2020 Olympics

Olympic Notes: Tatum, Durant, Holiday, P. Gasol

Team USA has one Olympic loss already and now that the medal round is here, another defeat would end its gold medal hopes. The Americans will face Spain in the quarterfinals and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum could be the key to advancing, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

Spain captured the FIBA World Cup in 2019, but Tatum played in just two games after being injured early in the tournament. He’s fully healthy now and has gotten over a slow start in the Olympics, scoring 27 points in Saturday’s rout of the Czech Republic.

“Our confidence never wavered,” said Tatum, whose team lost a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas, then dropped its Olympic opener against France. “We understood that it wasn’t gonna be easy. We didn’t have our full team until four days ago, five days ago, so we knew that we had a lot of challenges ahead of us. And we also know that we would continue to get better every day. We would get better from each game, each practice, just the more time that we spent together, we were never going to be the same team, from day one, that we are now. And hopefully, we’re better this time next week than we were today.”

There’s more from Tokyo:

  • Kevin Durant reached a milestone Saturday, passing Carmelo Anthony as Team USA’s all-time leading scorer in Olympic competition, Vardon adds in a separate story. Durant, who is seeking his third gold medal, now has 354 total points. “It is special to do something like that,” he said. “Scoring is something I worked on my whole career and something I’ve expanded my whole career, and being able to consistently do it is pretty cool.”
  • The U.S. didn’t have a pure point guard until Jrue Holiday joined the team, says Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune. Holiday was busy with the playoffs during training camp and exhibition play and didn’t leave for Japan until after the Bucks’ championship parade. “His entry onto the team, late as it was, has had an immediate effect, because he garners so much respect from his teammates,” coach Gregg Popovich said.
  • After undergoing surgery for a stress fracture in his left foot, Pau Gasol was determined not to let it end his career, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. The 41-year-old has battled back and is playing an important role for Spain. “I love the game,” Gasol said. “I wanted to finish my career playing. I had such an incredible, extraordinary career that I didn’t want the injury to finish it for me.”

And-Ones: Colangelo, Love, Irving, 2022 Draft, Bleijenbergh

Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball, admitted that adding Cavaliers big man Kevin Love to the 12-man roster was a mistake, Joe Vardon of The Athletic reports. Speaking to reporters this week, Colangelo was blunt in his assessment of Love, stating that the 2012 gold medalist was not in shape when he showed up to camp. Love eventually withdrew from Team USA before the squad headed to Tokyo.

“I didn’t think Kevin Love was going to play. I wasn’t even sure he had much left to play,” Colangelo said. “He reached out to us and said he was in shape and said he felt he owed us. And on the basis of that, we’re looking at someone with international experience who at one time was a heck of a rebounder and could still shoot the ball. You know, being like a 12th man on a roster. Well, it didn’t work out. He wasn’t in shape. And he was way behind as it turned out. So you move on. Call it a mistake.”

We have more from the basketball world:

  • Nets guard Kyrie Irving has fired Roc Nation as his representative, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes. It’s unclear why Irving, who can opt out of his contract after next season, made the move. He did rip Nike on social media for its shoe design and marketing of the upcoming Kyrie8 brand.
  • Just hours after the completion of this year’s draft, Jonathan Givony of ESPN released his 2022 mock draft. Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren heads the list, followed by Duke’s Paolo Banchero and the G League Ignite’s Jaden Hardy.
  • Belgian guard Vrenz Bleijenbergh was a candidate to be a second-round pick, but went undrafted on Thursday. Bleijenbergh explained on Twitter that none of the teams interested in selecting him were willing to offer a guaranteed contract and thus, he couldn’t get out of his European deal. “I had multiple teams offering me two-way deals. But because of my contract in Europe, I wasn’t be able to sign them, it was against the rules,” he wrote. “The only option was a guaranteed contract, I didn’t receive it. It really hurts, I was really close.”

Olympic Notes: Team USA, Ewing, Popovich, Durant

Losses by Team USA in international competition are no longer surprising, so head coach Gregg Popovich bristled when that word was mentioned after his team fell to France this morning in its Olympic opener, tweets Ben Golliver of The Washington Post. France took control of the game late, finishing with a 16-2 run to claim an 83-76 victory that snapped a 25-game Olympic winning streak for the United States.

