Overshadowed by the NBA lockout season and the injury-plagued postseason, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo continues to deal with adversity in his quest to build the most competitive roster for this summer’s London Olympics.
Players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade will get little rest following their NBA seasons before jumping over to Las Vegas for USA Basketball camp. Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, and Chauncey Billups will not be joining them because of injuries.
Colangelo put together a 20-player pool from which to pick the 12-man roster and was reluctant to dip further into interested talent until Rose went down during the first round of the playoffs with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. Colangelo added Oklahoma City guard James Harden and University of Kentucky center Anthony Davis, hoping the tryout process could continue without problems.
“A big part of it is a trust factor,’’ Colangelo said. “Our players have been around us now since 2006 and they know that they are not going to be overworked. They know we are very conscious of their physical well-being. For those players whose seasons may not end until June 26, that’s going to impact how much we work them, if at all, early in camp.’’
Colangelo joined USA Basketball in 2005 after the debacle in Athens, where a crew of NBA All-Stars finished third - the first time since professionals were allowed to participate in the Olympics in 1992 that the US did not win the gold medal.
Seeking to reorganize the system, Colangelo went with players who would make long-term commitments to playing instead of guys simply trying to add a gold medal to their résumés. Colangelo wanted commitments from players in non-Olympic years and also formed a select team of younger hopefuls that would practice against Team USA and eventually be promoted to the top team.
The system has worked to perfection so far, with the US winning the gold in Beijing four years ago and at the World Championships in Turkey in 2010.
“I looked at some successful programs internationally,’’ said Colangelo. “Usually they look at us. But I wanted to find out more about Argentina and Spain, Brazil, Lithuania.
“A lot of the international programs have been successful. They have continuity. They have players who have been together for a long time, grown up together.
“And I made some promises to the players that if they did everything they were asked to do, it would be one of the most enjoyable experiences of their lives, and to a man, they said it was.’’
That 2004 breakdown changed the culture of US Olympic basketball. Team USA went 5-3 in Athens, with an inexcusable opening loss to Puerto Rico and a loss to eventual gold medalist Argentina in the semifinals.
While the team was loaded with talent - including Wade, James, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire - it was seen as far too inexperienced in international play. Also, with Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury as senior members, there was a perceived lack of leadership.
“Athens was a real debacle,’’ Colangelo said. “That wasn’t just a bronze medal. It was a lot more than that. How they looked, how they acted on and off the court. It wasn’t the kind of representation from your country that people wanted.
“And that upset a lot of people, which led to me being asked to take over. It was a wonderful challenge, an opportunity to have a vision and a game plan and get the desired result. It doesn’t get much better than that.’’
The “Redeem Team’’ responded with a sweep through the Beijing Olympics, winning all eight games, including a thrilling 118-107 gold-medal victory over Pau Gasol and Spain. The team, which featured the Miami Big Three along with Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Anthony, and Howard, carried out Colangelo’s vision to perfection, and all except Howard will return for London.
While the player roster appears stable, coach Mike Krzyzewski said this will be his last Olympics. Colangelo did not want to discuss potential candidates to replace him, saying he would begin the search following the London Games. But Colangelo had nothing but compliments for Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who could emerge as a top candidate if interested.
“Let me just say this about Doc,’’ said Colangelo. “He’s another Chicago guy, just like me. I’ve always respected him a great deal, as a player in college and in the pros. I think he’s an outstanding coach, he’s a great leader, and in any circumstance, whenever there’s a coaching job open, regardless of what it might be, Doc Rivers has to be a leading candidate himself because of what he stands for.’’
CHANGING IT UP
Magic make two disappear
So the Magic finally disposed of coach Stan Van Gundy and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith, two moves that were expected after this disastrous season. But there is still one 6-foot-11-inch behemoth of an issue that remains: Dwight Howard, who has one year left on his contract.
Howard’s presence for the long term would certainly attract better coaching candidates, but he and the Magic appear no closer to a resolution. Howard is coming off surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back and has told those close to him that he wants to explore free agency. It would be best for the Magic to deal Howard the moment he appears healthy and start anew with draft picks, but they appear intent on trying to retain him.
“We’ve been in discussions with him and his representatives about his future with us,’’ said Magic CEO Alex Martins. “But I think the decision is up to Dwight now. I think Dwight needs to decide where his future lies. It’s been well-documented what our desires are.’’
It wasn’t that Martins blamed Van Gundy for his decaying relationship with Howard, but he came very close. He said the team may not find a better on-court coach but “there are other parts of the job in terms of relationships, how you go about those relationships, relating to players, relating to everyone.
“So, strategically, we may not be able to find anyone better, but there’s another part of the job that, I do think as we look for a head coach, we’ll be focused on - how the coach related to his players and other coaches and others in the organization.’’
The Magic said they will try to hire a general manager before the draft and that it will not be Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal has said he wants to work with a team but not in a GM role, according to those close to him. O’Neal, who simply wants to talk to the Magic about the future of the franchise, released a statement saying he is comfortable with his role at TNT.
CROSSING THE BAY
Owners’ hearts always in S.F.
