Storyline: Olympic Games

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And the late withdrawals, a list of talent that includes James Harden, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard? If they want to play next summer? “We’ll deal with those cases individually,” Colangelo said. “It’s important to field as strong a team as possible.” Indeed. When the U.S. suits up its A-Team, it’s unbeatable. In 2016, the U.S. routed Serbia in the gold medal game by 30. The average margin of victory in that Olympic cycle: 22.5 points. In 2020, the schedule is ideal; the Olympics open in late July and conclude in early August. The chance to be part of another Redeem Team should be motivating.

Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors told CNBC earlier this week that he intended to make himself available for the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Stephen Curry, Green’s Golden State teammate, is also expected to volunteer his services, since Curry has yet to play in an Olympics. “We’ve had a lot of indications about guys who want to play next summer,” said Jerry Colangelo, U.S.A.B.’s managing director. “But we had a lot of indications that many wanted to play this summer.”

Of the 35 players originally selected for the U.S. player pool, only four are in China for the World Cup. The U.S. lost to France in the quarterfinals, ending a streak of seven major international tournaments — four Olympics and three World Cups — where the Americans captured a medal, the last five of them being gold. “I can only say, you can’t help but notice and remember who you thought you were going to war with and who didn’t show up,” Colangelo said. “I’m a firm believer that you deal with the cards you’re dealt. All we could have done, and we did it, is get the commitments from a lot of players. So with that kind of a hand you feel reasonably confident that you’re going to be able to put a very good representative team on the court. “No one would have anticipated the pull-outs that we had.”

Me: Have you gotten past Rio yet, or does it still bug the hell out of you? Patty Mills: To be honest, I haven’t. And although I’m teammates with one of the guys (Gasol, as ever, starred for the Spain team that beat Australia in the bronze medal game), it hasn’t come up. That’s going to sting for a little bit more. Me: So, you’re definitely playing in ’20? Patty Mills: Yeah, for sure. There’s no doubt about it. To know that we were that close, we’re not satisfied one bit at all. So we’ll have another shot at it.

Tim MacMahon: Harrison Barnes on his limited Team USA role: “It was one of those situations where you have to sacrifice. Obviously when you make the Olympic team, you want to show what you can do on the world’s biggest stage. At the same time, winning gold took precedent. We didn’t want to be the team that either lost the win streak or didn’t come home with the gold. Those are the things that we as a team said we were going to put everything to the side and focus on that, and we came through.”

Nicolas Batum makes his public self-criticism for his summer with the French national team, revealing that the team and himself had their issues. As he explained: “Our tournament was very disappointing. It was perhaps our most important tournament and we’re not really there. We were a little overconfident, like “it’s good, we know each other, we will be ready on D-Day. We were perhaps too focused on the semi-finals, before playing the quarter-finals. The tournament had not started yet and one wondered how to avoid one or other team in the semis! Today, I still want to know what happened. Collectively and personally”.

But what has been forgotten is the number of NBA players who passed on those Athens Games. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, and Jason Kidd all elected not to play, leaving Iverson on an island. “That was a very touchy situation for me because when everybody didn’t end up going, me and Tim Duncan went,” Iverson said. “We went to represent our country. That’s no shot at the guys that didn’t go. I totally understand why they didn’t. I totally understand and all of them remain my friends. I still have the utmost respect for all of those guys. But me and Tim went.”

When Team USA rebuilt its Olympic squad for Beijing in 2008, Iverson was not invited. “As great as a season as I had, arguably one of the best seasons that I ever had, I wasn’t invited to go, that’s something that I wouldn’t say hurt me to this day, but the acknowledgment is there,” he said. “And the hurt will always exist because I felt that I truly should have been a part of the team. I should obviously be saying that I have a gold medal at 41 years old.”

Evan Fournier was arguably the most notable absence of France in the Olympic Games. The Orlando Magic player gave an interview to French L’Equipe “breaking” his silence regarding his exclusion from his national team’s roster and expressing an obvious resentment on the whole matter. “I hated not being in the Olympic Games,” he said. “I had suspected that I won’t make the cut a week before I was informed about it. I was reading interviews where only Rudy (Gobert) was mentioned among the players who didn’t play in the OQT but would go to Rio. In the end, I received a voicemail by Vincent Collet that briefly explained the reasons I was left out.”

