Posted Aug 13 2012 7:16PM
LONDON -- It's already Monday morning here, and I'm trying to put the finishing touches on the last pre-vacation Tip at Heathrow before flying -- blessedly -- back home. It's been wonderful being at the Olympics, but it's been tough being away so long. So many thoughts run through your head at times like these: how much you miss your kids, and your wife, and your family and friends, and how much you're looking forward to seeing them again.
But one thought consistently comes today before all the others, before all the memories of these Games, including a great men's gold medal game Sunday. It demands attention.
It is an answered prayer.
Thank you, God, and Yahweh, and Buddha, and Allah. (And Jobu from Major League.) I don't have to deal with Dwight Howard rumors any more. Thanks be to you all.
We're at Howard's End.
I knew I should have held off those offseason grades another week!
Yes, the Lakers would move up a notch or two if I had a do-over. Getting Howard more or less straight up for Andrew Bynum -- except the Magic didn't wind up with Bynum -- without having to also include Pau Gasol somewhere, to someone else, is a game changer. In the heat of summer, with the Olympics in full swing and pennant races coming to a boil, here was a four-team, old fashioned blockbuster, with Howard going to L.A., Andrew Bynum to the 76ers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets and, ah, did we mention the Magic have a beautiful new arena? The ripples are still heading out to sea.
"We obviously have made some improvements this summer, to say the least," Kobe Bryant said late Friday night at the team's hotel in the Mayfair section of town. "It's been a blockbuster summer for us. It's unbelievable, really. You're talking about what the Lakers have been able to pull off after the Chris Paul debacle, and here we are, reloaded again."
Now, the Thunder have to reassess. Now, the Clippers have to regroup. Now, the Spurs have to rethink. There have been rumbles that Oklahoma City was going to use its amnesty provision on Kendrick Perkins in the near future. That's over now. Perkins and his limited offense -- but great post defense over the years against Howard -- are back in the mix. The Clippers suddenly look a body short. And Big Boy Basketball, banished to the corner while the Heat and Thunder went small in the playoffs and won, may be back on center stage.
With, really, nothing else to work with than a trade exception and Bynum's potential, the Lakers have added Steve Nash, the 2005 and '06 MVP, to play with Bryant, the '08 MVP. And now comes Howard, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, to give the 38-year-old and soon-to-be 34-year-old Bryant the ultimate insurance at the rim.
Are there, potentially, chemistry issues between the seemingly hyper-sensitive Howard and Bryant? Sure. Will Howard occasionally get in the way of Nash's probes into the meat of a defense? Yes. Can Howard run the Princeton offense, which is predicated on its center being able to come out the foul line, hit jumpers and execute dribble handoffs, then move? Don't know.
But the Lakers are going to be, at minimum, a hell of a lot better next season.
In their last game, on May 21, they started Ramon Sessions, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Bynum, with Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill getting most of the minutes off the bench, in a 106-90 loss to the Thunder. Their starters next Oct. 30 against the Mavericks will be Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard, with Antawn Jamison, Blake, new addition Jodie Meeks and Hill likely to get most of the minutes in reserve.
"Certainly they're an accomplished starting-five," general manager Mitch Kupchak told local reporters Friday. "I wish they were all 22. I'd feel a lot better than I do now, but I feel pretty good."
The 76ers and Nuggets come out vastly different teams after the trade as well. Philly hasn't broached the idea of a contract extension with Bynum yet; the physicals for all the players have not yet been taken, and the deal isn't officially official until that happens. Bynum and Jason Richardson, acquired from Orlando in the trade, will be in Philadelphia on Wednesday. But Bynum is a game-changer for the Sixers, too.
They haven't had someone to throw the ball to in the post, really, since Charles Barkley left town -- and he was, famously, 6-foot-4 3/4. Elton Brand never really made a mark in his time there, and the Sixers' big plan until last week was running Kwame Brown out there for a second tour with coach Doug Collins.
Now, Philly can play Spencer Hawes in the high post and run high-low action. Thaddeus Young will get every chance to take Iguodala's minutes at small forward. Brown and Lavoy Allen will come off the bench and defend. Suddenly, one of the smaller teams in the East last season is one of the bigger ones.
