Tuesday, July 27, 2004
A united atmosphere abounds
By Marc Stein
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The competition is too tough, the crowds in Greece are too hostile, and there has been too much drama already just filling the roster.
Larry Brown's Olympic team doesn't need any more hurdles.
It is thus a plus that the first few days of training camp have been marked by a tangible spirit of cooperation. Everyone congregated at the University of North Florida also seems to understand that the harmony has to last for another month, because in-house tension will only make a tough job harder.
In simpler terms: Anyone expecting a renewal of supposed feuds among certain members of the squad will apparently have to revise their expectations.
"Right now, we're all representing the United States," said U.S. forward Richard Jefferson. "No one's representing the Detroit Pistons or New Jersey Nets. So I think you can put anything aside and pay attention to that."
After a team dinner and four practices, one example to back that belief comes from Jefferson himself. Any fears that he might not mesh with New York's Stephon Marbury, in the wake of some hard fouls and trash talk they exchanged in the playoffs, were quickly squelched by Jefferson. He's one of three holdovers from the Puerto Rico qualifying squad (along with Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson) who knows first-hand just how united Team USA will have to be to beat a full-strength Argentina team.
"There's probably one or two guys on this team that I battled with or threw an elbow at or beefed with during the year," Jefferson said with a smile. "But people have to understand that's just competition."
Another example was supplied by Brown, who extended an all-access pass to observe practices to Nets coach Lawrence Frank. Which suggests that there isn't much leftover residue from the playoff sniping between the teams, after Detroit's Brown -- in what was meant to be a defense of good friend Byron Scott -- likened New Jersey's hiring of the inexperienced Frank to the Nets believing "anybody can coach."
"That was over the second we shook hands after the series," Brown said Tuesday of Frank, who has been joined in the stands at workouts by Orlando coach Johnny Davis.
"Lawrence just hired John Kuester from my [Pistons] staff," Brown continued. "I always said the kid was a great coach and he's doing a great job. ... I don't think we share enough in our league, so I love to see other coaches come around."
The idea that LeBron James and Carlos Boozer might clash after Boozer's decision to sign with Utah was never founded in fact. Those two get along too well for any drama.
A more legitimate threat seemingly revolves around the trio of former Phoenix teammates: Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Marbury. There were rumblings, remember, that Stoudemire and Marion were actually quite pleased in January when the shoot-first point guard was traded to the Knicks, amid growing belief in the desert that the growth of the young dunkers was being stunted by Steph dominating the ball.
Yet if there's any leftover trouble from that breakup, you haven't been able to tell here.
"We don't have no problems," Marbury said. "That's [coming from] you guys."
Said Marion: "That's a media thing."
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki will join the German national team Wednesday to get in nearly a week of practice before his country stages a three-nation exhibition tournament that also features Italy and Team USA. Germany plays host to the Yanks next Wednesday in Cologne, and Nowitzki will then play in a few European Championship qualifying games (mostly at home) before starting life anew in Dallas without close friend Steve Nash. As with the previous two summers, the German federation is securing a six-figure insurance policy to cover Nowitzki's contract with the Mavs. ... Team USA will scrimmage Puerto Rico on Thursday behind closed doors before Saturday's official exhibition opener at Jacksonville Arena. The Yanks also have two exhibitions in Germany (the other against Italy) and road games in Belgrade (Serbia and Montenegro) and Istanbul (two in Turkey) before the Olympics start. ... Lamar Odom, on returning to L.A. with the Lakers after a tumultuous stint with the Clippers: "I have a lot of making up to do out there." ... Jefferson, when asked if his Olympic experience is a needed vacation from the tumult in New Jersey following Kenyon Martin's departure: "It's tough to block it out, but right now this is the most important thing to me. I need to be 100 percent focused on our goal at hand -- not my contract or worrying about what happened this summer." ... Brown, adding to the buried-feuds theme, on how he and U.S. co-captain Iverson get along now: "I never felt Allen didn't respect what I was trying to do when I was [in Philadelphia]. Yeah, there were days that were tough, but I never once felt he didn't understand I was trying to help him. I care about him a lot. I miss him. One of the first calls I got when we won the championship [in Detroit] was from him. My reward is seeing him here."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.