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.”