The Sixers still haven't really addressed their lack of perimeter shooting, other than signing Nick Young (who puts the streak in streak shooter) and trading for Dorrell Wright. Richardson can still score, but he's shot 47 percent or better just twice in 11 seasons. Nonetheless, Philly has had a great summer, no matter what you think of my offseason rankings. Adding Bynum makes the Sixers a potential force in the East, assuming they can get him signed next summer. Remember, the Mavericks loom, either for Howard or Bynum.
Iguodala, it is fair to say, felt somewhat unappreciated in Philadelphia over the years, wondering if his all-around approach to the game would be as valued as Allen Iverson's sorties to the basket. The answer (get it?), of course, was no. Things were a little better this season, when the Sixers were the darlings of the town, making the East semifinals, and Iguodala made his first All-Star game. But if you think he's upset about going to Denver, you'd be wrong. Way wrong.
His will turn out to be one of the trade's happier departures.
On a Nuggets team that is well-coached as well, Iguodala's defensive toolbox will be valued and exploited. His ability to finish on the break will be utilized in Denver's explosive transition game. And he'll fit right in on a team that prefers scoring by committee.
That this came about at all is testament to the desperate state the Magic found themselves in. Howard's decision to opt in for the final year of his contract last March, on the eve of the trade deadline, did nothing but delay the inevitable. Orlando talked tough about starting the season with Howard on the roster if necessary, but the Magic knew privately that would be an impossible burden to put on their new coach, Jacque Vaughn.
Of course, that hasn't stopped Orlando from being crushed for not coming out of this with a high-profile center to replace Howard. At the moment, the Magic's starting center next season will either be Gustavo Ayon, acquired in the Ryan Anderson sign-and-trade from New Orleans, or Nikola Vucevic, picked up from Philly.
The Magic's calculus on Bynum was simple. They thought he hadn't shown he could stay healthy over a full season, and with his history of knee troubles, they were reluctant to commit themselves over five years and more than $100 million on a max contract for Bynum, which he wants. For Howard, yes. But not for Bynum.
And Orlando never wanted Pau Gasol -- certainly not at 32 and with $38 million coming his way over the next two years. Nor did the Magic want Hawes, who had just signed a two-year, $20 million extension with the 76ers. The Magic did have a lot of interest in the Nuggets' Timofey Mozgov, who's still on his rookie deal and would seem expendable now that Denver has committed $44 million to JaVale McGee. But the Nuggets held fast, and the Magic were faced with a dwindling clock and few options. So they went for Vucevic, whose upside and rookie contract were palatable.
The Magic took some salaries back in the deal, notably the Nuggets' guard Arron Afflalo. But Orlando felt like Afflalo would be a solid starter and a good fit in the new team-first culture new general manager Rob Hennigan wants to import from Oklahoma City, helping give Vaughn a clean slate to start building his program with high-quality people.
Moreover, Orlando wants to take salaries as low as possible over the next two years, hoping that it will be in a position to strike in the summer of 2014 as a buyer instead of a seller.
At first glance, there isn't a stellar group of free agents that come free that summer. Yes, Kobe, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki are all up then, but the strong likelihood is that they'll either stay where they are or retire. The best of the rest is probably the Pacers' Danny Granger, though the Grizzlies' Rudy Gay has a player option (but it'll be a shock if he walks away from the $19.3 million he's due in 2014-15.) And it is here where, as part of my duty, I have to point out that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony all have early termination options for the 2014-15 season in their respective contracts. (Sigh.)
Until then ... amass assets and draft picks, and expiring contracts ... you know the drill. Hope that young players like Maurice Harkless, who could become the Magic's new starting small forward, and the three first-round picks Orlando will ultimately receive from the Lakers, 76ers and Nuggets turn into something down the road. (In addition to Howard, the Magic also traded agent Dan Fegan's two other players on their roster, Chris Duhon and Richardson.) It is a well-worn strategy now in the NBA: take the house down to its foundation, lay low, and build again. The difference for Orlando is that it has a brand spanking new building it has to now fill with Ayon and Harkless and Vucevic, along with carryovers like Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis. Weren't the Magic just in The Finals in 2009?
It is a bleak time in the Land of the Mouse, the price for believing that Superman would always be there when Lex Luthor came to town.
There was dancing here in London over the weekend. It had nothing to do with any reality show created by Simon Cowell or Simon Fuller.