It didn’t take long for Warriors owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob (a former Celtics minority owner) to decide to move to San Francisco - a year after purchasing the team. Guber and Lacob said in their initial news conference that they planned to incorporate San Francisco more into team events, a strong indication that they were wooing the city.
The Warriors moved from San Francisco in 1971 and have been Oakland’s team, so much so that the previous ownership group fought off overtures from San Jose to remain there, and the city responded by renovating the antiquated Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena (now Oracle Arena), making it competitive with most NBA venues.
The city of San Francisco appeared ambivalent about the NBA. Now, Mayor Ed Lee said a new arena will be constructed by 2017, leaving Oakland a lame-duck city for the next four years, something it doesn’t deserve.
Oakland has done nothing but support the team, but San Francisco is, of course, the sexier and more cosmopolitan city. The new owners should profit greatly from the move because of the marketing and corporate support that doesn’t exist in Oakland, but hopefully they can find a way to make this transition less painful for their Oakland fans. Lacob said the group looked at several potential arena sites, including ones in Oakland. The downtown has blossomed over the past few years, but the city never appeared to be a serious candidate for retaining the team.
“We’re very appreciative to the home that we’ve had the last 40 years or so,’’ Lacob said. “But what people don’t understand is that in fact our fan base is 50-50 - we don’t release this information all the time - but 50 percent in the West Bay [San Francisco] and 50 percent in the East Bay.
“That’s a fact. I know a lot of people think it’s all East Bay-focused. No matter where we were going to put this facility, someone was going to complain.’’
That claim may be challenged by some, but the NBA is fully supportive of the Warriors’ move back to San Francisco. With so many teams struggling financially, commissioner David Stern approved the move into a top 10 market.
“We’re here,’’ Guber said. “We’re not moving to New Jersey.’’
Lacob promised that they would upgrade Oracle Arena over the next five years to appease the Oakland fan base, but like the Nets relocating to Brooklyn from Newark, it is difficult to satisfy a lame duck.
Miller knows Allen’s pain
Reggie Miller can truly relate to the issues Ray Allen is going through. The Celtics guard has been slowed by bone spurs in his right ankle that have affected his shooting and defense.
Allen, who missed 11 games nursing the injury, was 9 for 25 from the field from Games 3 through 6 of the Philadelphia series and labored at times. Allen turns 37 July 20, and Miller played until he was 39. In his final NBA season, Miller averaged 14.8 points but shot just 32.2 percent from the 3-point line.
“I can understand what Ray is going through because I had bone spurs towards the end of my career,’’ Miller said. “One day you’ll wake up and feel fine, go to practice and everything will feel good. The next day, you’ll feel like you can’t walk two or three steps.
“It’s the inconsistency with how he’s feeling with his health that’s the big [problem]. The hardest thing is his movements on the defensive end.’’
Allen has had to curtail his pregame regimen to preserve the ankle, and that is likely affecting his shooting because of the lack of repetitions.
TNT analyst Steve Kerr believes Allen’s issues are also mental.
“Routine is so important when you’re a shooter,’’ he said. “When you’re injured and you can’t put in all the work you’re used to, it affects your rhythm and your mind a little bit. You start to think about not getting the usual work in, and if you miss a few shots, it can get into your head a little bit.’’
A player the Celtics should consider in the second round of the draft is New Mexico forward Drew Gordon, a 6-foot 8-inch freakishly athletic and rugged player who finished his collegiate career in sparkling fashion after a rough start at UCLA. The Celtics are planning to work out Gordon next week and could take him with the 51st pick, if he is available. Gordon may slip because of a Sports Illustrated story that described his attitude as surly during his two years at UCLA. Gordon appeared to clean up his image at New Mexico. His sister, by the way, is a junior playing at Harvard.
The Bucks could be close to removing coach Scott Skiles, who has one year left on his contract and apparently hasn’t wowed fans in Wisconsin. The Bucks were once considered a team on the rise, but with a slew of injuries, a lack of development, and the trade of Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee is a team in limbo. General manager John Hammond also said re-signing Brandon Jennings to a long-term deal is not a high priority, clouding the point guard’s future with the team . . . The Trail Blazers are still looking for a GM, and don’t be surprised if they make a run at Danny Ainge in the coming weeks. Ainge is happy in Boston, but the Blazers are trying to make a big splash with their next hire after flaming out with Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho. Portland also needs to make a decision on interim coach Kaleb Canales, who replaced the fired Nate McMillan. With Greg Oden and Brandon Roy no longer in the picture, the future of the Blazers is not as bright as it was a few years ago . . . There is little talk about the coaching situation in Washington, where Randy Wittman appears to be safe for next season. The Wizards have a 19 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the June 28 draft. Getting it would mean bringing potential franchise center Anthony Davis to Washington to join fellow former Kentucky standout John Wall. Wittman took over for Flip Saunders and led the Wizards to wins in their final six games. The Wizards also moved troublesome center JaVale McGee and guard Nick Young. They may try to move forward Andray Blatche, who was benched the final 22 games because of a lack of conditioning. Blatche has three years and $23.3 million left on his contract.