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THE RINGS ARE THE THING
Posted by Randy Kim on Aug. 9 2004 2:35 p.m. ET

GAMES WITHIN THE GAMES SET TO TIP OFF

On Saturday morning, at 9 a.m. local time in Athens, it all begins. When Angola and Lithuania take the floor at the Helliniko Indoor Complex, 12 nations will embark upon their quest for gold in the Men's Olympic Basketball competition.

One thing's for certain in these games -- the Olympic hoops competition has never been more wide open since professional players were allowed to join in the fun. While the U.S. squad is still seen as the favorite to win it all, they are by no means a lock to bring home the gold. In fact, given their recent struggles against Italy, Germany and Turkey, they're not even a shoo-in to reach the medal round.

But this isn't to jump on the bandwagon of U.S. detractors. Rather, this balance of power should signify just how much the quality of basketball has grown in the rest of the world; as we come down the home stretch, it looks like there are no fewer than five gold-medal contenders. Couple that with the fact that the nature of the international game is vastly different from that which is played in the NBA, and suddenly a gold medal for a squad that's played together for a few weeks doesn't seem like such an easy task after all. (ESPN.com)

So what is the answer if the U.S. wants to reclaim its place as the preeminent hoops power? Well, a squad made up of non-NBA players might not overwhelm the fans, but it would stand a better chance of winning it all, according to this writer. (ESPN.com)

Although this writer thinks that if the U.S. doesn't win it all, a number of big names could be blamed by the stateside hoops-viewing public. (Yahoo Sports)

Rudy Fernandez isn't a "big name" to U.S. hoops fans, not like, say, Pau Gasol. But given his team's flawless play of late, it could be at the close of the competition. (FIBA.com)

While his side might not close out with a medal, Yao will start the Games with one of the highest honors an athlete of any sport can receive. (Charlotte Observer)

Speaking of Yao, it might be time for the world to get ready to watch Yi. (Washington Post)

The world won't get a chance to watch this Sun, though. At least not in Athens. (FIBA.com)

Had this Maverick followed his bloodlines and his early successes, fans might be watching him at the Olympics in another sport entirely. (NBCOlympics.com)

And more eyes may be watching this hoops legend on Friday night than a thousand arenas combined. (Reuters)

THE KINGS' RANSOM

It's been an eventful summer for Peja Stojakovic, Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings. First, they went from an offensive juggernaut in the regular season to a wounded afterthought in the playoffs. Then, following their Western semifinals Game 7 loss to Minnesota, the disappointment boiled over and Chris Webber called out some of his teammates for their flat play and lack of toughness.

A few weeks later, citing a diminished role and a "frayed" relationship with Webber, beloved Sacto center Vlade Divac decided to sign with the hated Lakers. This led to Stojakovic, a close friend of Divac's, asking for the team to trade him. (Sacramento Bee, USA Today)

So Webber, interestingly, gave a very candid interview in which he spelled out precisely whom he wasn't talking about after the Kings were eliminated in the postseason. (Sacramento Bee)

Where this leaves Stojakovic with the Kings remains to be seen. One writer thinks Peja needs to assert himself as a leader and bark back at Webber. (Sacramento Bee)

Where Peja stands with Serbia & Montenegro, however, is certain: He isn't joining them on their Olympic quest. (ESPN.com)

Meanwhile, one King, of whom Webber said is "definitely a hard worker," forward Darius Songaila couldn't imagine not playing for his country in the Olympics. As he told the Bee ...

"Basketball is our religion. We don't have oil, gold. If you ask people what we are known for, they will tell you basketball."

Still surprised as to why the rest of the world is closing the hoops-gap on the U.S.?

TIP-INS

To those who think Shaq's out of shape: Click on this photo of the Big Diesel partaking in the sweet science. (Orlando Sentinel)

Doc and Paul love the Glove in Beantown. (Boston Globe)

Naturally this would be phrased as a question, but have the Sixers found the Answer's answers? (Courier-Post)

The King of Queens? That's so last season. Welcome back The Prince of Newark. (Star-Ledger)

And speaking of homecomings, Joe Dumars brings D.C. back to Motown. (Detroit Free-Press)

The unassuming Yao will carry his team's hopes, and his country's flag, in this year's Olympics.
(Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images/NBAE)

2003-04 ARCHIVE
July 12 -- Free, Part III
July 6 -- Free Agency, Part II
July 1 -- Free Agency, Part I
June 25 -- The Draft Blog
June 21-26 -- Draft Week
June 5-15 -- C&R's Finals
June 5-15 -- The Finals Blog
June 1 -- Love 'Em, Hate 'Em
May 24 -- Three's Magic
May 17 -- Unsung Heroes
May 10 -- Kero-Whacked!
May 3 -- Fugazy Like a Fox
April 26 -- Click Gets Randy
April 19 -- Playoffs CW, IQ
April 12 -- Give Them Away
April 5 -- Fight for First
March 29 -- Prime Time
March 22 -- East Bests West?
March 15 -- Very Scary Bears
March 8 -- Sick and Tired
March 1 -- West Side Story
Feb. 24 -- Surfing the Nets
Feb. 17 -- City of Angles
Feb. 13-15 -- All-Star Blog
Feb. 9 -- Git Up, Git Out
Feb. 2 -- Lobbying for L.A.
Jan. 26 -- Midwest is Best
Jan. 19 -- More Central
Jan. 12 -- Grand Central
Jan. 8 -- Starbury Time
Dec. 29 -- American Rookies
Dec. 22 -- The Greatest Gift
Dec. 15 -- Hail the Kings
Dec. 8 -- Spurs Sportsmen
Dec. 1 -- Holiday Exchange
Nov. 24 -- Hive Talkin'
Nov. 17 -- Clip and Save
Nov. 10 -- Short People

BACKCOURT
Check out NBA.com's "Destination Finals", The Finals and NBA Draft 2004 sections for a complete recap of all of the recent action.

FRONTCOURT
The week that will be:
July 26: USA Basketball begins training to the 2004 Athens Games.

WEEKLY KERR
Steve Kerr is ... back! And he's wondering what the Lakers were thinking.