[h3]Between the NBA Draft, Free Agency, the Vegas Summer League and The Men’s and Women’s Team USA Squads at the London Olympics, It’s Been a Great “Off” Season Thus Far[/h3]
Normally at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, I begin my annual descent into hoops withdrawal. It typically lasts a few weeks before my thirst ultimately gets satisfied by the NBA summer leagues and the elite Pro-Am tournaments taking place around the country. But lately, it seems that every day I’ve woken up since the Heat won the championship has been filled with an exciting bevy of activity that gets my juices flowing.
Maybe it’s because of the Men’s Olympic team, where I get to roll around on the floor like Arsenio Hall in full spazz mode while watching LeBron, Kobe, Melo and Kevin Durant playing on the same team. Perhaps it’s the intensity and all-around brilliance of the Team USA ladies like Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi, who are playing for THE best team in the world, in ANY sport.Maybe it’s because of the exciting, soon to blossom talents of the young guys I watched in the Vegas NBA summer league. Or maybe it has something to do with the dizzying flurry of free agency, trades and the constantly shifting landscape of the league.
Whatever it is, this has been one of the most enjoyable post-season summers I’ve enjoyed in a while. I thought I’d share some of my random hoops thoughts during this gratifying time, as we get our feet wet in the first few days of the Olympic basketball tournament in London.
I’m wondering if anyone handled a “Fire the coach! Trade me! Don’t trade me”, in-season and post-season drama any worse than the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard. Talk about a public relations train wreck! This is the same guy with the effervescent, dazzling smile and granite shoulders that walked into the league as a teenager looking like David Robinson on steroids, saying that he was determined to have the NBA incorporate a religious cross into its logo.
How did he somehow transform into the petulant Charlie Sheen, minus the drugs, booze and bimbos? My gosh, if “The Decision” turned LeBron James into a menacing villain, I’m guessing that “The Indecision” of Howard’s continuing saga will turn him, in the eyes of the irrational public, into Hannibal Lecter.
Of course, if he winds up playing in my hometown of Brooklyn when he officially becomes a free agent after next season, all will be forgiven and I will vehemently deny writing the last few sentences, claiming that some hater hacked into my computer.
If he winds up someplace else, well, whenever I see him from there on, I’ll have the unshakable image of him stalking his old coach Stan Van Gundy on some remote island location, calmly speaking, “I do wish we could chat longer Commissioner Stern. But I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye,” into his cellphone.
Speaking of free agency, has there ever been a more exciting and financially rewarding period for average and marginally talented players in the history of the league? I bet you Uwe Blob, Alaa Abdelnaby , Christian Welp and Cherokee Parks are somewhere cursing up a storm right now, saying something along the lines of, “I would’ve ******* destroyed Darko Milicic!”.
I think the Pacers, Nets, Heat, Lakers, Nuggets and Hawks new G.M. Danny Ferry did rather well with their off season maneuverings. I’m also insanely excited and motivated to get Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, whose main objective seemed to be stockpiling assets to swing a deal that would land Dwight Howard in Houston, over to play Monopoly with me and my kids. Judging from what I’m seeing with Houston’s offseason moves, we’ll play with real money and have a great old time while he buys properties that he’ll never be able to put hotels on.
I’m left scratching my head at Chicago, who once had a great reservoir of talent flowing in off the bench. Great move in bringing back the highly underrated Kirk Hinrich, along with getting Marco Belinelli to fill the void left by Kyle Korver’s departure. But, ummmm, please tell me how 157-year-old Nazr Muhammad fills the gap left by departing big man Omer Asik?
The Vegas summer league was fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed watching the young guys like Will Barton, Josh Selby, Damian Lillard, Jae Crowder, Cory Joseph, Kahwi Leonard, Wes Johnson, Jimmer, Royce White, Scott Machado, Brad Beal, the Morris Twins, Klay Thompson, Jared Sullinger, Tobias Harris, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Jeremy Lamb and many others.
While Selby and Lillard electrified en route to Co-MVP performances, I got the biggest kick out of former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison, one of the most maligned and disappointing players in recent history, showing up without his trademark 1970’s porn star bushy top and mustache, motivated to prove that he can yet be a solid role player on the right team.