Lack of proper communication between him and Federation was also something that frustrated Fournier. “The only time I’ve heard from the Federation this year was during a visit from Patrick Beesley (French NT technical director) in Orlando where he told me the dates of the qualifying tournament and Olympics. He didn’t tell me ‘If you do not come in Manila, then you do not come in Rio’. The second time was via an sms by Vincent Collet. It was our only contact outside competitions in the last three years. He was asking me for tickets to a game for his friends. I never closed the door to the French national team but these events sent me a clear message. That I’m not in the project. It’s that simple and it hurts.”

DeMarcus Cousins to play with Team USA in Tokyo 2020?

Cousins, who turned 26 during the Rio Games, wants to return to Team USA. “I’m open to [coming back for Tokyo 2020]. I’ll be older then, so it depends on how my body feels. As of right now, where I’m at, absolutely, I’m open to it,” he said. “I think people don’t understand [how hard this winning is]. They see the guys on the roster and they think automatically, they’re supposed to win. This [international game] isn’t our game. This isn’t the way we play. This is an adjustment for every guy on the roster.

Divac has maintained that Cousins will be a fixture with Sacramento after a tumultuous season that led to the firing of coach George Karl. Has the Olympic experience helped Cousins mature? Divac is banking on that. “[The Olympics] helps international guys but it also helps NBA guys,” Divac said. “You see a different part of basketball. They can pick up some tricks. That’s how I look at it. When I used to play, I loved playing international because it’s more freedom and more ability to improve.”

Colangelo on Sirius XM Radio: “I did have an official when I was on the court after the gold medal award… And this individual who was up there said said, ‘You know, they can’t compete with you, maybe next time you should only use four players’. I bit my tongue and didn’t say anything. We would like to say that we’re good winners and we’re not sore losers. But the point is, we’re not losing. That’s our intent. I’ll just encourage everyone to do as good a job as they can because that’s for sure what we’re going to do.”
4 years ago via ESPN

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski thought the United States men’s basketball team needed a fight song. So before starting his first practice for the 2008 Olympics as the U.S. national team head coach, he summoned Kevin Cullen, his trusted video coordinator at Duke. Cullen was tasked with putting together a video to the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But Krzyzewski didn’t want just any old cover of the national anthem. He wanted the video done over Marvin Gaye’s iconic version sung at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.
4 years ago via ESPN

“Melo’s for sure the leader,” Team USA sixth man Paul George offered. “He’s the voice of this team.” “We don’t have enough time,” Colangelo said of the outgoing coach, “to talk about how much he has meant to our program.” Hard as it was to keep track of all the understandable praise flying around, Sunday’s gold-medal dismantling of Serbia was ultimately Durant’s day. He managed to trump the retiring Coach K (who leaves his post with a record of 88-1) and the record-setting Anthony (who became the first men’s basketball player in Olympic history to win three golds) with a performance on par with the 30 points he uncorked in the 2012 gold-medal game in London.

During an emotional summer in which he left behind his first professional franchise, was (mis)cast as a villain for siding with a former enemy and found himself having to defend his character, Team USA provided a much-needed sanctuary. For nearly a month, Durant got to play the game he loves, bond with some new and old friends – and win – without sweating any manufactured controversies or external second-guessing. “It was therapy for me after making a big change in my life,” Durant told The Vertical in the bowels of Carioca Arena 1 about an hour after scoring 30 points in Sunday’s 96-66 victory. “It made my life easier … I knew [a backlash] was coming. It was definitely different for me, but to come here in an environment where people accepted me and didn’t care about anything except being my buddy, that’s what I needed.”

Durant doesn’t like to admit it, but he is sensitive to negative perceptions, and has had to adjust to criticism from fans in Oklahoma City who once cheered him and others who were disappointed that he decided to form a super team with players who eliminated him from the postseason in a heated seven-game series. “I can’t let anybody steal my joy,” Durant said while crediting the presence of Team USA and former Oklahoma City assistant Monty Williams with developing that approach. “Monty Williams used to tell me that every day: don’t let anybody steal my joy. I get joy when I’m out there playing and it went to another level just playing alongside these great players and playing under Coach K and his staff. I focused on that. All that noise around me kind of quieted down.”