There was FIBA general secretary Patrick Baumann, doing the rhumba all over the NBA's idea of establishing a 23-year-old age limit for the Olympic Games, at least in time for the 2016 Games in Rio.
"It would probably be premature right now ... to make any changes in the Olympic program," Baumann told reporters at the women's bronze medal game Saturday. "Large parts of the world benefit from this tournament for our sport, and I think we should keep this [format] certainly for a while."
In truth, the NBA had already seen the air coming out of its trial balloon. The players on this year's gold medal-winning team had been steadfast and united in their criticism of the idea. Kobe Bryant labeled it "stupid" last month, and LeBron James said Saturday he wouldn't play in any future Olympic competition that would come with a 23-year-old limit.
It doesn't affect Bryant; Sunday's win over Spain was his last as an Olympian. James, who's been on three straight teams, may take a pass next time regardless, though Jerry Colangelo will push him hard. But the issue is right in the sweet spot for others like 23-year-old Kevin Durant, who scored 30 in the gold medal game Sunday.
"I'm a little concerned. I've been hearing it too much," Durant said earlier in the week. "Hopefully it's false though, man. I want to play again. Hopefully I'm lucky enough, and I continue to grow as a player that they pick me to play again. This has been a great experience, and it's going to be in Rio the next time around, and I'm sure I won't go there no time soon [otherwise], so that would be my first time there as well. I hope they don't pass that, because we all would like to get another chance."
It took a little of the joy out, not knowing if they'd get a chance to do it again in four years.
"You really have to take it into consideration," Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love, on his first Olympic team, said. "It's in the back of our mind now, something that we'll put aside. But when the time comes, I think a lot of us will voice our opinion that [there should be no age limit]. We should really be able to pick and choose what we would like to do."
There will likely be some kind of alternative, non-23 compromise to come for future Olympians, allowing the NBA to establish the World Cup of Basketball into the money-making juggernaut it wants. But the bigger story of these games is the complete triumph of Jerry Colangelo's vision as USA Basketball's czar.
In the wreckage of the 2004 team's bronze medal, it was believed the NBA-players-in-Olympics model was irretrievably broken. Too many of the players you wanted weren't willing to give up their summers, and those that showed up clashed with coaches like George Karl (whose 2002 World Championship team finished sixth in Indianapolis) and Larry Brown.
But Colangelo insisted on complete autonomy; no more selection committee. He would interview the players he wanted and he would invite them. (A group of trusted advisers still looks at an initial pool of candidates, but Colangelo has the final say.)
Colangelo insisted that players would want to be a part of it because it was so selective, and that they would bond around the right coach. And he believed Duke's Mike Krzyzewski was that guy.
"We have this group of guys who love it so much," Colangelo said. "They love the whole thing. There's a lot of value to them as individuals, there's great value to the NBA as a league and to their respective teams because of their experience. And then, you can talk about it, but until someone goes through this and experiences it, it's very special. And how many individuals get a chance to do it in a lifetime. It's hard for somebody to give it up if they don't have to."
Seven years after he took over, USA Basketball is chock full of candidates to fill the jobs left as Kobe Bryant and others leave the program. Only a handful of players, such as Andrew Bynum, publicly declared not being interested. The Select Team is the hot new club to join, the farm team for the next group of Olympians.
Player sentiment, in the main, has done a 180.
"I don't think people really understood what it meant to represent their country," LeBron James said Saturday. "It's not just about basketball. It's about a lot of other things. People, you know, give up their freedom for us to do what we do, and do it with no pressure ... there's a lot more that comes with it, too. But I just think it's changed. I think the culture has changed. The word has gotten out what it means. It means more than just putting on a uniform. It means more than the name on the that's on back; it's all about the name that's on the front."
The U.S. would have trouble in future Games if Durant said he'd had enough, after leading the 2010 World Championship team to gold in Turkey and starring here. But he wants to re-up.
"It's the Olympics, man," Durant said. "It's self explanatory. Guys like being around each other. We like coming out and competing against other countries, and playing for our country. You can't beat that, man. Going to different countries that you've never been to before, meeting other athletes, and supporting the whole USA, it's something that not too many people can say that they do. It's not something you take for granted or expect it to come around just because you are who you are. Nothing is guaranteed. I don't see why they would want to take it away from us."
It doesn't look like they will now.
