Monday, July 30, 2012
First Cup: Monday
- Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: The men's basketball team is considered royalty, swooned over by star-struck global media. The women's team has a 34-game winning streak, an unprecedented amount of star power, and is treated like they're playing field hockey. And you know who suffers most? Diana Taurasi, whose first name usually means a little more around here. "It's just the world we live in, and it's unfortunate," women's Olympic coach Geno Auriemma said. "There are other athletes and other teams that haven't done a third of what she's done, and they get celebrated. Maybe it's because their sport is new or because they do it once every four years. But Diana is consistently great, year in and year out. And because it's women's basketball in the U.S., she gets overlooked. If she had done what she's done in another country, she'd be looked upon as an icon." ... Unfortunately, that means a true pioneer may never be fully appreciated for what she's done on a basketball court. So it appears in London, where the women's team may be too good for its own good.
- Michelle Kaufman of The Miami Herald: There is a unique kind of stress on the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, a stress not even Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt can truly identify with. For, the United States team is not only expected to win every time it steps on the floor, it is expected to dazzle, to play with ease and flair, to prove superhuman, soar high, and dunk often. Anything less, and fans feel cheated. In other words, the Americans are under pressure to entertain like the Harlem Globetrotters and at the same time get past world-class Olympians from other countries who want nothing more than to topple them. That certainly was the case Sunday afternoon. A sold-out crowd of 8,989, many of them curious Londoners who had never seen the NBA up close, was buzzing before the Americans’ opener against France. When the U.S. team walked out of the locker room singing for pregame warm-ups, fans captured the moment with their cellphones. The opposing French team included five NBA players who were not in awe, but other players couldn’t help but stare at the American stars.
- Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: It's an election year. Is Michelle Obama running for Team Mom of the U.S. basketball team? While filing off the court, everybody from guard Chris Paul to coach Mike Krzyzewski got a hug from Obama after Team USA trounced France, 98-71,Sunday to open the Olympic tournament. "It was pretty cool," Paul told me. Let's hope the First Lady also remembered to pack the orange slices. But here's a minor complaint: Don't NBA stars already get enough love? And what does an Olympic fencer or archer have to do to get a hug? The presence of Obama at the game was a reminder that the country's eyes are fixed on NBA stars whose mission is gold or bust. "That's what makes the Olympics so special. This isn't just Los Angeles or New York watching us play," Paul said. "This is global." Asked if there is an Olympic athlete he's itching to meet at the Summer Games, LeBron James paused to think, then replied: "No." Get it? The U.S. basketball players are the coolest kids in the Olympic cafeteria, rivaled only by charismatic sprinter Usain Bolt.
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Luol Deng has consistently said these Olympics are bigger than him, that his participation goes beyond wins and losses and contractual obligations and surgical decisions. To begin to understand why, you emerge from the Brixton underground stop and listen to the blaring reggae music from the African and Caribbean street merchants in this multiethnic slice of south London that Deng so loves. Then you enter Jimmy Rogers' gym. Children of varying ages and skill levels are running through drills and heeding Rogers' orders. To many of them, Deng represents a symbol that goes beyond his athletic fame and fortune with the Bulls. "He has taught me to work hard and stay humble," says Babatunde Whitfield-Gilbert, 17, who has attended Deng's camp in Brixton. "Even if you can't play basketball, you can work hard and you might be good in another field. You can take lessons you learn from commitment and teamwork and apply them elsewhere."
- Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: You would think it wouldn’t be hard to get the NBA’s reigning, three-time scoring champion to shoot the ball. But you would be wrong, although the U.S. men’s basketball team tried to fix that in a blowout 98-71 win over France Sunday in its Olympic opener. Kevin Durant, the scoring champ in question, has not played in an Olympics before. Like any newcomer, he wants to be liked. So time and again during the U.S. team’s brief time together this year, Durant has passed up the sort of open shots that he drills with the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I told KD (Durant) to just be himself,” LeBron James said Sunday after Durant led the U.S. with 22 points and added nine rebounds in a game that was only close for one quarter. ... James’ cry for Durant to put the ball up more often has been echoed around the team. When Kobe Bryant was asked what he said to Durant during the game, Bryant replied gruffly: “Shoot the … ball.” Said Durant: “Sometimes coach was screaming at me. And Chris Paul was screaming at me more than anybody, ‘Shoot the ball!’ I guess I’ve got to be aggressive.” ... It now looks like this team will revolve around the James/Durant axis during these Olympics. And James, the team’s undisputed leader, isn’t going to let Durant fade into the background even if he wants to.
- Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: Marc Gasol scored five points and had two rebounds. He looked rusty, honestly, after missing some time with a bum shoulder. A reporter immediately asked him how he was feeling. "Great," he said, with a big smile. "Because we won." You can take the boy out of the Grindhouse, but you can't take the Grindhouse out of the boy, can you? Spain opened the Olympic tournament with a workmanlike 97-81 win over China Sunday. So Gasol was happy. Of course he was. This is a man who puts team above all else, whether that team is the Lausanne Lynx or the Memphis Grizzlies or the Spanish Olympic team. "It was a good win," he said, because what other kind is there? "My shoulder? It feels fine." And let's get one thing out of the way before this column proceeds any further. Nobody back in Memphis should be questioning why Gasol is risking injury by playing in the Games.
