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David Aldridge

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Neither LeBron James or Kobe Bryant plan to stop working in the offseason in search of another title.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

LeBron, Kobe using Olympics to train for next title run


Posted Jul 16 2012 9:41AM

LeBron James didn't look hungry on Sunday. He looked sleepy.

He's been to way too many shootarounds and way too many early morning workouts over the years not to have his body clock tuned in to rising, shining and playing. But it's been a busy last few weeks for James.

"I've gotten plenty of sleep," he said. "I'm ripping and running, man. I'm just ready to practice."

James's current team is the U.S. Olympic team, a last tour of duty, you'd think, for the 27-year-old in international competition. This will be his third Olympic team, and after three, most guys have had enough of giving up their summers. Soon enough, James will be back in Miami, trying to defend what is now his.

James, you may have heard, didn't just promise one championship in South Beach. He wants to be one of the all-time greats, and none of those fellows has just one pelt. There is business to take care of in London, but after that, it is back into the lab. He has to get better.

That would seem unlikely after his third MVP award, and his first Finals MVP award, and the wondrous 2011-12 campaign he produced, dominating at both ends of the floor as few have. But that is now the standard for James, not an outlier. He has no choice in this. For there are men who want to take away what is now his, including all of his Olympic teammates -- first and foremost, one Kobe Bean Bryant of Newport Beach, Calif.

There's Kobe, about 20 feet away, ready to win another gold, then ready to win that sixth NBA championship -- with Steve Nash, incredibly, now on his side. Six gets him even with Michael Jordan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Six puts him ahead of Magic Johnson. Six gets Kobe Bryant into the discussion of the best of the best of the best, sir. Bird doesn't have six. Isiah doesn't have six. Shaq doesn't have six. Tim Duncan doesn't have six.

Bill Russell, of course, has 11, and Sam Jones has 10, and K.C. Jones and Tom Heinsohn and Satch Sanders and John Havlicek each have eight, and Jim Loscutoff and Frank Ramsey and Robert Horry have seven, and that's all. Six gets you to Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and Bob Cousy. Rare air, indeed.

Kobe is still hungry. LeBron is still hungry.

They've never met in a Finals, killing the uber-conspiracy theory that the NBA would have to arrange the ultimate showdown for maximum ratings. Bryant's Lakers were in three straight Finals, winning two, between 2008 and 2010. James's Heat have been in the last two, splitting them. It has the feeling of dynasties passing in the night, with the Thunder ready to make the West theirs permanently, and the Spurs still ornery, and the Clippers and Grizzlies looming.

Bryant will be 34 next month, and though he's healthier this offseason than he's been in many offseasons -- which will allow him to do the kind of gut-wrenching workouts that are his norm -- his team isn't what it used to be. The Lakers can still be formidable, but they're no longer intimidating. They still have great size with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but they no longer have prohibitive size. They have a really good coach in Mike Brown, but ... well, nobody's Phil, are they?

On the other side of the hill you have Miami, fresh off a title, looking head and shoulders above everyone in the East, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh now having the summer off to rest their injuries, and having added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to go to the three-point line and wait.

And so, you wonder if Bryant is at all concerned that, now that James and the Heat have gotten over the hump, they'll get greedy just as he did and rip off four or five titles, keeping him at five, one short of Jordan's six.

You ask this. Seven seconds of silence follow. The Kobe Smirk, in all its glory, fills the gap. Finally, he verbalizes his disdain for the notion that he worries about anybody.

"Obviously, once you get the taste, you want some more," he said. "Usually, that's how it works. I'm sure he'll come back next year and he'll be ready to go. But, so will I."

Indeed.

"I'm using this summer, these Olympics, to not only help this team win the gold medal, but also to get better on my game, come back into the season a better player," James said. "I try to improve each offseason. I want that feeling again. The feeling I had on the sidelines, in the locker room, was one of the best feelings, probably the best feeling I've ever had. I want it again."

His exit interview with Erik Spoelstra, he said, included no exhortations on improving his field goal percentage, or reducing his turnovers.

"He trusts me," James said. "And I trust myself. I've always watched film over the summer, see ways that I can help better the team. I transformed my game last year to being more in the post, being more at the elbow. And I will continue to work at that. Continue to work at being more efficient. More efficient. I've been able to do that the last couple of years. He doesn't tell me, or need to tell me. He understands that I work hard on my game."

