Devin Booker

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.

Olympic Notes: Grant, Johnson, Finals Trio, Randle, McGee

Bradley Beal won’t be able to participate in the Olympics due to health and safety protocols, but Team USA has Jerami Grant back on the roster, Joe Vardon of The Athletic tweets. The Pistons forward exited protocols and played 12 minutes in the team’s final tuneup, an 83-76 win over Spain on Sunday. Team USA will begin its quest for gold this Sunday against France.

We have more Olympic news and observations:

  • Gregg Popovich and managing director Jerry Colangelo raised some eyebrows when Keldon Johnson was promoted from the Select Team as an injury replacement. The Spurs wing is justifying that decision, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst notes. Johnson supplied 15 points in 17 minutes against Spain. “Keldon Johnson just played a solid basketball game,” Popovich said. “He shot it when he was open and when he did go to the bucket he was very physical.”
  • For the Olympic team’s sake, it would best for the Finals to end with a Milwaukee victory on Tuesday, Vardon writes. Devin BookerKhris Middleton and Jrue Holiday will join Team USA after the Finals are completed and it’s fair to wonder how much they’ll have left in the tank both physically and emotionally. Popovich hopes he can ease them into the Group play. “In some ways, it might depend on if everybody else is healthy, and if they’re not then they got to play,” he said. “We’ve gone over lots of scenarios, but we haven’t figured it out yet.”
  • Knicks All-Star Julius Randle was never offered the chance to join the U.S. team as an injury replacement, Marc Berman of the New York Post reports. Instead, Team USA opted for role players in Johnson and center JaVale McGee, who gives the team a much-needed shot blocker. “We decided that was the most logical and appropriate choice,’’ Popovich said. “Given the choices we had, (McGee) fit the best.”

Pacific Notes: Booker, Ayton, Lakers, Draft

After falling 123-119 to the Bucks, the Suns find themselves on the brink of losing the 2021 NBA Finals. They have their sights squarely set on a must-win Game 6 on Tuesday. Mark Medina of USA Today opines that the club may be relying too much on the production of 24-year-old All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker.

“We know what Book can do with the ball, but the one thing we talked about was getting to the paint, finding guys on the back side,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said of the ball sticking with Booker. “We feel like that’s a formula.”

Medina contends that the Suns suffered due to their dependence on Booker to bail out possessions with isolation scoring.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Suns center Deandre Ayton – who has thrived during a breakout postseason, his first playoff appearance – welcomes the challenge of a must-win Game 6, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. “I like it. It’s fun; the tables are turned now,” Ayton said. “Now we’re the desperate team. We had our chances of being up and trying to finish the job, now we’re in the same position that they were in. They’re up, and now we got to go get it. That’s why it’s a little bit more fun.” The top pick in the 2018 draft, Ayton is eligible for a contract extension during the 2021 offseason. His recent play should earn him a maximum-salary offer or something close to it.
  • The Lakers, who own the No. 22 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft, hosted 6’5″ Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and 6’4″ Tennessee guard Jaden Springer during their latest pre-draft workouts Saturday, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Both guards are good shooters who could help space the floor for L.A.
  • The Lakers need to land a win-now type of player in the 2021 draft with their No. 22 selection, opines Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. Goon notes that the Lakers front office, under the stewardship of Rob Pelinka, last retained a first-round pick through the draft in 2018, when the club selected center Moritz Wagner out of Michigan — however, Wagner did not last long in L.A., having been sent to Washington in the Anthony Davis blockbuster. The team appears determined to add shooting this offseason — Los Angeles has examined versatile guard prospects and stretch forwards thus far.

Suns Notes: Paul, Booker, Ayton, Kaminsky, Game 3

The backcourt pairing of Chris Paul and Devin Booker has reached historic levels this season, particularly during the first two games of the NBA Finals, Gina Mizell of Suns.com writes.

Paul and Booker have caused problems for the Bucks’ defense, combining to score a total of 59 points in Game 1 and 54 points in Game 2. The two stars are now just two wins away from securing an NBA championship for the first time in their respective careers.

“I’m having a hard enough time trying to figure out how to guard those two,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who’s thrown a variety of defensive schemes at Phoenix thus far. “I can’t come up with a good comparison for you.”

There’s more out of Phoenix tonight:

  • Mark Medina of USA TODAY examines the special bond between Deandre Ayton and former NBA player Mychal Thompson as native Bahamians. “I tell him how proud I am of him and to keep going,” Thompson said of Ayton. “He’s the greatest player we’ve ever had from the Bahamas.” Ayton has welcomed the advice with open arms, averaging 16.2 points and 12.1 rebounds in 36.5 minutes per game in 18 playoff contests.
  • The Suns could benefit from Frank Kaminsky serving as a frontcourt X-factor the rest of the series, Dana Scott of the Arizona Republic writes. Phoenix is already playing without Dario Saric due to a torn ACL, making it imperative that Kaminsky is prepared to step into the rotation. “For me, my mentality this whole playoffs is just, ‘Stay ready,'” Kaminsky said before Game 2. “You never know what can happen. I’ve been ready, I’ve been putting the work in.”
  • The team is treating Sunday’s Game 3 as a must-win contest, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes. With a win, Phoenix would take a commanding 3-0 lead heading into Game 4 on Wednesday. “For us, the biggest game of the year is tomorrow,” Paul said on Saturday. “Tomorrow. It’s a must-win game for us. We’ve got to come out with that mindset. Know that they’re home, they’re more comfortable, they will be in front of their fans, but we got to be us. We got to be us and we got to be the hungrier team, and so that’s what we’ll do.”

