TrueHoop: Juan Carlos Navarro
- Chris Palmer breaks down why Carmelo Anthony (and not Kobe Bryant) has been so good in the Olympics (Insider): "Saying Kobe Bryant is a brilliant scorer isn't news. But in the fast-paced FIBA game, he takes eons to get his shot off. Many of Bryant's shots come on isolations in which the floor is lopsided with four players standing on the opposite side. If Bryant's initial move doesn't work, the U.S. is looking at a wasted possession. The approach works for the Lakers' offense, but not on Team USA with its awesome firepower and emphasis on teamwork. Anthony, on the other hand, has been far more direct and decisive with the ball than Bryant. With a clearly defined scorer's role, Anthony has done an excellent job of picking his spots and letting others create for him. He's getting clean looks off kickouts and ball reversals and racking up huge numbers by simply hitting open shots without so much as a dribble."
- The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding sympathizes with Andrew Bynum, who has good reason to question the Lakers' commitment to him: "Put yourself in his size 18s, and remember trudging out there with the new knee brace in winning the Lakers’ 2009 championship against Howard and fighting through a surgery-requiring knee injury in winning the Lakers’ 2010 championship over Boston. Imagine reveling in your breakthrough season and then feeling unwanted despite your 30 rebounds in San Antonio in the Lakers’ best regular-season victory and unappreciated despite your 10-block triple-double against Denver in the Lakers’ best playoff victory. It’s not hard to feel the frown begin and the head start to shake."
- One Clipper fan is feeling the love from childhood hero Ron Harper.
- He hasn't received a ton of recognition, but Chris Paul has been vital on both sides of the ball for Team USA. Though he's mostly posted understated stat lines, his two-way play has been excellent. The Americans' half-court offense has looked sharpest when Paul is pulling the strings in high pick-and-rolls, and his ball pressure has disrupted opposing offenses and allowed his rangy teammates to get in the passing lanes. Paul is a control freak, so it's probably not easy for him to relinquish his role as the primary creator, but it speaks to his basketball smarts that he knows when to float to the wing and hit a 3, and when to take control of the offense.
- France's Nicolas Batum winds up and blasts Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin with a closed fist. After the game, Batum told Adrian Wojnarowski, "I wanted to give him a good reason to flop." That's not exactly what HoopIdea had in mind when we asked for recommendations on how to prevent flopping.
- Who will root for the Brooklyn Nets? Professor and author Michael Shapiro, for one: "'The greatest gift for the Brooklyn Nets is the fact that James Dolan owns the Knicks,' Shapiro said. 'I don’t live in Brooklyn anymore. I live in Manhattan. But I really want to root for the Nets. After (Dolan) let Lin go, I called my son and he said to me, ‘Fine. Brooklyn. I get it dad.'"
- The Pistons acknowledge likelihood that their jerseys will soon carry ads.
- On CelticsBlog, Jeff Green talks with Josh Zavadil about his long recovery from heart surgery: "'The surgery itself was probably the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life. I had to start from, basically, double scratch. Walking was an issue -- just being able to have the stamina was a problem. Everything just kind of shuts down. The nervous system breaks down, and it's kinda like a jump-start. You have to get it going, and it was just difficult. You take for granted all of the little things -- whether it's just an easy crunch or ab exercise, or moving to the left or moving to the right. I couldn't lay on my stomach for the first two-and-a-half months. I couldn't lay on my side. The first couple of weeks I couldn't drive. I couldn't do a lot of things, but it helps you appreciate the little things.'"
- An ambivalent reaction to Trail Blazers' decision to hire Dallas assistant Terry Stotts as head coach.
- Luol Deng says he doesn't expect to have surgery on the injured ligaments in his left, in part because he felt so good during the Olympics.
- As a kid in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, Kevin Durant would sprint up this hill as part of his self-motivated training regiment.
Big contracts, NBA stars, a new coach, a new approach, and -- after a disappointing loss in a recent major international competition -- something to prove.