- John Canzano of The Oregonian: OK, before we all come out of our shoes over Nicolas Batum's un-$46 million performance against the United States in the opening game of the Olympic tournament on Sunday, let's back up. Because a few nights ago Batum stood through four hours of the opening ceremony. "I'm not used to standing like that," he said, "four or five hours just killed me." Also, France, which lost the game 98-71, conducted only its first full practice as a team on Saturday. Batum said, "We knew it was going to be tough for us. Maybe if we see them in a couple of days, it could be a different game." Also, Batum said French coach Vincent Collet looked up at the end of the third quarter, saw USA leading by 19 points, realized the game was out of reach, and decided to sit his starters. Strategy, see? France plays successive games now against Lithuania and Argentina, and the point of Olympic pool play is to stay in the top-four in your group so you can advance to the quarterfinals. Now that all the explanations are out of the way, something needs to be said. It's this: Batum stunk. Not by International standards, but by $46 million Blazers standards. And the sooner Batum realizes that his life is changed and that he's playing under different expectations, the better for us all.
- Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune: Alexey Shved wears braces on his teeth and a band in his hair. As he spoke late Sunday night in London, he twisted his sweatjacket wistfully around his neck, giving the impression of a teenager waiting for a ride to the school dance. His game, though, looked very mature. Shved and veteran Russian star Andrei Kirilenko led the Russians to a 95-75 victory over Great Britain on the opening day of the Olympic tournament, and they may have made as big an impact on Timberwolves fans as their countrymen. Shved and Kirilenko both recently signed with the Timberwolves. Sunday, they displayed innate chemistry and skill sets that should immediately prove valuable to their new professional team. Shved played mostly at point guard and finished with 16 points and 13 assists, many of those to Kirilenko, who finished with 35 points on 14-for-17 shooting. "Look at me,'' Kirilenko said, exulting after the game. "I am running like a young deer.'' Kirilenko, the former Utah Jazz standout, kept gushing, about his health, Shved and the offense run by Wolves coach Rick Adelman. "I think Minnesota is ready to take a step and make the playoffs,'' he said.
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: Yao Ming doesn’t give many interviews anymore, but he stopped long enough yesterday as he entered the Olympic Park’s basketball arena to give a thumbs up to Jeremy Lin leaving the Knicks and joining his former club, the Rockets. The 7-foot-6 Yao is doing Olympic commentary for Chinese TV and worked Spain’s 97-81 victory over China. When asked what he thought of Lin joining the Rockets, Yao told The Post, “It will be good for both of them, Jeremy and Houston.’’ Yao declined further comment, saying he is here for the Olympics. Lin considers Yao his mentor and they text each other frequently. Lin attended his basketball camp last summer in China. Yao, who retired in 2011, was quoted recently saying, “I’m so glad the Knicks didn’t match the contract. Houston is a good place for Jeremy to come to.’’
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: But as long as Dwight Howard remains in limbo, or until the Thunder completes its complex payroll puzzle, there will be a convenient rationale for linking Orlando and Oklahoma City in the never-ending Dwight derby. Some media members already have floated the idea, and at least one outlet recently erroneously reported that the teams were in talks to send the league's best center to OKC. Fans have clamored for the deal for far longer. All the conjecture, however, fails to acknowledge one substantial fact — Howard doesn't want to play here. That's not an indictment on Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have hushed the haters who said this city couldn't and wouldn't retain star players. Howard simply has his sight set on two locations. Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Dallas is a last-ditch option. ... Adding Howard's ego to a team that already must be careful with how it massages Durant and Westbrook's personalities would be like playing with fire. But on paper a trio of Westbrook, Durant and Howard instantly would become the best in basketball. It's what makes the speculation so scintillating — even if Howard wants to play for the Thunder about as much as he wants to play for the Bobcats.
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: And then there was a fan base that wouldn't be hurting for volunteers to give [Charlie] Villanueva a ride to Metro Airport if the Pistons decided to use the amnesty clause to shed the $16 million he is owed over the next two seasons. The Pistons declined to use the provision, which would allow them to cut a player without salary-cap ramifications. He gets the scorn. His salary ($8 million) is the third-highest on the Pistons' payroll, and his performance has gotten progressively worse since he arrived in Detroit. "Since I've been here, have I had career years?" Villanueva said. "Have I had great years? "But I can't worry about people not wanting me here -- people saying that I'm not any good. I know what type of player that I am. ... I'm just going to let my game do the talking." The Pistons are pleased with Villanueva's conditioning efforts, and his 6-foot-11 frame looked slim. He has taken up a boxing regimen, and he flew to Orlando recently to practice with the summer-league team. "I'm committed to this organization because they made a commitment to me," Villanueva said of his time in Florida. "It's an opportunity to get better. It's an opportunity to work with the younger guys and the draft picks."
- Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Undeterred by his rejection last year, the Milwaukee Bucks are making another run at signing Joel Przybilla. The Bucks seriously courted the veteran 7-foot-1 center before and during last season, only to see him sign with the Portland Trail Blazers. With Przybilla once again an unrestriced free agent, the Bucks are hoping they can sign him this time. They have had several discussions with Przybilla’s representatives and were expected to meet this week. But that meeting has been pushed back to next week. It is believed Przybilla will meet with Bucks general manager John Hammond and possibly Bucks coach Scott Skiles. ... According to several sources, Dallas, Chicago and Portland have also shown keen interest in Przybilla. However, it appears the Bucks are the front-runners with the Trail Blazers being his second choice.
- Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: Glen Taylor, who has owned the Timberwolves for 18 seasons and the Lynx for 13, has found the successor he has been looking for. In the near future, Taylor will close a deal to sell 25 percent of the franchises, and eventually the new owner will own the majority. Unfortunately, the buyer is from outside the Twin Cities, but Taylor insists he will continue to own a share of the two teams and will make sure that they don't move out of the state. "Yes, I have [found a buyer], and we're working on trying to put a deal together, and it would be a deal that would leave me involved for a number of years yet, but it would be a good transition," Taylor said Sunday. ... Until the papers are signed, Taylor refuses to reveal the future owner's name. Apparently, though, he has agreed to keep the two teams in Minnesota as a part of the purchase agreement.