knicks v Los Angeles Lakersew teammate Sweet Lou. While Swaggy’s field goal attempts per game lag behind Kobe’s, this appears to be the product of fewer minutes rather than a more conservative approach to the offensive end of the game. Last year, Swaggy took 17.1 shots per 36 minutes, compared to Kobe’s 21.3 and shot 36.6% to Kobe’s 37.3%. Reigning sixth man of the year Sweet Lou follows closely behind Swaggy at 16.6 field goal attempts per 36 minutes, just squeaking over the 40% mark to shoot 40.4% for the year for the Raptors.

If each of these three players keeps up these rates, they alone will take 55 shots every 36 minutes. If we extrapolate that to a 48 minute game, those three players would be taking 73 shots per game for the Lakers, an alarming number considering that Boston led the NBA with 87.9 FGA per game last season. The Lakers took 85.6 shots per game – leaving 12.6 for the other nine members of the squad to share. WhenSP-RAPTORS21NOV Toronto, Canada - November 21  -  In first half action, Toronto Raptors guard Louis Williams (23) drives to the net in traffic. The Toronto Raptors played the Milwaukee Bucks at the Air Canada Centre. November 21, 2014  Richard Lautens/Toronto Star we take into account that those three players are likely getting very few shots off of offensive rebounds, and very few finishes off of dump offs, it becomes pretty clear what a shockingly high proportion of the Lakers offense these three could occupy.

On the surface, this could appear to be a recipe for disaster, when we look at the other roster moves the Lakers have made this off-season, however, we start to see some hints of brilliance – or at least coherence – seeping in. In the abstract, 12.6 shot attempts for nine players seems unworkably low, but when we look at who those players will actually be, it starts to make a little more sense.

The Lakers other two “big” offseason acquisitions were Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass. Dr. Hibbert has always been a solid rebounder and good rim protector. He’s also a surprisingly proficient free throw shooter. What he is not, and never has been, is an offensive contributor – at least in the sense of creating offense. This Lakers team may be the perfect place for the good doctor. He can defend and rebound and, unlike in Indiana, where they wanted him to put the round thing in the hoop, Kobe will probably cut the bitch if he so much as looks at the basket on offense.

Brandon Bass, who should play the bulk of the power forward minutes over Randle, is a similar player – good rebounder, good defender, not a particularly proficient scorer, and not someone that needs to create his own shot to be effective.

If we assume Jordan Clarkson just does what Kobe tells him to (pass Kobe the ball), this model may be surprisingly effective. With three perimeter players that can create their own shots more or less at will, and two posts that will be content to defend and chase after all of Kobe, Swaggy and Sweet Lou’s misses, the Lakers may have enough talent and size in the right mix to stay competitive in a lot of games.

While the odds of the Lakers being a factor this season remain slim, as anyone who saw J.R. Smith drop seven bombs against the Bucks in Round One, or Nate Robinson put up 23 against the Nets in 2013 knows, when they’re on, guys like these can be a lot of fun to watch and not entirely ineffective.J.R.

Speaking of J.R. – if the Lakers want to go all in on this, he’s still looking for a contract…