Just as Bryant is surely working on his.

And, now, here comes Nash, still one of the league's best point guards, to provide his smarts and toughness and shooting. Bryant's never played with a point as good as Nash; Nash has never played with a wing as dynamic as Bryant. The possibilities are intriguing. Each should keep the other fresher, longer, than has been possible the last couple of years.

But Nash is going to be the newcomer in Los Angeles. Doesn't he have to be the one to make the sacrifices?

"He doesn't have to fit in," Bryant said. "The thing about when you have great players is, everybody has to fit in around them. He doesn't have to do anything. He just has to come in and play his game."

In Dallas, and especially in Phoenix, Nash played a wholly different game, based on constant movement, screen and rolls with Amar'e Stoudemire or Dirk Nowitzki, always probing, always with the ball until someone popped open. The Suns thrived on early offense, surrounding Nash with three-point shooters who lived in the corners and wings. The Lakers are the complete opposite of that, or at least they were last season. They run isolations for Bryant or post up Bynum. Nash has never been a guy to throw the ball into the hole and spot up. It's not his game.

"What you have to do is you accentuate that by putting him in better chances to be successful," Bryant said. "Him dribbling around for 20 seconds on the shot clock doesn't put him in the best position to be successful. So you have to use his strengths, which is his ability to handle the ball, and get in the cracks and the seams, this, that and the other. It's about shifting the defense to give him the best opportunity to do that."

How do you do that?

"Ball movement, misdirection, guys being able to read the defense in terms of having a free flowing offense with endless opportunities," Bryant said. "We're all smart guys. Most of us come from playing the triangle system, anyway. We'll incorporate an offensive system for sure."

Miami, meanwhile, seems to be honing its system, having figured out the best way to utilize all its talents. And a title, Pat Riley said, will allow James to finally play free, without the burden or expectation of a championship on his back. It may be that we haven't even seen the best of him yet. Playing small may have allowed him to finally find his voice, dominating the game as few others -- maybe no one else -- can do.

"You put a guy like LeBron at the four and the five, and everybody says 'we can do that, too,'" 76ers forward Andre Iguodala said. "There's only one LeBron, you know what I mean? It can't be replicated."

Bryant, like Jordan, produced a similar, uncopyable feat: a championship team built around a once-in-a-generation wing player. He is convinced it can happen again. For once, it's the Lakers who can lay in the weeds, with little or no expectations. Everyone and their bookie expects Miami and Oklahoma City to meet again in the Finals, and maybe more than once or twice.

LeBron James will enter next season as a prohibitive favorite for the first time in his life. Kobe Bryant will enter next season as an underdog, for the first time in a very, very long time. You can almost hear him cackling.

"It's fun," Bryant said. "I enjoy sitting back, hearing the talk, everything that comes on after that. It's entertaining."

Rumors of his demise, he feels, have been exaggerated for a while. There will be nothing -- nothing -- better than coming back from the forgotten to stick everyone's nose in it one more time.

"They've been that way since the fourth championship (in 2009)," he said. "Everybody said I was done, that was it. 'Cause I started having those knee injuries, and all this other stuff during the playoffs. The Oklahoma team, they tied us 2-2 (in the 2010 playoffs), and we were done, and all that stuff. It's nothing I haven't heard before."

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Kevin Love looked around again, Saturday, and saw one possible future all around him.

There was Carmelo Anthony, who's been to the playoffs every year of his NBA career, nine straight and counting. There was Kevin Durant, fresh off his first Finals appearance, desperate to get back with teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden. There was Kobe Bryant walking by, with five rings, still seeking that sixth. There was Deron Williams, who made a Western Conference finals with Utah, and expects to get back to the postseason next year in Brooklyn.

And there sat Love, wondering if that was going to be his future, or if he was condemned to repeat the past -- a past without a single playoff game.

Love, in Washington over the weekend with the Olympic team for two days of practice and Monday's exhibition against Brazil before taking off for England and the Olympic Games, didn't take back a single word of what he told Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears last week in Las Vegas, when he said he expected the Timberwolves to improve the roster -- now. Otherwise, he said, he wasn't sure how long he'd be willing to stick around in Minnesota.

