Archive for August 13th, 2012
The Argentinean’s were hoping to add another medal to their men’s basketball Olympic Collection. After all, the Spaniards had ended up in the podium in the previous two summer Olympic games and now they had a chance to knock off the Russians, a team who had never won a medal in basketball. Let’s not forget that Argentina won gold in Athens 2004, then followed that up with a bronze medal in Beijing 2008. So when the Argentineans managed to close down on an 11-point first half deficit, and took a two-point lead when there were only 1:45 left to play in the fourth quarter, it seemed as if once again they were going to return to Buenos Aires with a medal. But in the final minute of play, everything went terrible wrong for the South Americans and with a solid three pointer from Alexei Shved, they took the lead for good and never looked back as the Russians took a 81-77 win over Argentina to win their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball.
Alexei Shved guided the Russians with 25 points, including 14 in the decisive fourth quarter, Andrei Kirilenko added 20 points, Vitaliy Fridzon 19 for a team that has certainly taken a huge step into becoming a strong name in the international circuit. Just to put how good this win is, and how much it means for this Russian team to return home with a medal, consider for a moment that four years ago, in Beijing, the Russians finished 9th, and now, four years ago and relying on a young and talented squad, they managed to win bronze. So it becomes easy to understand why a player like Andrei Kirilenko would go on to say “Feels like gold for us,” in the postgame press conference. Considering what a huge improvement they’ve made in the last years and how solid they played during the Olympic tournament, one could go on and say that they really deserved the win.
The Argentinean veteran Manu Ginobili scored 21 points for his team while the lesser-known Andres Nocioni chipped in with 16 for Argentina. They certainly didn’t took the loss too gracefully. As the final seconds ticked off Argentina’s players swarmed referees Bill Kennedy, Jose Carrion and Juan Arteaga in protest. The starters and a couple of the bench players came around Kennedy and the other officials, screaming and demanding answers for what they considered had been an uncalled foul in the last 5 seconds of play. Ginobili, Nocioni and Scola all complained to no.
But it was Pablo Prigioni, the player who just signed with the New York Knicks this summer, who got a little too out of control and sent the substitution clock flying to the floor when he violently kicked it away from the referees table. Not certainly his finest hour, but heck, on the one side, even though his sportsmanship might not be at his finest, he’s certainly a passionate player, and sometimes that’s just as important. Overall, it wasn’t a nice thing to see, and the Argentineans recognized that it just wasn’t worth it. Argentina had lost the game a couple of plays before the final buzzer.
Twenty years later, Team USA, wins yet another gold medal in men’s basketball. The comparisons are again too hard to make. There are too many compromises, too many anachronisms that have to be made in order to even think for a moment whether the current lineup of the Dream Team is as good as that of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics. We’ve been over this once and again, and the truth is that as brilliant as Micheal Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were two decades ago, truth is that they never really faced a challenge as the one the Spaniards gave Team USA for the Olympic Gold.
At the beginning of the tournament LeBron James said that the team didn’t want this to be an easy tournament. He said that this was a group of very competitive men who needed to have a real challenge. Well, for a moment there it seemed as if Spain was going to give James and the rest of the 2012 Dream Team way more than they have bargained for. Here is the thing; team USA had been so dominant throughout this tournament that anything but the gold would be an utter failure. And yet, somehow, no one, not even the Spaniards thought this one would be that close. After three quarters of phenomenal basketball the Team USA only held a 1-point lead against the Gasol brothers and what was starting to look as the Spanish Armada. It was an intense, go back-and-forth battle in which neither team seemed to be able to break lose.
At the end, and with a big help from Kevin Durant who guided the Americans efforts with 30-points, the U.S. team was able to break lose in the final minutes to ultimately take a 107-100 victory to defend the gold medal they won 4 years ago in Beijing and repeat the feat in the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Just like it happen four years ago, the Americans had to battle for this one. In Beijing, the Spaniards had a close fight, but eventually folded and took a 118-107 beating. This time around, the game was much more closer than anyone had really expected. LeBron James had to bring out his big guns to make this one happen and he finished the game with 19-points. As a matter of fact, he joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win the NBA title, regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP and Olympic gold in the same year.
“It was a good year. It was a great year for me as an individual,” James said in the postgame press conference. “But this right here, it means more than myself, it means more than my name on my back. It means everything to the name on the front. I’m happy that I was able to contribute to this great team. It’s one of the best teams ever.” Overall this was sort of a closing moment for a few of these players. Kobe Bryant, on the one hand, knew well that this was his last chance at Olympic Gold and he finished off the night with 17 points. He needed a solid perfomance to win his second Olympic Gold medal, a little something extra to add to his 5 NBA Championships.
It took four teams, 11 other players, five draft picks and countless rounds of talks over many months, but the Lakers have finally got their big man: Dwight Howard was officially introduced as member of the LA Lakers. This certainly marks an end to what had been a very long and spiny relationship between the Orlando Magic and the best center in the NBA. The Orlando Magic have been working really hard on making big changes and a they will now face this season without their All-Star center and their previous head coach. It might take a while before the Magic becomes a serious threat to the dominance that the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics or the New York Knicks have had in the East Coast, but on the long haul this might be a good move for everyone. Particularly for the LA Lakers, who have certainly uplifted their rooster for this upcoming season.
As of press time, it is still uncertain what the details of Howard contract with the Lakers look like. For a very long time one of the main reasons why the Lakers and other teams who wanted to bring Howard with them was the players reluctance to sign a long-term contract. Over and over again Howard had insisted that he would only stay around for good if he ended up with the Brooklyn Nets. But it was evident that the Nets door closed a little too early and it was now a matter of time before the Lakers and the Magic figure out a way to make the transfer work. Now, let’s go ahead and give it a try.
This is sort of the blueprint of how this 11-player transaction played out. For starters, the Lakers youngster Andrew Bynum was sent by the Lakers to the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers sent Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. Orlando got guard Arron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington from Denver and forward Moe Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia and forward Josh McRoberts and guard Christian Eyenga from the Lakers. Now, evidently the Lakers got Dwight Howard, but in order to get things rolling they will also get guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark from Orlando. Finally the Orlando Magic traded guard Jason Richardson to Philadelphia.
Now, that’s it in terms of players, but the transactions also included several other perks for the Orlando Magic. They will get a second-round draft pick from Denver next year, a first-round pick from either Denver or New York in 2014, a conditional first-round pick from Philadelphia and a conditional second-round pick from the Lakers in 2015, and a conditional first-round pick from the Lakers in 2017. Orlando also will have a $17.8 million trade exception to use over the next year. That should be enough to clear them plenty of space in the salary cap.
The big question is still whether Howards will sign a long term contract with the Lakers. “Right now, it’s about today and I’m here with the Lakers and that’s the only thing that matters,” Howard said in the press conference. “Whatever happens a year from now we’ll wait until that time. Right now, it’s all about the Lakers and me starting fresh. I’m happy to be here and that’s the only thing that matters now.”