I’m rather certain that my outstanding summer is going to only get better now that the London Olympics basketball tournament is finding its rhythm. Despite our extremely talented and exciting roster, and the incredible 156-73 obliteration of Nigeria, Team USA is no slam dunk for the Gold Medal, as our recent exhibition performance against Argentina proved.
One thing we’re learning about the men’s squad is that they’re intent on responding positively and constructively to criticism. After the unsatisfied mummers of their slow starts and poor outside shooting surfaced after their first two games against France and Tunisia, Team USA dropped Nigeria like a bad habit.
Carmelo Anthony, whose shooting was hotter than fish grease, broke more records than Michael Jackson’s Thriller album while knocking down 10 of 12 three’s en route to his 37 points.
While Melo and crew were moon-walking all over the Nigerian team in London, boasting to every team in the tournament that they are indeed forces of human nature, telling them to beat it while asking if they really wanna be startin’ somethin’, there are some legitimate tests ahead.
For all of our athleticism and interchangeable parts, the lack of size in the post will be our Achilles heel, opening the door for the likes of Spain, France, Brazil, Russia, Argentina and possibly Lithuania to have a legitimate shot in London.
I have the ultimate respect for USA Basketball Chief Jerry Colangelo. HOW-EVAH! (said in my Stephen A. Smith voice), I’m convinced that he erred by not putting the massive and multi-skilled DeMarcus Cousins on the team. When Kobe said that Cousins deserved a spot on the current Olympic team, I’m sure he knew that they needed another large post presence who, in addition to being able to score, rebound and pass, would also take great pride in treating physical, annoying nuisances and international brutes like Luis Scola and Marc Gasol with the same welcoming hospitality of Deebo in the movie, Friday.
For folks who are unfamiliar with international hoops, here’s what to look for when Team USA meets up with some of the stronger teams in the field.
Russia comes in with a young, huge team that is led by AK-47, the 6-foot-9 Andre Kirilenko. Although they lack the star power of the other contenders, Russia is finally beginning to develop a promising national hoops program for the first time since the days of the former Soviet Union , with the likes of 6-foot-8 point guard Anton Ponkrashov, 6-foot-6 shooting guard Alexey Shved and 7-foot center Timofey Mozgov.
Brazil, despite the egg they laid in their last exhibition against Team USA, has an excellent core in Leandro Barbosa, big men Tiago Splitter, Anderson Verajao, Nene and point guard Marcelino Huertas.
If France had a healthy Joakim Noah, they’d be a viable threat for the gold. But even without him, Spurs point guard and legit NBA MVP candidate this year Tony Parker leads a deep, talented and big team with the likes of Nicolas Batum, Kevin Seraphin, Ronny Turiaf and soon-to-be San Antonio Spur Nando De Colo. Don’t get overexcited with Team USA’s opening-round smack down of France. The French can play a lot better than they did in the tournament’s first game.
If you watched Manu Ginobli’s guys in the recent exhibition against Argentina, you’re fully aware that they will fight every inch of the way. They’re not a big team, but they work hard and play outstanding team basketball. They are like roaches and Freddy Kruger. No matter what you do, they keep coming back.
Lastly, I’m wishing Spain was at full strength with the marvelously talented floor-general Ricky Rubio. But even without their dazzling playmaker, Spain has enough length and skills down low with NBA stars Serge Ibaka and Pau and Marc Gasol, along with great guard play provided by Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro to make the seemingly impossible, possible.
And judging from the first 32 minutes or so from their opening round game against medal-favorite Spain, Yi Jianlin, with his 30 points and 12 rebounds, and his Chinese teammates might be ready to make a statement of their own this summer.
For all of their athletic gifts, the key to Team USA’s success in these games will be the stealth and intensity of their defensive pressure. And for those who only pay attention to folks scoring the ball, please pay attention to the night-goggle vision and insane passing ability of LeBron James. It really is better than my grandma’s banana pudding.
Well, that’s enough of my meanderings for now. I’m off to pop some popcorn, take a momentary break from my unhealthy obsession with hoops and watch a good movie. Silence of the Lambs sounds like a good choice. Maybe I’ll have some fava beans and a nice chianti as well.
Alejandro Danois, Bounce Magazine’s Senior Editor and a Contributing Writer with Sporting News, is also a freelance sports and entertainment writer whose work has been published by the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Dime Magazine, among others.