"These are the 12 best guys in the world," James said. "Who wouldn't want to be part of a team like this, if you're healthy, of course. You have an opportunity to be on a world showcase. Everyone is watching. And if you're healthy, why wouldn't you want to be watched and represent your country, and play the game that you love to play?"
1) Thank you, London. What a great experience to be a (small) part of these Games. This is a vibrant, energetic city, and -- no exaggeration -- everyone who I saw on my various trails through the tube, and around town, and at the different venues, was cordial and helpful. There's so much I couldn't see or do, and I really hope I can return here some day.
1A) The Games were pretty compelling, too. Where do you start? Michael Phelps? Usain Bolt? Alyson Felix? Gabby Douglas? Jessica Ennis? The Olympics never fails to entertain.
2) It would be great to be Mitch Kupchak's lawyer/attorney/agent this morning. I'm sure we'll read the blow-by-blow "insider" piece any day now of how this went down, and Kupchak will be painted as an accidental bystander while someone else gets the credit. But Kupchak's "accidental" track record now includes getting Lamar Odom and Caron Butler in the Shaq trade (2004), not trading Kobe after Bryant demanded to be dealt following the disastrous 2006 playoffs, getting Pau Gasol from Memphis in a deal that led to two championships, then waiting and engineering the acquisition of the NBA's best center while not having to give up Gasol. (Bynum had to be included; it's just I thought he'd end up in Orlando if the Magic were dealing Howard to the Lakers. And, let's be fair; Kupchak did trade Gasol to Houston, only to have the Commish wave it off. But, still.) Kobe said he trusted Kupchak would do what it took to make the Lakers a true contender again. Here's his summer: Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Dwight Howard in; Andrew Bynum out.
2a) Jimmy Buss, take a bow, too. Bynum was your guy, and you fought for him for many years, and it must have been tough to give the green light to sending him out of town. But you did. And it was the right thing.
3) That flopping sound you heard was the Commish, hitting the deck at the prospect of Lakers-Heat in the Finals next June. Your move, Sam Presti.
4) Terry Stotts, the Blazers' new coach, thought so much of the Blazers' old head coach, Kaleb Canales, that he insisted Canales remain on staff. Which disappointed Dallas, who had hoped to hire Canales to replace Stotts, the Mavericks' now-former assistant coach. Which should tell you Kaleb Canales is going places.
5) As noted above, I'm turning off the cell phone for a while. It's been a long, long last 14 months. But I have lined up some great guest Tippers to write about various aspects of the game from their perspective over the next four weeks. I think you will enjoy them. We start next week, Aug. 20, with NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi, whom I've known for more than 20 years, dating back to a brief period of time in my life when I covered ... pro football. Mike is not only a veteran personnel man going back to the old Cleveland Browns, he is a passionate -- fanatic? -- 76ers booster. For years, he would e-mail or text me, lamenting the latest questionable free agent signing or draft pick, and would wonder if Philly would ever make a meaningful trade. Well, timing is everything, as they say. Look forward to reading what Mike thinks about the Bynum acquisition. I hope you'll enjoy the other guest Tippers as well -- including this year's fan Tipper, who will write the next column after Mike, on August 27. And, many thanks to the dozens of people who submitted entries. I read them all.
1) Dwight Howard got his wish, sort of. But he has a lot of work to do to repair his image, and not just among fans and byte-stained wretches in my chosen field. He could not have handled this worse if he had read the best-selling book "How to Handle Things as Badly as Possible." He was not served well by his agent, or his advisers, or himself.
1a) If the point of the lockout was, in part, to keep the Lakers from hoarding the best players and paying whatever luxury tax it takes to keep them -- and when other teams talk about "high revenue" teams, that's code for L.A. and the Knicks -- then the lockout was an epic fail. (See "And Nobody Asked You, Either", below)
2) Prayers to the family of Dan Roundfield, the former Hawks and Bullets star forward who drowned last week off the coast of Aruba while trying to save his wife in some rough waters.
3) "Hi, this is Pete with the Orlando Magic. Time to renew those season tickets!"
4) I think the first time I saw Bob Hoskins in a movie, he was playing the New York gangster Owney Madden in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club" in 1984. And Hoskins played Madden as kind of a genteel, sentimental man, who liked to draw pictures of horses, and sort of happened to kill people and run numbers on the side, like he fell into the job. And then I heard Hoskins interviewed a few months later, and he's a British guy! And that floored me. As did many of Hoskins' performances over the years. Sad to hear last week that Hoskins is retiring because of advancing Parkinson's Disease.