Krzyzewski, 69, will hand the reins to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich as he leaves Team USA after nearly 11 years and with a 24-0 record in the Olympics. “I’ve been really a lucky guy, collegiately and internationally to be part of championship teams,” said Krzyzewski, commonly called “Coach K.” “I’m just proud of the fact that Jerry Colangelo when he took over, he gave me an opportunity,” said Krzyzewski, who modestly deflected any credit for his success and instead praised veterans like team captain Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.

When asked by an international reporter about the margin of victory in the finale, Jerry Colangelo — the former NBA executive and owner who rehabilitated the national program in 2005 — made it quite clear that he wasn’t about to apologize for the one-sided outcome. “I’m all for raising the bar for global basketball,” he began. “The more interest in basketball on all levels, I’m for. I’m a lifer in the game. I love the game. Basketball is the No. 2 sport in the world, (but) we just need to see these other countries get their acts together and become more competitive.

In the final three games of the tournament, he averaged 23.4 points and shot 55.6% from the field and 55% on three-pointers. “Just woke up I guess,” Durant said. “My teammates were supporting me (and) cheering me on along the way. Everybody was encouraging me. I just went out there and had fun with the game. When I’m smiling and screaming and beating my chest and showing emotion, that’s when I’m lost in the game. I got away from that a couple of games. “When the knockout round came … I just tried to go out there and be who I am. Coaches told me to be me. I went out there and did that.”

As he said in the press conference after the game according to the Spanish news agency EFE: “I do not know how I will process all of this. I love to play in the national team of my country and I feel something special. It’s very special. I’ll do everything I can but I will not be rigid in any thing that has to do with the national team. There is a lot of talent and I love being on top of the tournaments. As times goes by, I will have to leave and when the time comes I’ll do it. It’s part of my career. I can not ask for anything more. All of this is a gift and I’ll play any time I can. It will be an honor. I’m having fun”.

According to the Spanish news agency EFE, the Italian coach who is the most succesful coach in the history of the Spanish national team stressed the fact that “in a complicated tournament from the beggining” the team found its way: “This team and the players to come and the Spanish sport in general owes a lot to the veteran players on our team and those who have left in previous years. They have changed the way we see elite sport in our country. I found a great sport but low in competitiveness when I came to Spain. They have managed to cultivate ambition and self confidence”. Speaking about the tournament, he added: “We are happy and proud of this achievement. This medal is the ultimate conquest of any professional engaged in sports. I thank my players for the attitude and composure in a difficult time. It was a difficult year, a difficult tournament with two defeats at the start, which is unusual. We recovered, we stood up and we could reach our goal, achieving a medal”.

Here’s a transcription of Melo’s interview: We fought. It wasn’t always pretty. We came together July 17, and we all committed for this reason. It was a special moment for me. I know this is the end. This is it for me. I committed to something …. I committed to this in ’04. I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen the best. I stuck with it, we stuck with it. I’m here today, three gold medals later. I’m excited for me, but also for the other guys who have never experienced anything like this. Coach K, myself, Jerry Colangelo and everybody else who have been a part of this since I’ve been here. I just want to say thank you for allowing me to be one of the leaders, not just of our team but of the country. Despite everything that’s going on right now in our country, we got to be united. I’m glad I did what I did, I stepped up the challenge but this is what it’s about. Representing our country on the biggest stage you can be on. America will be great again, I believe that. We got a lot of work to do but one step at a time. I’m glad we represented it in the fashion that we did.

Yao Ming: Eight years later, my country was hosting the Summer Games in Beijing. I wasn’t a kid anymore. I was the leader of our team. Three days before the opening ceremony, we played an exhibition game against Russia. Andrei Kirilenko was playing for them at the time. We had a terrible game. Nothing was working. After the game, Donnie Nelson, the general manager for the Mavericks and an advisor to the head coach of the Chinese national team, came into our locker room, outraged. “If you guys are going to play like that, maybe you shouldn’t go to your own Olympics!” he said.