The Wolves were already active this offseason before Love spoke out. The long-awaited $46 million offer sheet for Portland small forward Nicolas Batum was finally delivered to the Blazers on Sunday, giving them three days to match. Portland has been adamant it will. (The deal, according to a source, could go as high as $48 million if Batum hits some bonuses that have been put in the deal, and will also include a 15 percent trade kicker, meaning that Batum would get an additional 15 percent on top of whatever is left on his contract if he were ever traded.)

Minnesota had already traded the 18th pick in last month's Draft to Houston for promising forward Chase Budinger. The Wolves finally gave up on Darko Milicic on Friday, making him an amnesty waiver, then traded center Brad Miller to New Orleans and waived guard Martell Webster to create more room for the Batum sheet. They came to terms with former Blazers guard Brandon Roy earlier this month, betting $10 million over two years that Roy has recovered from the knee issues that forced his retirement last year.

All of these developments please Love, but he wants to keep the heat on.

"I think we've got to either, what's the saying, (bleep) or get off the pot," Love said Saturday. "I wasn't bashing our team. I wasn't talking bad about them. All I was saying was we either have to stick with the guys we've got, or we've got to make some moves. We can't make a couple little subtle moves and go from there. We need to add guys. I think a guy like Batum is definitely worth the risk for us because we really need a guy who can defend and knock down shots, and can be an all-purpose guy at a high level."

The Batum offer sheet continued what has become a very contentious relationship between Portland and Minnesota in recent years.

The Blazers were extremely angered a couple of years ago, after then-assistant general manager Tom Penn interviewed for the GM job in Minnesota. Penn and his agent insisted they had a significant offer in hand from the Wolves, and Penn got a big raise from Portland to stay as assistant GM in Portland under his friend, then-GM Kevin Pritchard, with Minnesota ultimately hiring David Kahn for its job. But the Blazers came to believe that Minnesota had never really made such an offer, Penn's (and his agent's) denials to the contrary. Nonetheless, Penn was soon forced out in Portland, the details of his firing never fully explained, and the Blazers fired Pritchard on Draft night 2011, in one of the more tasteless episodes of ownership decision-making in recent years. (Pritchard is now the GM of the Pacers; Penn has appeared recently on ESPN as a salary cap expert.)

And ESPN.com reported last week that the Blazers and Wolves were working out compensation for Webster, who was acquired by Minnesota from Portland on Draft night 2010 for the rights to swingman Luke Babbitt and forward Ryan Gomes. Webster then had back surgery in the fall of 2010 because of a bulging disk. The Blazers, according to ESPN.com, were aware of the injury but didn't tell Minnesota about it before the trade.

All Love cares about, of course, is whether the Wolves made the offer sheet for Batum too rich for even Paul Allen's liking.

Love signed a $62 million extension last year, thinking the Wolves had finally turned the corner toward winning after hiring Rick Adelman as coach and bringing Ricky Rubio over from Europe. A promising start after the Lockout faded, however, and after Rubio tore his ACL against the Lakers in March, Minnesota was done.

The Wolves have not added another point guard to the roster, sticking for now with J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour to hold the fort until Rubio comes back. They're high on center Nikola Pekovic and while they had second-year forward Derrick Williams in a lot of trade scenarios, they haven't pulled the trigger on any.

But Love wants no more poseurs in the locker room. He likes guys like hardnosed forward Anthony Tolliver, and was hoping Minnesota had figured out some way to get Kyle Korver from Chicago, although it looks like Korver's going to Atlanta instead.

"You have to bring it every single game," Love said. "Enhancing the locker room, getting kind of bad blood out of there, getting good guys around that are willing to work hard, and pursue the playoffs every single day is going to be big for us. We have a great coaching staff. I know at this point, with the guys we have at this very moment, we have great guys in the locker room that are willing to chase that."

Kahn texted Sunday night that while he has yet to talk with Love, he has no lingering concerns about Love's remarks.

If Portland, as expected, matches Batum's sheet, though, it's pretty much back to square one for Minnesota in its search for a small forward. The Wolves' 2010 first-rounder, Wesley Johnson, hasn't been able to hold onto the spot. There are wings out there like Courtney Lee and O.J. Mayo that Minnesota will likely be in on if it doesn't get Batum, but an upgrade is essential.