Can you take greatness for granted?
We speak of the U.S. women's basketball team, which did what every U.S. women's basketball team has done in international competition since 1992 -- win the gold medal. Saturday's victory over France gave the U.S. women their fifth straight Olympic gold medal, continuing their run as the most successful U.S. women's team in a major sport in international competition.
They have won 41 straight Olympic games, in a line that goes through all of the great players of the last 20 years, from Dawn Staley and Teresa Edwards through Katrina McClain and Tina Thompson, from Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper through Katie Smith and Lisa Leslie. And it encompasses great coaches like Pat Summit, the late Kay Yow, Tara VanDerveer, Nell Fortner, Van Chancellor, Anne Donovan and Geno Auriemma, who won his first Olympic gold medal Saturday.
"From the very first day I coached USA Basketball back in 1993, you don't really understand the magnitude of what you're doing until the last day, when the flags start going up that pole and the national anthem's playing," Auriemma said Saturday night, in a quiet room at the team's hotel. Upstairs, the team and family members and friends were celebrating.
He had already heard from some of the coaches who've been part of the run over the years. Now he was one of them, this behemoth that has extended the American brand into a third decade.
"We're Team USA," he said. "In college, the streak is yours, because you're there for all of it. Here, we were just a part of it. We were eight games of that streak. What we did -- and I talked to the team before the game about this -- no other country in the world has the legacy that we do in basketball. So when we took the court, our 12 players that played [Saturday], with them, they had that legacy with them. And as the game goes on, the other team starts to sense, we're not just playing these 12, we're playing something bigger than these 12."
It was the third gold medal for the U.S. team's captains, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, leaving each one short of Edwards and Leslie, who won four.
"There's not one person that's been involved in all of those Olympic gold medals," Bird said. "Lisa was in four of them ... and I wasn't on the '96 or 2000 teams. So you could do that all day. I think because of that, you don't really feel it as pressure. You don't think about it. Even though this is my third Olympics, I think about people who it's their first time. They just want to win that first gold medal. They don't care about streaks. We're not talking about that. We're not talking about trying to keep anything alive. They're just trying to win their first gold medal. For some, their second. For me, my third. And that's kind of how it's been on every team I've been on. It's that team and that moment kind of experiencing it on their own, kind of creating their own path."
Saturday, the U.S. team ground France down with relentless defensive pressure, using its depth to wear out France's great point guard, Celine Dumerc. With no one else able to create offense, the French team wobbled and became fatigued, as Candace Parker came off the bench and controlled the game off the glass, with 10 rebounds to go with her 21 points.
In their eight games in London, the U.S. team won by an average of 34.3 points, beating Angola by 52, China by 48 and Canada by 43.
The Americans have been so good for so long, invariably the subject of how good is too good for the game comes up. Just as in the college game, where Auriemma's Connecticut teams and Summitt's Tennessee teams have stood as colossuses for a generation, the relative lack of competition for the U.S. team throughout these Olympics -- they got a good first half from Australia in the semifinals before pulling away in the second -- often leads to assertions that the U.S. women aren't holding fan interest.
This is when you get weary smiles from those who have been involved in the women's game. The dominance of the U.S. women's program hasn't set some new standard -- it is the standard. What, exactly, are they supposed to do? Apologize for winning?
"We won the world championships in 1953," said Ann Meyers Drysdale, the Hall of Famer who is in London doing commentary for NBC.
U.S. teams from the Nashville Business College to the Raytown Piperettes were the first to produce players who succeeded in international competitions in the '50s and '60s. But those teams got next to no public recognition, being in the pre-Title IX era.
Today, the U.S. women get attention, but it is still a fraction of what the men's team receives. And the men are rarely asked if beating Angola by 83 points sets back men's basketball.
"Everyone keeps talking about, 'Is it good for the sport?,'" Taurasi said. "They weren't talking about, was John Wooden good for the sport when he won 10 national championships in a row. Was it good for the sport when Jordan was dominating? Was it good for the sport when Magic and Larry were dominating? Hell, yeah, it was good for the sport. So why isn't this good for the sport? As a country, I don't know why we wouldn't be really proud of what women's basketball is doing in our country. Beats me."