More than anything, almost being able to taste Olympic gold, knowing that hitting shots and playing good defense will be enough.
No, I'm not talking about Team USA.
I'm talking about the squad they'll meet on the court in Beijing at 10:15 ET Saturday morning, and likely in the gold medal game on August 24.
I'm talking about Spain.
U.S. in the Driver's Seat
After dispensing China, Angola, and Greece, the United States team led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant has convinced nearly all observers that they are the favorites to win Olympic gold. Team USA's impressive depth, matched with a withering defensive attack on the perimeter, has produced long series of turnovers followed by the kinds of open-court layups and dunks that posters are made of.
But the Spanish team is also deep, also stocked with NBA players, and on something of a special mission.
The Spanish players are reigning world champions. To most of the basketball world, this is a more prestigious title than Olympic gold. The 2006 version featured 24 teams, with a grueling 16-team elimination tournament to wrap things up. (The Olympic competition, on the other hand, features 12 total teams, with eight making it to the knockout stage.)
Spain has also played the U.S. in elimination games twice in recent years. Many of these same Spanish players beat Paul Pierce and company at the World Championships in 2002. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Spain cruised through qualifying for a top seed, while Team USA stumbled to 3-2. With a high seed, Spain met Team U.S.A. in the first elimination game, and lost by eight. (In the next round, Team USA lost to Argentina, before beating Lithuania for bronze.)
Spain and the U.S. did not play each other in the 2006 World Championships, as the U.S. lost to Greece in the semifinals. Spain, with much the same roster they have this year, did not lose all tournament long.
Last summer, however, in one of the best games of last year, Spain lost to Russia by a single point in the EuroBasket final.
These Olympics are Spain's chance to prove 2006 was no fluke.
The roster of the Spanish national team has been one of the most stable in basketball. The team has long been built around the likes of Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa.
In 2008, however, time is showing its effects. Youngsters like Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, and Marc Gasol are emerging as the rightful future centerpieces of the team.
How long will the more experienced players like Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro keep sacrificing their off-seasons for their country? It is unclear. It's certainly possible this team will look very different next time around.
Spain is an elite international team as is. Will it be so for the World Championships in Turkey in 2010? Maybe.
For a team that has always had high expectations, 2008 is time to seize the moment.
New Coach, New Approach
When Spain won the World Championships in Japan two summers ago, the offensive attack was built around now-Laker big man Pau Gasol. Time and again Gasol set up in the post, and used his grab bag of post moves and jumpers to poke and prod the defense as his teammates orchestrated series of dives, picks, and cuts to get themselves clean looks whenever Gasol was doubled.
The team used the same approach, and the same roster, in 2007, when they lost a close game to underdog Russia in the final game of the EuroBasket.
A month and a half ago, however (reportedly owing to internal politics in the federation that runs the team) Coach Pepu Hernandez was replaced by Aito Garcia Reneses.
Aito, as he is known, has a vastly different approach that wholly deemphasizes any single player's role.
Jorge Munoa, a journalist with the EFE wire service, has been covering the team closely for years. Having watched Spain's early games of the tournament I asked him if the team perceived what I felt I had seen, namely the emergence of young swingman Rudy Fernandez (headed to the Blazers next season) as the kind of leader the team turned to when things get rough.
An emerging force: Future Blazer Rudy Fernandez has excelled in big moments.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images.)
"Absolutely not," he declared. "There are no leaders on this team. The leader is just a group. That is the key to this team. The group. There are no personal agendas or characteristics that are more important than the group."
That's pure Aito.
He is no control freak. He has a fairly loose hand in terms of style of play. On offense, the guards have the latitude to be as inventive as they'd like, and NBA-style isolations and shots off the dribble are no longer uncommon.
But no one gets to dominate. Of the team's dozen players, eleven average at least eleven minutes per game, and none averages more than 26. Six players, this far, have scored at least six points per game, and none average more than twenty.