“When you lose a game, you’re not surprised,” Popovich told reporters. “You’re disappointed. I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.”

France was led by Celtics guard Evan Fournier, who scored 28 points and hit a three-pointer with a minute left that gave his team the lead for good. Fournier will become a free agent next month, but first he wants to enjoy the Olympic experience.

“They are better individually,” he said of the Americans, “but they can be beaten as a team” (Twitter link).

There’s more on the Olympics:

  • The loss doesn’t come as a surprise to Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing, who was part of the original “Dream Team” in 1992, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “It’s harder to play now because of the Dream Team,” Ewing said. “All of the current players grew up looking up to us and watching us dominate the rest of the world. But the rest of the world caught up. There are so many talented players. Some of the NBA’s top players today come from all over the world. It wasn’t like that back then.’’
  • Popovich is a legendary coach in the NBA, but he hasn’t achieved the same success in international basketball, notes Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press. The three teams Popovich has been part of in the Olympics or world championships have earned just one medal, an Olympic bronze in 2004.
  • There’s been plenty of chaos for Team USA in its Olympic preparation, with COVID-19 disruptions and the late arrival of three team members who took part in the NBA Finals, but the players understand that expectations haven’t changed, Golliver states in a full story“Every team wants to beat us,” Kevin Durant said. “Everybody wants to see us lose. A lot of guys dropped out, (and there have been) a lot of circumstances (affecting player availability). I’m sure other teams have seen us lose and feel confident coming into the tournament. We understand what we’re getting ourselves into, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Olympics Notes: Middleton, Booker, Gasol, Team USA

It’s been an unusual week for the Bucks’ Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton and the Suns’ Devin Booker, who have gone from being Finals opponents to Olympic teammates in the span of a few days, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. Milwaukee wrapped the series Tuesday night, leaving the players with a tight schedule to get to Tokyo in time for Sunday morning’s opener against France.

Middleton admits he and Booker “haven’t said a word to each other” since the Finals ended, but he believes they’ll have a normal relationship during the Olympics.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Middleton said. “I’m sure we won’t be best buddies during Team USA, but we’ll be teammates, for sure. We’ll be on the same path, talking basketball X’s and O’s, trying to get the job done.”

Booker, who has called it “a life goal” to play in the Olympics, also doesn’t expect any hard feelings to linger from the Finals matchup.

“It’s never personal between who you’re going with, unless lines are crossed,” he said. “Those guys aren’t that type and I would never go that way with them, because there’s a high respect level for each other. I think that’s why we’re in the position that we’re in right now. Representing your country is a whole different dynamic than competing against each other in the NBA Finals, but I can always respect somebody that competes at the highest level.”

There’s more on the Olympic Games:

  • Spain’s Pau Gasol credits the memory of former Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant with inspiring him to recover from a foot injury that could have ended his basketball career, Medina adds in a separate story.
  • France upset the U.S. at the FIBA World Cup in 2019, and the Americans see Sunday’s opener as a chance to re-establish their dominance, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. The players feel like they have something to prove after two years of listening to talk that Team USA might not be the best in the world anymore. “If anything, maybe you lost a little bit of the fear that we’ve had in people’s hearts for years — which you go out and do what you’ve got to do and you can get that right back,” said Draymond Green.
  • With the last-minute addition of three players, plus the late replacements of Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee, who joined the team July 16, the coaching staff plans to keep things simple, according to Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. Head coach Gregg Popovich said he will employ a “less is more” strategy, while assistant Steve Kerr adds, “We’re not going to have a ton of plays. That would be impossible.”

Olympic Notes: LaVine, NBA Participants, Hernangomez, Finals Trio

Zach LaVine was placed in protocols due to contact tracing before he was allowed to go to Tokyo. That development came as a big surprise to the Team USA wing. LaVine was sidelined for 11 Bulls games in April when he tested positive for COVID-19, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times writes. “Well I was a little shocked,’’ LaVine said. “Obviously, I didn’t think I could get [the virus]. Obviously, I didn’t. I’m going to have to be careful with everybody including the team and everybody coming over here, so it made sense, and I pretty much had to do my time, jump through a couple hoops to get here.’’