Love will be watching. He doesn't have a foot out the door, but he's looking for the Wolves to make the same improvements to the roster that he's made to his body and game the last couple of years, becoming one of the best in the game -- and surely the best All-Star player that has yet to compete in May or June.

"Like I mentioned last week, hopefully I got their attention, because I think we're definitely ready to take that next step," Love said. "We just need to be injury free and we need to have the right players."

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1) In seven days, lots of things can change. As they have in Dallas, and for the better, and without compromising the Mavs' flexibility for 2013, when they'll again have a shot at the top free agents on the market.

2) Talked to Mike D'Antoni, one of the U.S team's assistant coaches, on Sunday. I wasn't quoting him; we were just talking, like normal people. I'll just say he was surprised the Knicks got Ray Felton, and he likes Felton a lot, having coached him up in the first half of the 2010-11 season to career highs in points and assists before Felton was sent to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.

3) Damages, The Final Season. Goodness, what an opening episode.

4) It is easy to take shots at the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, depending on what person or position you're representing. This, though, is a very good idea that came out of the new CBA, and it's hard to imagine anyone would have a problem with it.

5) With the end of the season comes the Summer Tips, which are a little shorter without the weekly rankings and ratings of players and teams. And I'm lining up people to write the Guest Tips when I go on vacation next month. One of those Tip writers, again, will be one of you. Last year, Italy's Andrea Cavalli wrote eloquently about his love of the NBA game; now it's your turn. Write me at daldridgetnt@gmail.com and tell me why you should write a Guest Tip. Why are you passionate about the NBA? Who's your favorite team, and why? When did you first fall in love with the game? The most compelling responder will get to write a Guest Tip in August. Fire away!

6) Glad to see New Orleans came correct and got Drew Brees signed. You don't have to be a Saints fan to appreciate the incredible work that guy did in that city after Hurricane Katrina, or the fact that he's one of the top two or three quarterbacks in football. If he didn't deserve the big bucks, who would?

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1) I don't want to give Jerry Sandusky any more attention. But the Freeh Report last week was as damning an indictment of an entire university's failure -- from the president's on down -- to deal with a horrible situation. How adults could sit idly by when they knew, at best, one of their employees was under a cloud of suspicion involving criminal behavior with children is something a higher authority will demand answers for some day. One would think -- would hope -- that the people now in charge at Penn State would take a deep breath and ask themselves if they shouldn't reduce the footprint of football at State College, not because football is inherently bad, but because football became more important than doing the right thing, and it was that way for a long time, and they have to figure out how to make sure that never happens again.

2) My guess is we won't be reading many more "Jason Kidd came to New York to mentor Jeremy Lin" stories out of Gotham.

3) Let me say this again, because people don't pay attention this time of year. If I write that your team isn't likely to get a guy, either through free agency or trade, I don't "hate" your team. I'm not against your team. I'm just writing the facts as they've been given to me.

3a) Which reminds me: My Twitter account is my Twitter account, not yours. Please don't tell me what I can and can't write on it. If you don't like that, unfollow me.

4) Tough break, Kyrie Irving, and that isn't meant as a joke. Get rested and get better.

5) Terrific read on how Shawn Kemp has turned himself around and become a restaurant owner in the "Where Are They Now" edition of Sports Illustrated. What's sad is that it reminded me, again, of how much I miss Seattle as an NBA city. And, to be honest, if Kemp hadn't sulked and eaten his way out of town after Jim McIlvaine got his contract, the Sonics almost assuredly would have gotten to more than one Finals in the Kemp-Payton era, and maybe they would have won one, and what would that have done for their chances of getting a new arena built? I'm not blaming Kemp for the Sonics leaving Seattle; that fate was sealed when Howard Schultz sold the team to Clay Bennett. Just pointing out that one action can lead to other actions becoming possible.

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Is this a serious question, about who would win between the Dream Team and the 2012 U.S. men's Olympic team?

Normally, I stay away from talk radio fodder -- like, 'who was better, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds?' foolishness. Comparing players or teams from different eras is almost always insane and pointless. Ruth, for example, never played against African-American players, a development which may have skewed his numbers. But he also didn't play in the steroid era, which obviously skewed Bonds's numbers. There are dozens of variables that make era-to-era comparisons the ultimate in apples to oranges.