Yao Ming: Beijing was an incredibly proud moment for me and for my country, but whenever someone talks about the Olympics, my mind still goes back to the picture from Sydney. I’m a fan of astronomy. When I look at that photo, of all those athletes, it reminds me of a galaxy. Before my first trip to the Olympics in 2000, I was really just focused on myself, my family and my team. I had a very small circle. At age 20, I looked at the photo and just wanted to find myself, one individual, in that galaxy. All these years later, I see a different circle, a much bigger one — one that we’re all part of. Even at my height, I’m the same size as everyone else in that photo. It makes me realize just how small I was — how small we all are.

Twelve years after their bronze finish in the Athens Games sparked so much change in the national program, and a decade after a bronze finish in the FIBA World Championship in Japan had Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure as Team USA coach off to an inauspicious start, their run of perfection continues. With the win, Team USA — this 2016 version that was led by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and all the rest — has won 52 consecutive games in FIBA play (24 in the Olympics). In a rematch of their Aug. 12 pool play game in which they won by just three points, Team USA wasted little time pulling away in this one. After leading by one late in the first quarter, they finished the first half on a 36-14 run and led 52-29 at halftime.

Constructing a team of players who have never featured in an Olympics with the parameters of eligibilty, age, USA Basketball ties and position, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver projects Lillard as one of three point guards to represent the red, white and blue in Tokyo. Writes Golliver: “After missing out in 2014, Portland’s two-time All-Star was out of consideration for Rio, and then back in, and then out again, citing a foot ailment when all was said and done. While Lillard’s volume three-point shooting is his biggest strength, his familiarity playing on and off the ball would be a nice asset if he shared a roster with both [Stephen] Curry and [John] Wall. Lillard’s off-criticized defense and his redundancy with Curry might lead to some fit questions, but he’s one of the few proven All-Star talents without Olympic experience who will still be under 30 in 2020.”

Gasol, who will spend next season in San Antonio and hasn’t committed to playing at Tokyo in 2020, and his teammates celebrated by piling on top of each other near center court. This wasn’t the medal they wanted, but after losing their first two games in Brazil, it beats nothing. “Unbelievable,” said Rudy Fernandez. “It’s an amazing feeling. We played very bad at first in the tournament, but we just continued to play hard and with a medal, it’s unbelievable.”
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“You get into the heat of the battle and between players when you guys are talking, you talk smack sometimes, right? And that’s all it was,” LaVine told ESPN, after ending with 41 points. “We were still down. Dude was talking a little mess to me and I just let him know ‘Look, I’ve got 40, I don’t know why you’re talking to me,'” he added. “I don’t know why they said they thought I was talking to Jim but it was just people being competitive in the game talking.”
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Irving (shoulder) and Durant (Achilles) will both be coming off significant injuries, but next season is going to come with championship expectations regardless. “I think I’ll just prepare like I’ve always prepared,” said Atkinson, who signed a multi-year contract extension with Brooklyn in April 2019. “I think that changes things, but I have enough confidence in myself and my staff that we’ll prepare the guys correctly, and we don’t talk about wins and losses. The results will come if we follow this process we’ve followed all along. So keep doing that. Why change?”
Atkinson certainly got a taste of what’s to come while essentially being the team spokesman as Irving missed 26 straight games due to a right shoulder impingement. The organization was criticized at the time for a lack of transparency. “That’s a new challenge for me because I think I’m more sensitive to saying the wrong thing,” Atkinson said. “In the beginning, [the media] didn’t really care that much if I slipped up. And that puts you a little more on edge but also makes you a little more prepared. But in general basketball is basketball.”
“I just want to coach. That’s the comfort zone,” Atkinson said. “What you do have to deal with with those guys a little bit more is they have opinions — and really good opinions most of the time. At practice, Ky or KD might say, ‘Why don’t we do it this way?’ Some coaches can be sensitive to that. I’m OK with it. This is the next step in my development, coaching a team with more veterans.”