We have more Olympic-related notes:

  • If there are a lot of familiar faces in the Olympic tournament, it’s because there are a record number of current and former NBA participants. According to an NBA press release, there are 49 current players and 16 former players dotting Olympic rosters. The Heat lead the way with four players in the competition.
  • Spain’s basketball federation president claims that Juan Hernangomez won’t play in the Olympics because Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas nixed it, according to a Eurohoops story relayed by Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Hernangomez dislocated his left shoulder this summer but Jorge Garbajosa says the big man has been cleared by Spain’s medical staff. “Juancho wants to play in the Olympic Games, but Juancho won’t be able to play,” Garbajosa said. “We’ve had countless medical meetings and we’ve never received a ‘no.’ We have a received a ‘yes’. … It’s a problem of people – not medical personnel – who have personally decided that Juancho couldn’t play. I’m talking about their president of basketball operations.”
  • Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday arrived in Tokyo on Saturday and their Team USA teammates are impressed by the commitment of the three players who participated in the Finals, Brian Windhorst of ESPN writes. “I have a lot of respect for those guys for not only committing to do this but actually keeping their word,” Draymond Green said. “You’re talking about three true professionals, three extremely competitive guys that wouldn’t be on their way here if this didn’t mean something.”

Olympic Notes: Booker, Middleton, Holiday, McGee, Robinson, Top Players

Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are expected to be available to play in Team USA’s Sunday morning opener, Brian Windhorst of ESPN writes. The Bucks duo joined Booker in Seattle on Friday to take a private plane to Tokyo. The Finals trio won’t get a chance to practice with the team but coach Gregg Popovich would like to play them right away against France.

We have more Olympic-related news and tidbits:

  • JaVale McGee is a much different player than the man he replaced, Kevin Love, on Team USA. That forces Popovich to alter his frontcourt strategy and McGee may be nothing more than an insurance policy against France, Joe Vardon of The Athletic writes.
  • Heat wing Duncan Robinson claimed on The Long Shot Podcast that he nearly replaced Bradley Beal on Team USA’s roster, as Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald relays. “It basically got to the point where like it started to pick up some momentum and it looked like it was going to happen,” Robinson said. Keldon Johnson was eventually chosen as Beal’s replacement.
  • Many of the other teams in the Olympics could threaten Team USA in its quest for gold and Vardon takes a closer look at the other 11 squads and their chances of knocking off the American contingent.
  • Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard head HoopsHype’s Frank Urbina’s Olympic player rankings. Doncic edged out Durant due to the fact he’ll likely put up big numbers for Slovenia. Urbina lists his top 30 players in Tokyo.

Olympic Notes: Holiday, Middleton, Booker, Hill

The U.S. Olympic team is about to get some reinforcements now that the NBA Finals are over, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. With the Bucks finishing off the Suns Tuesday night, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker are all headed to Tokyo and are expected to be ready when the Americans open Olympic play on Sunday against France.

All three players will bring some welcome firepower to a team that went 2-2 in exhibition play. While they didn’t have the benefit of training with their new teammates, coach Gregg Popovich is confident that it won’t take long for everyone to adjust.

“Chemistry is something that we hope forms quickly,” Popovich said. “These guys get along very well. They haven’t played together but they know each other and they’re very happy to be here. They’ve sacrificed a lot under the circumstances to do this. The chemistry builds day by day, you can’t force that issue. It just happens organically. The three guys that are coming in will blend in as best they can and we’ll try to do a good job coaching-wise to put them in situations where they feel comfortable together.”