But.

There's not that much difference in the quality of the NBA game of 20 years ago and today. The international game has improved tremendously, of course; the teams that the 2012 U.S. team will play in London are light years ahead of those that wanted pictures with the Dream Team in Barcelona, in part because of the Dream Team. Watching those Olympics showed the rest of the world just how big the gap was, and the NBA's desire to inject its presence around the world through television, clinics and partnerships with existing leagues helped develop international superstars that became just as good as their American counterparts.

But you can compare Michael Jordan with Kobe Bryant; LeBron James with Magic Johnson. And you can compare the 2012 U.S. team to the 1992 one. Bryant did last week during the team's camp in Las Vegas.

"We have just a bunch of young race horses, you know, guys that are eager to compete. So I don't know, it would be a tough one, but I think we'd pull it out," Bryant reportedly told reporters.

I wasn't there when Kobe said what he said in Vegas, so I don't know the context of the question, or his answer.

I do know that Kobe is a serious student of the game, and knows the history of the game. He simply cannot believe what he supposedly said, that many of the Dream Teamers were "a lot older, kind of at the end of their careers."

Uh, no.

That distinction applied to exactly two members of the Dream Team: Larry Bird and Magic. Bird, famously, was about to retire, his aching back simply too messed up to allow him to stand, much less play. Johnson had missed the previous season after his HIV disclosure (though he had come back in time to win the MVP award at the All-Star Game in Orlando in February).

But in '92, Jordan had just turned 29. He was coming off a second straight NBA title with the Bulls, having won the regular season and playoff Most Valuable Player awards. He was first-team All-NBA and first in the league, according to the statistical website Basketball-Reference.com, in Player Efficiency Rating. He averaged 30.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists in the regular season; 34.5, 6.2 and 5.8 in the playoffs.

His Bulls teammate, Scottie Pippen, was 26 in '92. He averaged 21 points, 7.7 boards and 7 assists that season, making the second of his seven All-Star games. He was first team all-defense; the year before, he completely changed the 1991 Finals when he was able to harass Johnson full-court, stifling the Lakers' vaunted fast break.

Charles Barkley was 29, averaging 23.1 points and 11 rebounds in '92, shooting 55 percent from the floor. He was a year away from winning league MVP honors, having been named second-team All-NBA in '92. He was fourth in PER that season. Karl Malone, the Jazz's superstar power forward, was third in PER that season, averaging 28 points and 11.2 boards. He made his fifth straight All-Star game that season and was first team all-NBA.

In the back of the Dream Team's defense was Patrick Ewing, then 30, who averaged 24 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3 blocks that season. He was second-team All-NBA, second team all-defense, having made his sixth All-Star game. Also playing center was the Spurs' David Robinson, then 27, who'd just finished his third NBA season after having spent two years in the Navy Reserves. He led the league in blocks in '92 (4.5 per game), to go with 23.2 points and 12.2 rebounds, and was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. He was second in the league that season in PER. (The Dream Team had 10 of the top 20 leaders in PER that season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.)

That left slackers and deadweights like Chris Mullin (25.6 points per game in '92, averaging a league-leading 41.3 minutes per game, first team All-NBA), Clyde Drexler (25 points per game, first team All-NBA), John Stockton (second team All-NBA, second team all-NBA defense, led the league in assists and steals that season) and Christian Laettner, who'd only won the Wooden, Naismith and Associated Press Player of the Year awards as a senior at Duke, to fill out the roster.

The team was so good that Jordan was the only player who started each of the eight Olympic games. Chuck Daly had to rotate lineups as much as he could; can you imagine what would have happened if anyone other than Laettner, the college kid, had gotten a DNP-CD?

"For him (Bryant) to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done," Jordan said Thursday, according to the Associated Press, which reported that Jordan said he "absolutely laughed" when he heard Bryant's assertion.

It's important to state here that Bryant was talking about one game, not a seven-game series. (Although I'm sure he would think his group could win that, too.) And, of course, in one game, anything can happen, so it's certainly possible the Redeemers could take the Dreamers once. But if you're talking statistical probability of a Dream Team win over the Redeemers, I'd put the DT's odds at 80-85 percent.