The stars of the national team's recent past, for instance Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro, often watch from the bench as younger teammates like Pau's brother Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez mop up key minutes -- thus far without complaint.
There is a particular karma to that. Both Navarro and Gasol played for Aito at FC Barcelona. As young players, they benefited from the same unorthodox distribution of minutes, playing far more than they might have on other teams. Aito later coached Badalona, where he similarly gave minutes to rising national team stars Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio.
What You Can Expect Against Team U.S.A.
When Spain plays the U.S. on Saturday, in group play with little at stake, Spain will be unlikely to display its full bag of tricks.
Making certain no one gets hurt will be the most important priority for both teams -- both are undefeated in the early rounds and have no worries about making it to the next stage.
However, removing the cloak of invincibility from the U.S. team could be a handy achievement leading into a potential rematch in the gold medal game.
In addition, the Spanish team is adjusting to a new coach, and a big win would do wonders to build the unit's confidence in the system.
Against the U.S., Aito's approach could have several effects.
Turning Superstars into Jump-Shooters
One of the things the U.S. players know less about -- and have had to work on in training -- is beating a zone defense. In recent years, Team USA's opponents -- from Greece last summer to Angola a few days ago -- frustrated the U.S. into scoring droughts with an extremely active zone.
Zones typically make it hard to get to the rim, resulting in more long shots. After three games, the U.S. has the worst three-point shooting percentage of any team -- men's or women's -- in Beijing.
The U.S. roster is also famously thin in the middle. Dwight Howard as the lone burly big man. The Americans certainly have the multi-faceted advantages that come with an endless supply of supersta
r wing players. But they have also faced stretches of games launching errant long balls, while also lack a dominant physical presence in the paint. In general, in basketball, that's a dangerous combination.
To negate those potential weaknesses, the U.S. has been killing opponents with speed.
By having five fresh players on the floor at all times, Spain hopes to be able to get back on defense and slow the American offense.
"With the short minutes," explains Munoa, "everyone should be fresh. Lots of zone defense, with high intensity, and a lot of activity."
Working the Referees
The Spanish team has a history of using theatrics to get the most out of the referees, and would love to see Dwight Howard get into early foul trouble -- which can happen quickly in a system where a player is ejected after just five, instead of the NBA's six, fouls.
Meanwhile, the short minutes the Spanish team players are playing almost guarantee no Spanish players will see foul trouble at all. Thus far, only one player, young guard Ricky Rubio, is averaging even three fouls per game.
One very effective method of pressuring the U.S. big men into fouls is Spain's honed ability to get big men like Pau, and especially his younger brother Marc (soon to join the Memphis Grizzlies), the ball on the move towards the hoop.
Future Grizzlie Marc Gasol is young, big, and active.
(Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)
Thus far in the tournament, Marc Gasol has proved to be very deft at using his large frame to set high screens.
What happens next varies from play to play. Sometimes the ball handler uses the space the screen has afforded them to create their own shot.
Sometimes Gasol "slips" to the hoop, in essence faking that he will set up the screen, to get the defense fixated on the ball handler, before diving to the hoop to create a scoring opportunity for himself.
Many other times he sets the pick and then "rolls" quickly to the rim.
It's all standard basketball, but it's a play the U.S. famously had trouble defending against Greece in a loss at the 2006 World Championships. And in the case of Marc Gasol, it results in a very large, aggressive, and skilled big man headed to the hoop.
That's a big dare to Dwight Howard to recover and protect the rim, and those kinds of challenges often result in fouls on the defender.
Handling the Pressure
In the end, the story of any Team USA game this year will likely be how opponents handle the generous amounts of on-ball pressure Team USA delivers.
In 120 minutes of tournament play, the U.S. has forced a remarkable 68 turnovers. Opponents trying to pass over, dribble near, or sneak past the Team USA have been robbed again and again by an impressively hyperactive NBA defense, that is, like Spain, fueled by a deep bench and short minutes.
