SWEET. NOW WHAT?
Don't sweat, folks. Team USA already has the 2012 games covered.
By Ric Bucher
With order finally restored to the basketball universe, the question just has to be asked: How will Team USA stay on top?
Jerry Colangelo—the architect of the squad, staff and attitude that resulted in a return to worldchampion status after an eight-year absence—isn't the least bit worried. "It will be easier the second time around," he says. "There was no system, infrastructure or continuity before. Now there is."
From the beginning, Colangelo worked from the assumption that just showing up wouldn't cut it anymore. Winning requires scouting foreign opponents, interviewing prospective players and having those players spend time together on and off the court. Contrast Team USA's sixth-place finish in the 2002 world championships, and its bronzes in the '04 Olympics and '06 worlds with an 18-0 run over the previous two summers. The lesson lives on. System? Check.
Of course, all that hard work can be undone by ill-timed roster roulette. Half of the golden squad—Melo, Chris Bosh, Kobe, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams—have already expressed interest in wearing the uni for Redeem Team II. Continuity? Check.
Outside the spotlight, Colangelo built a 15-man select squad—including Al Horford, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rodney Stuckey and LaMarcus Aldridge—that gained experience scrimmaging the '08ers. That summer schooling will bolster chances that some of those guys will be on the '10 world championship squad. Infrastructure? Check.
But the program isn't yet an assembly line of success. Inevitably, there will be holes to fill. The leadership of Jason Kidd, for one, with his 56-0 international record. Bryant may be willing to play again, but he'll be 34 with wheels that will have 16 seasons of NBA tread. And then there's LeBron: Sure, he's only 23, but he hasn't had a summer off in five years. Oh, and who is going to oversee the next squad? Neither Colangelo nor coach Mike Krzyzewski is expected to return.
Colangelo has left the door open a bit, though. "There's a tendency when you have it rolling to want to double it up," he says.
Next time, that may be more a case of just not screwing it up.
GOOD ON YA, MATE
By Tal Pinchevsky
Second-Round picks who won't crack the rotation are a dime a dozen. Except Nathan Jawai. He's one of a kind.
The man the Pacers drafted 41st in June before trading to the Raptors is the first indigenous Australian ever to make it to the NBA. Yes, Aussie Shaq, as the 6'10", 280-pounder is known, is a project, so much so that he didn't make his country's Olympic team. But he's already beaten the odds, given the sociological realities of Australian culture: Aborigines are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than other Aussies.
The 21-year-old Jawai hails from Australia's Bamaga settlement, a downtrodden native community that offered little hope. "A lot of kids get into drugs and alcohol," he says. "I had good, strict parents. I wasn't allowed out after 5 o'clock." When Jawai took up hoops, five years ago, his future changed dramatically.
After two years of training at the Australian Institute of Sport, he played in 13 games at Midland (Texas) College in the 2006-07 campaign before heading home to turn pro. By the end of last season, Jawai had won Rookie of the Year and All-Star MVP honors and become a role model for half a million indigenous people in the process. "I go to schools in remote areas to show them there is something else," he says.
But he knows he now has to walk the walk. Spurred by the Olympic snub—the roster skewed more veteran—Jawai has spent the summer training in Toronto. Word is he's a quick study with good footwork for such a raw player, but he'll have a tough time getting minutes his season in Toronto's deep frontcourt. Still, Jawai already has something Chris Bosh doesn't: a 500,000-person fan club.
CHAOS IN OKC
By Molly Knight
On July 2, clay bennett got the long-awaited green light to move the Sonics. It ended months of uncertainty in Seattle, but it also unleashed a frantic 119-day sprint to opening nightin Oklahoma City. Problem is, the team has been running in place ever since. With time ticking away, a starting five of issues has the new team playing from behind.
1. The OKC TBAs.
We're only two months away from tip-off, and the team still doesn't have a nickname, mascot or logo. So much for brand identity. Club spokesman Dan Mahoney won't confirm the rumored pick, Thunder, but he does expect an announcement by early September. That's cutting it close. The six-week gap between the decision and opening night is unprecedented. The Bobcats, the last team to unveil a name, made the call 15 months out.
2. Who needs one?
Everyone. The good news is that within a month of the official word of the move, more than 18,000 fans had signed up for season tickets. Not all of those will be for full-season plans, but it's still likely to be too many requests, as a healthy number of the Ford Center's 19,599 seats need to be open to single-game buyers. (Those aren't available yet, either, by the way.) A computerized lottery system set up to pick the lucky winners has just gotten underway, and soon after Labor Day, 25 (superhuman) sales reps will begin to give individual arena tours to the thousands of prospective season ticket clients who will need to select their seats.
3. Let's play … any.
The abrupt migration has completely screwed up the preseason schedule. The Blazers, for one, backed out of games with the team now that it is no longer in Seattle. In the end, OKC will host only one contest. Instead, it will hit the road to hot spots like Billings, Mont. (to face the Wolves), and Tulsa, Okla. (actually, a Rockets home game). Add three back-to-back sets (including four games in five days) and more than a week without a game. As Mahoney says, "It's not ideal." You think?
4. Can't get there from there.
Only 20% of the franchise's employees made the move from Seattle, so there are only about 50 people on the ground trying to manage the relocation. Nearly every division of the organization has staffing holes to fill. Maybe that's for the best, because with the arena not yet ready, the club is renting office space, anyway. As for the players, a few have looked at houses, but most will stay in hotels during training camp, waiting until October to hunt for real estate.
5. A new coat of paint.
The Ford Center, a minor league facility, is undergoing a major league, taxpayerapproved, $120 million renovation. Priorities include rigging the building with cable-TV cameras and wires, laying down a new court and sprucing up the locker rooms with new carpet, better lighting and locks for the players' cubbies, says arena GM Gary Desjardins. (At least the showerheads have already been raised. That was done when the Hornets rented the place in 2005-06.) Desjardins' men can't even start to paint the inside of the building yet, because the team hasn't chosen its colors.
"We've been down this road before, with the Hornets after Katrina," says Desjardins. "The sense of urgency feels the same."
This time, though, the disaster isn't a natural one.
By Ric Bucher
The Celtics have done it again. They've acquired a 6'9" forward who is almost sure to cause a change in the collective-bargaining agreement. If Darius Miles makes their roster six months after accepting a medical retirement from the Blazers, David Stern isn't likely to see a courageous comeback. He'll see a ruse that allowed Miles, following microfracture surgery, to get paid in full ($18M for two seasons) by a team that no longer wanted him, which, in turn, created an opportunity for him to go elsewhere. If Miles, 26, has his way, who knows what other medical-retirement manipulation awaits? "I'm sure it will be addressed," says a union source. The CBA expires in 2011.
Oddly, it was a similar player squeeze that inspired free agency rules—you know, Bird rights—that kept Larry Legend in Boston. But that's not the only reason this is on the union's radar. It wants to know why the league sent a memo one day after Miles had his first team workout in July to every team that said if he returned Miles would be facing a 10-game suspension (for using a weight-loss product with a banned substance). The timing of the memo, the union says, suggests the NBA was trying to keep Miles from using his injury to gain free agency. Pretty slick move for a guy with a bum knee.