What made the Dream Team unbeatable was not the fast-breaking passes from Magic or the alley-oops to Jordan or Pippen; it was its defense. The Dreamers were as prolific a force at the defensive end as has ever walked the earth. Even if you assume Bryant or Chris Paul could break down Jordan and Pippen out front -- I wouldn't, but you can -- they still would have to deal with Ewing and/or Robinson in the back, and as noted above, not a feeble Ewing or Admiral, but shot blockers in their prime.

The speed of Pippen and Jordan, the amount of court they could cover defensively, was incredible. Jordan had 37 steals in the eight Olympic games, a ridiculous 4.6 per game. Pippen abused Toni Kukoc, who went on to become a very good NBA player alongside Jordan and Pippen in Chicago, in two Olympic games, though Kukoc, playing for his native Croatia, had a slightly better showing in the gold medal game.

Magic wasn't a shutdown defender by any means, but he played angles with the best of them, and dude was 6-9 with long, long arms; he got a lot of deflections that helped start the break. Stockton had catcher's mitts for hands, that he would stick any and everywhere for steals.

Now, Stockton didn't play much in the Olympics, having broken his right fibula in the Tournament of the Americas. Which begs the question: how do your factor in injuries when making this comparison? (Because if Bird was healthy, brothers and sisters, we wouldn't be having this conversation. That 80 to 85 percent probability of Dream Team dominance would climb well above 90 percent.)

To be fair, that cuts both ways. Jerry Colangelo, the CEO of NBA Basketball, didn't offer a prediction of which team would win when I asked him about it last week. But he made a legit point: the perceived weakness of this year's Olympic team, lack of size, has come about because injuries to the likes of Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and, now, Blake Griffin have taken them off the roster. (And Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, too, for that matter.)

For the sake of argument, let's assume we're talking about the existing teams, because I don't want to spend another 10 paragraphs arguing about whether Rose or Deron Williams would have made the team, or Bosh or Tyson Chandler.

I just don't see how this current team could score enough against the Dreamers. It doesn't have great three-point shooting; there's not a single member of this year's Olympic team that finished in the top 25 in three-point field goal percentage in the league this season. (Andre Iguodala was 26th, at 39.4 percent.) And, as stated above, the Dreamers' perimeter D was so capable of rotating and closing quickly, there wouldn't be the open threes that most drive and dish teams can get in international play.

The Dreamers could pack it in, let the Redeemers' guards fire away from the outside, and collapse everything inside on LeBron James. If he tried to post, say, Barkley or Malone, and Ewing or Robinson came baseline to double, James's instincts would be to find the open man, not force the shot. And, again, I see Jordan and Pippen (or Drexler) being able to close out to the shooters without much problem.

Now, what if Coach K put LeBron on the ball instead of in the post, and let him be a creator as a point forward? That could be interesting. LeBron is so strong, it's hard to imagine he couldn't get where he wanted, and still be able to finish with contact. Though I still believe Pippen, who was long and stronger than you think, could beat LeBron to spots enough to make him into a jump shooter instead of a driver. Still, there's no doubt that James would have been a problem for the Dreamers, just as he is for anyone else today.

Would Kobe have scored? Sure. He's too great to be shut down by anyone. But my guess is that he would have to take a lot of shots to score a lot of points; he wouldn't be efficient against the Dreamers. Actually, I think Durant would have had a better chance against the Dreamers, because of his size; he has shooting lanes on the perimeter that no one else other than Dirk Nowitzki can see. But could Durant not turn the ball over against the hawking '92 defense? That would be problematic. And other than James, the Redeemers don't have anyone who could attack the Dreamers in the paint, no one you can throw the ball to and get consistent results.

And we haven't gotten to the other end of the floor.

Boy, wouldn't you love to see Jordan in his prime, with a side of the floor cleared out, against Kobe in his prime? That would be must-see TV. Here is where a fair man must acknowledge that with the passing of time, those that he saw with his own eyes often tend to get bigger, greater, better in the retelling of their legend. But I saw Michael Jordan destroy everybody that ever tried to guard him. Some of them, like Joe Dumars, had the mental toughness to come back for more, year after year, and give it a great effort again. But they never stopped him. It's hard to imagine anyone being able to keep Jordan from doing what he wanted to do on the court.