Most of Spain's ballhandling falls to Raptor point guard Jose Calderon, whose turnover rate is among the lowest in NBA history. But while Calderon may be unlikely to cough the ball up much, one ball handler can not defeat a tough five-player defensive strategy. Other Spanish players will handle the ball plenty. Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez have each been coughing the ball up, against much weaker competition, more than once for every ten minutes they play, and Juan Carlos Navarro, Calderon, and Pau Gasol are not far behind.
If the U.S. can keep creating turnovers at a high rate, it will be nearly impossible for them to lose. Not only do turnovers tend to lead to fast breaks, but they also keep Spain from opportunities to really test America's pick-and-roll defense, get Dwight Howard in foul trouble, and get to the line.
On the other hand, if Spain can hang onto the ball, and if its many talented offensive players get an opportunity to ply their trade, don't be at all surprised if Spain makes the U.S. sweat.
Chris Vernon of 730 ESPN Radio in Memphis says that he has an excellent source who told him the particulars of the still-unofficial Juan Carlos Navarro trade.
As Vernon tells it, essentially, Memphis would send Washington a pick that is top-19 protected in 2008, and has declining protection as the years roll on, until 2013 when it is top-12 protected.
This morning in the Washington Post, Ivan Carter wrote:
According to a league source, the Memphis Grizzlies are considering offering a first-round pick in next year's draft in exchange for Navarro's rights.
I don't know the particulars of the deal, but the Spanish-language website of his old team, FC Barcelona, reports what a league source confirms to me: that there is now an agreement in principle whereby Washington will ship Navarro's rights to Memphis.
It's on several Spanish sites, in fact.
Navarro would be reunited with one of his closest friends, and former teammate, Pau Gasol.
What Washington will get in exchange is unclear at this point.
The Wizards are very fortunate that they hold the rights to Juan Carlos Navarro, who is said to be the best guard in Europe. They are even luckier that Navarro's European team, as a favor to their long-time star, has said they will reduce his gargantuan buyout so that he can join the NBA.
The problem is that he will not be playing in Washington. The Wizards are over the cap and only could have signed Navarro with money from their mid-level exception. Most of that money has now been given to DeShawn Stevenson, and the team still has to sign Andray Blatche.
One of Navarro's representatives, Alex Saratsis (he works with Henry Thomas at CSMG), tells me that despite the hope that something would be worked out, there is now no chance Navarro will play in Washington, owing to simple salary cap mathematics.
So, that means the Wizards are fielding offers for Navarro from interested teams like Miami and Memphis.
That process, however, is not going quickly enough for team officials in Barcelona.
Saratsis tells me that this morning, Barcelona officials declared they would only let Navarro out of his contract with a reasonable buyout if a trade is completed by August 3. As in, the end of next week.
Grunfeld has only a short time to accept a deal, or else, according to Saratsis, Barcelona officials will take Navarro back, and give him a new contract with a buyout so massive it will essentially guarantee that he will never play in the NBA. Saratsis says he is certain the Barcelona officials are not bluffing.
So, what kind of offers can Washington expect to hear? A late first-round pick perhaps. A contract that will come off the cap in time for Washington to re-sign Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison is another possibility. Saratsis won't name all the teams that are interested, but says there are more beyond Miami and Memphis.
Washington no doubt wants a lot -- Navarro not only can play, but will do so with a reasonable contract. But asking for too much is fighting the reality that no European player without NBA experience has ever been traded for much of value.
And now there's the reality that if Grunfeld's price is too high, the Wizards will end up with nothing.
Whatever happens, according to Saratsis, we'll know by the end of next week whether or not Juan Carlos Navarro will ever play in the NBA.
This is my own personal, non-professional translation of Juan Carlos Navarro's words from his Spanish-language website:
Memphis would be good because at the moment they have Pau, but at some point he could be changing teams. Miami would be good because of the team and because they speak plenty of Spanish there. And Washington is the only one who can decide and it wouldn't be bad to play there.