The most recent era of U.S. primacy in women's basketball began 28 years ago, when the Cheryl Miller and Pam McGee-led 1984 team won the gold medal in Los Angeles, ending the reign of the Soviet Union's team and its Hall of Fame center, Uljana Semjanova. With Semjanova leading the way the Soviets won the gold at the Olympics in 1976 and 1980, and captured World Championships in 1971, 1975 and 1983.
But the U.S. team has won almost every meaningful championship ever since. Their last loss of any kind came in the World Championships in 2006, but they've still won five of the last seven worlds. They are 58-3 in the Olympics since women's basketball was added to the Games in 1976.
The U.S. women won Olympic gold in Seoul in 1988, and in Atlanta in '96, and Sydney in 2000, and Athens in 2004, and Beijing in '08. That 79-73 loss in the 1992 Olympic semifinals in Barcelona, to a team comprised of the remnants of the Soviet Union (known then as the Commonwealth of Independent States) is the only bump.
"In '92, we were the best team in the world," Meyers Drysdale said. "We had one bad game. If they don't lose that game, they could take that streak back to '84. So, when you say the streak is a living thing, we've had some pretty doggone good teams over the years."
This team is just the latest. Parker, who only won the WNBA's Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in 2008, came off the bench to allow Catchings to play her normal position. Angel McCoughtry, who leads the WNBA in scoring for Atlanta, tried to bring energy in reserve behind Bird and Taurasi. The great Swin Cash, who's won five WNBA titles since 2000, barely played in these Olympics.
"Can you imagine if they were averaging 35 to 38 minutes,?" Meyers asked. "Like, Lauren Jackson's got to play that many minutes (for Australia), because their team is not that deep. Their good players have to play lots of minutes. The hard part as a fan, you'd love to see Diana and Sue and Catch, you'd love to see them on the floor more. 'Cause they're so good."
They claimed to be caught unaware that they were sitting on a win streak dating back to the Clinton Administration.
"To be honest with you, the only time I was aware, I knew there was a streak but I didn't know the exact amount," Parker said. "A reporter told me two days ago that we were at 39, 38, something like that. You just go into it with the mentality that you go into it possession by possession, game by game, and try to dominate. That's our goal. If you go into it thinking we can't let anybody down, you're going to have a lot of added pressure. We just go in and play."
"Obviously, we don't want to be that team [that loses], though," Parker said.
The gap between the United States and the rest of the world is shrinking, just as it is in the men's game. It just isn't doing so as quickly. Australia, currently ranked second in the world, is coming on, soon to be led by 20-year-old, 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage, who pounded the U.S. team inside in the first half of the Americans' 86-73 win in the semis.
"I know basketball is a culture in the United States," Parker said. "We all grew up watching it. You turn to whatever station on your television, and there's people that are reporting on it, covering it, doing free agency, doing all that stuff. And I don't know if you get that overseas as much, you know? To know the game, you have to watch it and learn it, I feel like. So we're exposed to it a little bit more, maybe."
"The irony is, everybody expects us to win by 20, 30, 40 points every single game," Bird said. "We don't expect that. Obviously, there might be some games where you have an idea that that might happen, but when you get to this point of the Olympics, it wasn't like that in Beijing, in our semifinal game against the Russians. It wasn't like that in Athens. Those are my experiences."
But the Americans were the best by a mile in London. They fit right in with a United States team where the majority of the medals were won by women athletes, from the diminutive Gabby Douglas in the gymnastics all-around competition and the 17-year-old Missy Douglas in the 100- and 200-meter breaststrokes, to Serena Williams's domination on the tennis court, Missy May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings' third straight beach volleyball gold and the electric U.S. women's track team of Alyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross, Dawn Harper, Carmelita Jeter and all the rest. And this happened despite the basketball team having only 12 practices together before beginning exhibition play in Washington, D.C., Istanbul and Manchester prior to the Games.
"You can't even imagine, that if these guys would say, 'OK, we're not going to play in the WNBA for the next two years; all we're going to do is train for the national team?' Forget it," Auriemma said. "I don't want to let myself think about that, because it's too scary, how good they could be."
Part of the reason the transition was easy, of course, was because so many of these players have played together for so many years on different teams -- at Connecticut, where Bird and Cash and Asjha Jones played for Auriemma more than a decade ago, followed by Taurasi and Tina Charles and Maya Moore, all of whom made the Olympic team.