And, sorry again, but I don't see anyone on the Redeemers who'd be able to slow down Magic on the break, re-route him to the help. You could put LeBron on him, I guess, but that would sap a lot of energy he'd need at the other end, because Magic, by '92, had become a pretty solid three-point shooter, so you couldn't slack off of him as you could earlier in his career.

There wouldn't be a lot of answers inside for the Mailman or the Chuckster, either.

It is a testament of how good Barkley was in the Olympics that I don't remember much from Malone, who only went on to become a two-time league MVP, finish second all-time in league history in points scored and waltz into the Hall of Fame. In July and August, 1992, Barkley was the best player on the best team in the history of basketball. Now, Jordan was great, and Magic was, too. But Barkley was incredible in the Games, frequently starting the fast break with a rebound and finishing it at the other end. Barkley shot a ridiculous 71 percent from the floor against the world, and made seven of his eight three-point attempts.

If he didn't end the break, Mullin did. I went back and looked up his stats in the Games. Mullin shot 61 percent from the floor, 53 percent from three-point range, which I would have sworn was a little off; I thought he shot at least 70 percent from three. It seemed like he didn't miss a three for a month.

I don't think the Dreamers would win by 25, as Pippen said the other day. The Redeemers would get back on defense enough to make it more of a half-court affair, and I acknowledge that you probably can subtract a few percentage points from my prediction because of the rose-colored glasses I'm wearing. But, it says here, the Dreamers would still win most of the games most of the time against the Redeemers, and if it was just one game, I'd go Dreamers 91, Redeemers 82. (Olympic rules, remember; 20-minute halves, not 48 minutes.)

Let's be clear: I don't have any problem with Bryant saying what he said; what would you expect him to say? 'We'd have no chance?' Athletic arrogance is as central to his core as it was to Jordan's; they literally do not understand the notion of doubt. Every time Bean puts on his Nikes, he thinks he's the baddest dude in the world (see above). But it doesn't mean he's right on this one.

"The thing about the Dream Team," Bryant said Sunday in D.C., "was that none of you guys were there to see it."

Uh, not so. I was there. I saw them. I saw every minute they played in Portland at the Tournament of the Americas, and every minute in Barcelona -- actually, Badalona -- at the Games. I saw Barkley's elbow to Herlander Coimbra, and I saw Bird gimp around enough to still shoot 52 percent from the floor, and I saw the 46-1 run against Angola, and I saw Daly never have to call a timeout, and I saw the utter domination that was wrought when the NBA unleashed the hounds that changed basketball forever.

They were the Dream Team, and, as I'll say every time until the day I die, they were the greatest team I ever saw.

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I'm not sure that "parody" is the word you're looking for ... unless you're trying to be, as Robin Williams said in "Good Will Hunting," ironical. From Carl Cuttone:

Doesn't David Stern see his league imploding in front of his eyes? Who wants to see the Bobcats vs. the Heat? The NBA should look at the NFL as the gold standard and run their business in a similar way. The NFL has successful teams in small markets like Green Bay. I can't think of a team that is not at least competitive in the NFL. If a team does have a down year they have a chance to turn it around the next. It's called parody. Right now the NBA has a couple of cities that have a chance to win and the rest of the cities have no chance. You are more on the inside, is this a league wide concern?

If the point you're making is that the biggest revenue producers seem to be the most aggressive teams, Carl, well, that was the point the union tried to make during the Lockout -- there is no system you can come up with that will insure competitive balance. But, to be fair, the more punitive luxury tax penalties don't kick in until next year. We won't really know until then if they work, and force the Lakers and Knicks to pull back and let other teams sign and trade for quality free agents. If the Knicks don't match Houston's offer sheet to Jeremy Lin because they're balking on the huge tax payments that would produce in three years, you may have your answer. But, again: if Ray Allen is going to take $9 million to play in Miami instead of $12 million to play in Boston, or $21 million to play in Memphis, that's a choice. And he's allowed to make that choice. If that makes the strong stronger, I'm not sure what you can do to change that.

Role call. Yes, it's spelled that way for a reason. From Ken Crickman:

Hey David - Why no mention of Kevin Seraphin in your article about Andray Blatche? Seraphin played great over the 2nd half last season and may be in line to start at PF next year. You mentioned Vesely (who is more of a SF despite his height), Okafor and Booker but not KS.