There’s more on the Olympics:

  • Despite the difficulty of going from one high-level competition to another, none of the three players in the Finals have any regrets about their Olympic decisions, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic“Yes, there is a component of playing for your country, playing for your family,” Holiday said. “My wife (former soccer star Lauren Cheney) being a two-time Olympian, was is also a factor, but I think not having a break and just feeling like, well, we’re in the Finals, why not just continue playing basketball.”
  • A busy schedule awaits Grant Hill after the Olympics, notes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Hill will replace Jerry Colangelo as managing director of USA Basketball and will have just a few months before qualifying begins for the 2023 Basketball World Cup. Hill won’t be at the Olympics because of limits on personnel that can travel with a team, but he has worked closely with Colangelo to prepare for the new role. “No question, these are big shoes to fill,” Hill said. “Jerry has been incredible. His vision, strategic thinking, his will to make this successful. … I’m amazed at many things I didn’t know about his various contributions to the game of basketball.”
  • Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gobert are the top players to watch in this year’s Games, The Athletic states in its guide to men’s Olympic basketball.

Team USA’s Zach LaVine Clears COVID-19 Protocols

JULY 20: LaVine has cleared the health and safety protocols and will join Team USA in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon, USA Basketball announced late on Tuesday night (Twitter link).

With the NBA Finals now over, Booker, Middleton, and Holiday should all be able to report to the U.S. squad in Tokyo with plenty of time to spare before Sunday’s game as well.


JULY 19: Bulls guard Zach LaVine has been placed under the healthy and safety protocols related to COVID-19, according to USA Basketball (Twitter link). As a result, LaVine won’t be on the team’s flight to Tokyo today.

LaVine has not yet been ruled out for the Olympics like Bradley Beal was last week. According to Team USA, the hope is that LaVine will be cleared to travel to Japan later this week.

LaVine’s situation is the latest hurdle to overcome for a U.S. squad that has faced a series of challenges during the lead-up to the Tokyo games. Last week, Beal and Jerami Grant were placed in the health and safety protocols and Kevin Love withdrew from the roster for health reasons. Grant has since been cleared and will travel to Tokyo with Team USA, but Beal and Love were replaced on the roster by Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee.

While it sounds like LaVine may follow in Grant’s footsteps and exit the protocols within a few days, Team USA runs the risk of being shorthanded until there’s clarity one way or the other on LaVine. The roster was already temporarily down three players, since Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday remain active in the NBA Finals through at least Tuesday (or Thursday, if a Game 7 if necessary). The U.S. will play its first game of the Olympics on Sunday morning vs. France.

For what it’s worth, LaVine tested positive for the coronavirus in April.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Blazers, Hernangomez, Nuggets

While it doesn’t look at this point like the Trail Blazers will seriously explore Damian Lillard trades this offseason, that doesn’t mean they’re not getting calls about their All-NBA point guard. Front office sources tell Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Heat, Kings, Knicks, Rockets, and Sixers have been the most aggressive suitors for Lillard as of late.

With no Lillard trade request imminent, the Blazers are more likely to pursue upgrades around the star guard, though O’Connor notes that the team’s trade assets are somewhat limited. Portland doesn’t have any draft picks this year and rival teams aren’t particularly high on young players like Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little, according to O’Connor. The club’s best bet for a deal that reshapes the roster and increases its ceiling might involve CJ McCollum and Ben Simmons, O’Connor adds.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

Eight Current NBA Players On Nigeria’s 12-Man Olympic Roster

After making some noise in the exhibition schedule by upsetting Team USA, Nigeria will be looking to become the first African men’s basketball team to win an Olympic medal. And they’ll be doing so with a roster that features eight current NBA players, along with one former NBA player.

Here’s the 12-man squad that will represent Nigeria at the Tokyo games, per the Nigeria Basketball Federation (Twitter link):

Achiuwa, Nwora, Okafor, Okogie, and Okpala are all on guaranteed contracts for next season with their respective teams. Metu and Oni are on non-guaranteed deals, while Vincent will be eligible for restricted free agency after finishing the season on a two-way pact. Udoh, a former sixth overall pick who just finalized a two-year deal with Italian club Virtus Bologna, has appeared in a total of 400 NBA games (regular season and postseason)

While the Nigerian squad isn’t exactly loaded with star power, it’s worth highlighting since it’s rare for any country besides Team USA to send so many current NBA players to the Olympics.

Australia’s team will have seven players who finished the season on NBA rosters, while Spain’s roster features 10 players with at least some NBA experience. But the U.S. team is the only other one in Tokyo that will feature at least eight current NBAers.