The WNBA's Minnesota Lynx had three players from its team here -- Moore, Lindsey Whelan and Seimone Augustus. And, as ever, these players have played with and against one another abroad for years, when the WNBA season ends and they come to Europe or Asia to keep playing.
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the pipeline is still full of prospects. The U.S. women are the defending FIBA champions in the under-17 and under-19 classes. By the time the Rio games come along in 2016, it's likely that Britney Griner, coming off of a 40-0 NCAA national championship season at Baylor, will be an established member of the U.S. Olympic team. So, too, could emerging stars like Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, and Delaware's Elena Della Donne.
"I don't think anybody has more respect for other people than I do, for other coaches, other teams, other cultures," Aureimma said. "But our culture in the United States, when it comes to basketball, sets you up for this. Regardless of who's on the team. We're not that deep; we're not like the guys. You've got to remember, the guys won a world championship [in 2010] without one guy from the  Olympic team. We're not that deep. We couldn't go to the World Championships with 12 different guys and win. America's not that deep.
"But, these 12 players, without knowing each other that well, without playing with each other that long? The only thing they have in common is they've been playing USA Basketball since they were 15. So they have been indoctrinated into a culture that only demands, expects, winning and being in gold medal games is all that culture knows."
One is reminded of the Onion headline, "Yankees Acquire Every Player in Baseball." From Justin Jacobson:
Given the recent Dwight Howard trade, the league seems to be basing its competitive model along the lines of Globetrotters vs. Generals. I seem to remember something about "competitive balance" being a topic from the recent lockout, so I am a bit perplexed. Which of the following is/are true?
1) The "competitive balance" talk was just a ruse -- this is what the NBA feels is best for profits,
2) The "competitive balance" provisions mean well, but are ineffective, and the league is secretly happy that there are only 2 and a half teams with a realistic chance at the championship (OKC gets the half),
3) The "competitive balance" provisions mean well but are ineffective and the league is NOT happy with how things have turned out,
4) the "competitive balance" provisions are effective, just not quite yet, as it may take a few years for the effects to be realized,
5) Mitch Kupchak made a deal with Dr. Faustus and traded earthly rewards for his eternal soul, and well, there is not much that can be done about that.
6) none of the above - please explain.
First, Justin, thank you for educating me, for I never knew from where the phrase "Faustian Bargain" came. Second, I would think the answer is a meld of No. 3 and No. 4 on your list. One must differentiate between what may be economically desirous by the league; e.g., a Finals between the Lakers and Heat, and what individual teams believe is necessary for their survival. What we have seen so far this offseason is one high-revenue team, the Knicks, pulling back from the luxury tax abyss, while another, the Lakers, seems to be willing to pay whatever is necessary. Houston, another high-revenue team, has committed a lot of money going forward to Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, but really just in one year (2014-15) as part of its successful bid to get Lin's and Asik's teams not to match their respective offer sheets. And, the revenue sharing plan still hasn't kicked in fully; when the subsidies for the league's poorer teams really start rolling in, we'll have a more clear understanding of whether they'll be able to go after players they otherwise would not be able to afford.
In a stunning development, some people disagreed with my offseason rankings. From Neil Mecham:
Hey man. I usually don't respond to stuff like this, but as a lifetime Utah Jazz fan, I'd like some further reasoning why you've put them ranked 23rd, when I feel they should be hovering around the 11th spot. I understand that they have one more big deal to drop, but if you look at overall improvement to the roster, the Jazz have done much better than most teams, and here's the reasoning.
Mo Williams is an improvement over Devin Harris at the point, and will probably be a much better fit.
Marvin Williams is an improvement over C.J. Miles
We'll probably lose Raja Bell, but Randy Foye is definitely a better option.
Every young player (Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward) is a year better.
How can this possibly not be better than the Thunder offseason, if your primary reasoning is more experience for people like Harden? Half the Jazz roster will improve more this year than James Harden will (not become better, but see more improvement) and we've added people who will impact the team much more than Perry Jones, excited as I am to see him in Thunder uniform.
Once again, the NBA analysts have put the Jazz at the bottom of the pile for the sole reason that they don't make a lot of noise. I seem to recall a lot of experts having them finishing in the bottom 3 spots in the conference for last year. You obviously never learn from your mistakes.