I didn't mention Seraphin because I consider him a center, as the Wizards do, Ken. I didn't mention Nene either, because he's also a center. And no one I know seriously believes Andray can play center.

Spanning the Globe, looking for Gold. From Andres Schimelman:

As we move closer to the Olympics, and with the recent number of players from team USA who won't be participating, I was wondering what do you think about other teams such as Spain or Argentina and their chances of pulling the upset.

I know it would be almost a miracle but at least we've beat them twice before (Athens 2004 and Indianapolis 2002).

Also on a different note, where would you rank Manu Ginobili in terms of the best NBA international players of all time? He has to be at least top 5.

I think Spain, the silver medalist in '08 in China, is again the top threat to the U.S. team, Andres. With the Gasol Brothers doing work down low, and guards with years and years of international experience in Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon, the Spaniards are not going to be intimidated. (The U.S. team is, unfortunately, not going to get to play against Ricky Rubio, recovering from his torn ACL, in these Games.) Argentina's core group has been together more than a decade, and that core of Ginobili, Luis Scola, Pepe Sanchez and Andres Nocioni can play together in their sleep. If they're healthy, they can be a problem. I think France will also be in the mix now that Tony Parker has been cleared for the Games. But they'll miss Joakim Noah in the paint.

As for Ginobili ... hmmm. I think your top five has to include Nowitzki, who is tops all time in my book, and Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic, who were among the first to make their marks as NBA players and inspired others to come over. (Arvydas Sabonis obviously would make this list if he had come over to the States in his prime, not after a series of injuries robbed him of his quickness.) Fourth? You could certainly make a case for Ginobili, or Pau Gasol, or Tony Parker, maybe Sarunas Marciulionis, the great Lithuanian guard who starred for the Warriors for so many years. Coin toss. Let's make Ginobili fourth by a hair over Gasol, who would be fifth.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and new American Idol judge ideas to dlaldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, interesting or snarky, we just might publish it!

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$50,000,000 -- Reported contract offer, over five years, by the Nuggets for restricted free agent center JaVale McGee, per the Denver Post. McGee, who gave Denver some strong moments down the stretch and in the playoffs after being traded by the Wizards for Nene, is expected to return to the Nuggets.

7 -- NBA teams for veteran center Kwame Brown, the former number one overall Draft pick (2001, by Washington), after agreeing to a two-year deal with Philadelphia last week. In Philly, Brown will be reunited with Doug Collins, his coach in Washington, where he struggled to live up to the expectations of being the top pick.

5 -- Teams -- Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota and Phoenix -- who have used the amnesty provision so far this summer, after the Suns used it Sunday to waive forward Josh Childress, creating enough room to be able to make the winning claim for former Rockets forward Luis Scola. Teams have until Tuesday to amnesty-waive a player, who comes off both the team's salary cap and luxury tax numbers, though the team still has to pay the player. Last year, the Knicks, Nets, Warriors, Cavaliers, Magic, Blazers and Pacers used the amnesty provision, which can only be used once by a team during the 10 years of the new collective bargaining agreement.

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Congrats to @TeamLou23 on his new deal. Gone miss you fam.... But loan me $5!

-- Sixers forward Andre Iguodala (@MindofAI9), Tuesday, 10:20 p.m., giving former teammate Lou Williams love on his new contract with the Hawks -- and asking to hold a fiver 'till payday. You know, just for a minute.

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"I'm not a fan of what is going on in today's game with guys saying 'I'm only going to go here.' I think that's kind of corny. Look at this stuff that's going on with Dwight (Howard). It's crazy. He's got a whole franchise in limbo. It's kind of corny to see all of these guys teaming up. I'm not fond of that. I'm not that dude."

-- New Warriors guard Jarrett Jack, to reporters at the Vegas Summer League, decrying the SuperFriends and all such collaborations.

"I can't wait until opening night."

-- Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, in a statement expressing his happiness at the team Brooklyn's management put together -- at a cost of nearly $300 million in new salaries and counting, if the Nets agree to terms with forward Kris Humphries.

"There's differences. We all have differences. Paul (Pierce) eats corn flakes. I may not like corn flakes."

-- Miami guard Ray Allen, telling reporters that reports of friction between himself and Boston guard Rajon Rondo were not a major factor in his decision to take less money from Boston and sign with the Heat.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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