Olympic Notes: Johnson, Garland, Bey, Durant, Satoransky

The Spurs’ Keldon Johnson, Cavaliers’ Darius Garland and Pistons’ Saddiq Bey will move up from the U.S. Select Team and play for Team USA in exhibition games, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

The trio will fill in for Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, who will join Team USA after the Finals. Johnson, Garland and Bey would be candidates to join Team USA for the Olympics if any players have to bow out.

Exhibition games in Las Vegas will begin on Saturday with a matchup against Nigeria.

We have more on the Olympics:

  • Select Team members Cameron Reynolds, Josh Magette, John Jenkins and Dakota Mathias will remain in Las Vegas and will be available for exhibition games, Brian Windhorst of ESPN writes. The pool of Select Team players has been reduced by injuries and COVID-19 protocols. Timberwolves big man Naz Reid suffered a minor injury in Thursday’s practice, Windhorst adds.
  • Nets superstar Kevin Durant will look to collect his third gold medal in Tokyo and he’s energized by that possibility, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes. “I committed to USA Basketball when I was coming out of college,” Durant said. “And every chance that I can get that I’m healthy and my mind is in the right place to play basketball, I’m going to go out there and play. Finished the year off healthy, the regular season and the playoffs, so I felt it’d be cool to get a kickstart on next season by getting in shape a little earlier in the summer with Team USA.”
  • Bulls guard Zach LaVine will be facing backcourt partner Tomas Satoransky in Group A play and he’s looking forward to the matchup, Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago relays. Satoransky will play for the Czech Republic, which is in Team USA’s Group along with Iran and France. “I’m looking forward to playing them and having some bragging rights,” LaVine said good-naturedly. “Hopefully, we really kick their butt.”

Olympics Notes: Booker, Tatum, Durant, Edwards

Despite his extended playoff run with the Suns, Devin Booker isn’t having any second thoughts about his Olympic commitment, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Booker told reporters today that even if the NBA Finals go to a seventh game, which would be played July 22, he plans to be in Japan for Team USA’s opener against France three days later.

“Next (plane) smoking. I’ll be there,” he said. “I’ll be there. But obviously not my main focus right now. I’ve reached out to Coach Pop (Gregg Popovich), I reached out to (Jerry) Colangelo just recently and then I told them I saw all the guys reported to Vegas, and any other place I would rather be is the Finals, but I would love to be there with the guys and I’ll be there soon.”

Booker may miss all of Team USA’s 13-day training camp, which began today at UNLV. The Americans, who are also without Bucks guards Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, will play exhibition games against Nigeria, Australia, Argentina and Spain before heading to Tokyo.

“Very important. Life goal of mine,” Booker said. “I’ve always said, I think it’s the most prestigious event that basketball can find. So to be a part of representing your country I think brings you to another stratosphere. Just thinking of the guys that have come before us and represented our country, and I don’t think there’s anything better than winning a gold medal.”

There’s more Olympics news to pass along:

  • Wearing No. 10 has been a tradition for Celtics forward Jayson Tatum in international basketball and it has taken on added significance following Kobe Bryant‘s death last year, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Bryant wore the number while winning gold medals in 2008 and 2012, and Tatum recognizes the importance behind it. “With this being the first Olympics since we lost him, it holds that much more value,” he said. “It’s not something I take lightly.”
  • Many were pleasantly surprised that Nets star Kevin Durant opted to play in the Olympics, and Popovich was especially delighted, per Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Popovich joked that he would have begged and cried to convince Durant to join the team, then said it shows the forward’s commitment to the game. Durant won gold medals in 2012 and 2016 and is 39-0 in FIBA competition.
  • Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards of the U.S. Select Team sprained his ankle today in a scrimmage with Team USA, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. The injury, which happened when Edwards stepped on Draymond Green‘s foot, isn’t viewed as serious, but Edwards will be sidelined for the rest of camp.

Suns Notes: Paul, NBA Finals, Booker, Williams

By leading the Suns to a berth in the NBA Finals Wednesday night, Chris Paul got rid of a lot of distinctions that he didn’t want, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Among players who had never reached the Finals, Paul had the most All-Star appearances and All-NBA selections, along with the most playoff starts and the most career points.

Those marks all belong to someone else now, as Paul scored 41 points and turned away the Clippers’ best comeback effort with a personal 8-0 run in the fourth quarter. The performance provided some vindication for the veteran guard, whose playoff history has been filled with untimely injuries and blown leads.

“There were questions about his production before tonight, and in my heart I felt like it was a matter of time,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I didn’t know it was going to be like that, but that’s who Chris is. He was tired and he was still making those kinds of plays — getting to the basket, the 3s, orchestrating everything.”

There’s more on the Suns, who will be playing for a title for the first time since 1993:

  • Paul revealed that he had an MRI before the game that showed torn ligaments in his right hand. He also had to deal with a first-round shoulder injury and a bout with COVID-19 after the second round. “Just a week ago, I was here at home (under quarantine in Los Angeles). Couldn’t be there with my teammates,” he said. “It’s been a lot, and I want it not just for myself but for everybody in that locker room.”
  • Paul will have a contract decision to make after the Finals, and sources tell Brian Windhorst of ESPN that he’s leaning toward opting out of his $44MM salary for next season to seek a longer-term deal.
  • Devin Booker is among the many Suns players who have turned around their reputations with this playoff run, Windhorst adds. It took Booker six seasons to reach the postseason, but he has averaged 27.0 PPG and has earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, which he will join as soon as the Finals are over.
  • Suns players gave plenty of credit to Williams, who turned around a losing situation when he came to Phoenix two years ago, writes Joe Reedy of The Associated Press. Williams was passed over for Coach of the Year honors, but now he has something even better. “Monty coming in, building the culture, him leading us with the preparation meets opportunity. That was these moments right here, and we took it and we ran with it,” Booker said.