Yes, Neil, if you've ever read what I've written about the Jazz over the years, it's been mainly about how they're not any good because they never call attention to themselves and always make poor decisions. You can disagree with the ranking, but I have consistently written and said that the Jazz do things the right way and never make excuses about their market size. As for the Thunder, I put them -- slightly -- ahead of Utah because Oklahoma City re-signed Scott Brooks, who's been crucial to that team's development and deportment. Losing him would have been a big blow, and, yes, I think a team that made the Finals has more to lose than a team that made the first round and got swept.
Couldn't wait to hear the stirring British National Anthem to close the Games, O Canada. Wait. From Mikkel Jorgensen:
This may seem like a very, very, very minor mistake to you, but it hurt my national pride when I read it. In your piece "Nobody Asked Me ... But" in your morning tip during the Olympics. You wrote: "On Saturday, the big screen is showing the finals of the men's lightweight double sculls. The British team of Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter leads almost the entire race, and the obviously pro-British crowd is doing everything in its power to urge them to the gold.
And then ... here came Holland!
The Dutch team slowly, agonizingly, cut into the British lead. Half a boat (scull?) length. A quarter boat length. Then, just a few feet as they neared the finish line. Then, they were even. Then, they weren't. The Dutch crossed the finish line in 6:37.17. The British duo finished at 6:37.78. Sixty-one hundredths of a second. It was agonizing to watch. You could hear the air coming out of British lungs."
That is well written, but there is one huge mistake! I know we are a very little country and BIIIIIIIIIIG America thinks of us as a puny country, and on top of that we haven't even had an NBA player yet (Christian Dreyer was very very close), but we need to get credit where credit's due. It was a DANISH boat. NOT a dutch!!! Small mistake in your eyes, but in my eyes it was a rather large disappointment, if you could correct it, it would be very nice. I just want you to know that I don't question your intellectual capabilities, I know it was just a small misunderstanding on your part.
I could write a spirited defense of my mistake, Mikkel, detailing the lack of sleep and physical exhaustion that caused it, how airplanes took off every 12 seconds from just outside my window, how squirrels attacked in the middle of the night, taking only the good electronics out of my room. Or, I could just acknowledge that I was a moron who made a really stupid mistake, and apologize. Yes, let's pick that one.
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50 -- Consecutive victories for the U.S. men's basketball team in international competition after the Americans defended their gold medal Sunday with a victory over Spain in the Olympic Games final.
64 -- Years since host country Great Britain had won a men's basketball game in the Olympics. The men's team finally got on the board with a 90-58 victory over China in the final preliminary game of Pool B. The British hadn't qualified for the Games since the last time they were held here in London, just after World War II.
$700,000 -- Amount of money that the Power Balance wristband company paid the Kings for naming rights to their arena before going bankrupt last year, according to the Sacramento Bee, which examined the Chapter 11 bankruptcy papers the company filed. The team is now negotiating with the Sleep Train chain of stores for a potential new naming rights deal.
I want to apologize for my stupid act at the end, I showed a bad image of France and myself, Congrats to team Spain.
-- Blazers forward Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum), Wednesday, 3:19 p.m., after he punched Spain's guard Juan Carlos Navarro in the, um, groin, in the waning seconds of Spain's come-from-behind victory over Batum's France team in the Olympic basketball quarterfinals.
"I'm so happy it happened finally. Been such a long soap, how do you say, soap opera."
-- Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, expressing to the San Antonio Express-News his relief that our long, national Dwightmare is finally over.
"It was 2 a.m., and I check on my kids, who are sleeping. And I see a man sleeping in one of the beds. It was my older son [Luka], and it really hit me. I thought to myself, 'Wow, I missed all of his childhood.'"
-- Former Lakers and Kings center Vlade Divac, describing to Sports Illustrated the moment he decided to retire as a player. Divac was in London this week in his new job as the president of the Serbian Olympic Committee.
"It was very special, and I appreciate their letting me be part of this special day. As my 22-year-old daughter says. 'Are you one of his buds now?' "
-- Dallas County judge Craig Smith, who confirmed to the Dallas Morning News last week that he married Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki and the Diggler's longtime girlfriend, Jessica Olssen, on July 20 in a small ceremony at Nowitzki's house.
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