(Here it is in Spanish: "Memphis estaría bien porque de momento está Pau, pero en cualquier momento puede cambiar de equipo. Miami estaría bien por el equipo y porque allí se habla bastante español. Y Washington es el único que puede decidir y tampoco estaría mal jugar allí.")
In my book, if you want to be in the NBA, and one team has your rights, you either muse aloud about playing for that team, or you're kinda sorta angling for a trade.
Imagine if Nick Young, the player the Wizards just took in the first round, greeted reporters after the draft saying that he'd love to play in Memphis, or Miami, or, sure, Washington would be cool, too.
Navarro's website also has a poll in which you can vote where he should play. The Wizards are coming in third.
UPDATE: I just talked to one of Navarro's representatives, Alex Saratsis. He assures me that in his conversations with Juan Carlos Navarro, plan A is to play for Washington. "It's a perfect fit," he explains, pointing out that not too long ago Gilbert Arenas mentioned the need for more scoring off the bench, while Navarro can be the shooter to punish the double teams that crowd Arenas.
Navarro is on record again and again saying that he would love to play in Washington, a team that most likely has to do some cap maneuvering, including deciding what will happen with DeShawn Stevenson and Andray Blatche, before they can make an offer to Navarro. Saratsis adds that Navarro is asking for less than the full mid-level exception.
So what is with all the talk about Memphis, and Miami, and all those other teams? Saratsis acknowledges that playing with Pau Gasol, or being in an international city where Navarro's family would feel comfortable would both be nice, neither is paramount to the guard. He says that the talk of other cities is mainly driven by an adoring Spanish press that finds those angles to be much more compelling than any talk of going to a team, Washington, that has never been on the radar of the Spanish press.
A few days ago in the Washington Post, Ivan Carter wrote:
Grunfeld all but ruled out the possibility of Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro coming to the team next season. Navarro, who was drafted by the Wizards in 2002, is under contract with Barcelona of the Spanish Pro League and holds a prohibitive buyout option.
Well, if my Spanish is any good at all, this bit of news on the site of his Barcelona team says that Navarro has reached an accord with the squad that will let him pursue an NBA career. (It also says that his first name is "Joan" but I'm going to dismiss that as something that was lost in translation. I'm not sure the NBA is ready for a player named Joan.) Here's another report, also in Spanish. Apparently, this news has not hit the English speaking world yet.
It has been reported a million times that Navarro is both one of the best guards in Europe, and one of Pau Gasol's best friends. He's a guy who can do a lot of things with the ball in his hands, that's for sure.
UPDATE: TrueHoop reader Pere emails: "Just some background from Catalonia on Joan Carles Navarro, who's actually from my hometown of Sant Feliu de Llobregat, just 8 miles from Barcelona. His name, Joan Carles, is the Catalan translation of Juan Carlos. In English it would be John Charles." He also sends a link to another
Spanish Catalan language article saying Gasol's Grizzlies could be in the mix, although the source is unclear, at least with my language skills. Another article about Navarro and the Grizzlies.
UPDATE: Jonathan Givony at DraftExpress has been talking to sources on both sides of the Atlantic and says:
Our sources in Spain tell us that the Washington Wizards have scouted him extensively this past season, even sending Ernie Grunfeld over on more than one occasion to make contact with him. They consider him a perfect fit for their system, so it shouldn't be a surprise at all to see him end up in Washington DC.
If that can't be worked out, though, then there will surely be other suitors. The Memphis Grizzlies for one, are already looking at Navarro as the perfect companion to keep Pau Gasol happy with the direction the franchise is headed. The two are close friends and play extremely well with each other as we've all seen with the defending World Champion Spanish National Team over the years. If the Wizards opt to keep Deshawn Stevenson over Navarro (they cannot feasibly sign both) then look for Gasol to put pressure on Chris Wallace and the Memphis front office to do whatever it takes to get him in a Grizzlies uniform.
Givony adds that when Navarro's buyout is complete, Barcelona plans to spend the money it receives from Navarro to bring in recent Portland draft pick Rudy Fernandez.