All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has withdrawn from Team USA and FIBA World Cup play, according to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 23, 2019
Lillard, who averaged 25.8 points and 6.9 assists last season, joins a growing number of players who, either for personal reasons or to focus on the rapidly approaching NBA season, have decided not to participate this summer with USA Basketball.
With Lillard’s withdraw, the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and the Knicks’ Julius Randle have been added to the training camp roster for World Cup, Shams Charania reports.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown and New York’s Julius Randle have been added onto USA Basketball’s training camp roster for World Cup, league sources told @TheAthleticNBA@Stadium. Team USA assembling young, talented squad comparable to 2010 gold medal team.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 23, 2019
During the previous week or so, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum reportedly decided not to compete in the World Cup this year.
Although the guard ranks will be somewhat depleted of NBA superstars, Team USA continues to have a deep pool of players available.
Sources — NBA to approve plan for 22-team return with eight regular-season games
The NBA’s board of governors has a 12:30 p.m. ET call on Thursday with the intention of approving the league’s plan for a 22-team return in Orlando, Florida, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.
Each of the 22 teams will play eight regular-season games in Orlando for seeding purposes for the playoffs, sources told ESPN.
Joining the 16 current playoff teams will be the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs in the West and the Washington Wizards in the East, sources told ESPN.
If the No. 9 seed is more than four games behind, the No. 8 seed will make the conference playoffs. If the No. 9 seed is less than four games back, there will be a play-in tournament, sources told ESPN.
The return would begin July 31 under the proposal, and a last possible date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be Oct. 12, sources told ESPN on Tuesday.
The expectation is that the NBA draft and the opening of free agency would follow in sequential order in October, sources said.
The NBA’s board of governors requires a three-fourths passage of the 30 teams on a plan, but there is an expectation among owners that they will fall into line and overwhelmingly approve the commissioner’s recommendation, sources said.
Pete Carroll, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich praise Colin Kaepernick for taking stand against police brutality
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said “we owe a tremendous amount” to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a stand against police brutality and racial oppression in 2016.
“I think that there was a moment in time that a young man captured. He took a stand on something, figuratively took a knee, but he stood up for something he believed in — and what an extraordinary moment it was that he was willing to take,” Carroll said while speaking on The Ringer’s Flying Coach podcast with Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday.
“… But what happened from the process is it elevated awareness from people that just took everything away from what the statement was all about and it just got tugged and pulled and ripped apart.
“And the whole mission of what the statement was, such a beautiful … it’s still the statement that we’re making right today. We’re not protecting our people. We’re not looking after one another. We’re not making the right choices. We’re not following the right process to bring people to justice when actions are taken. So I think it was a big sacrifice in the sense that a young man makes, but those are the courageous moments that some guys take.
“And we owe a tremendous amount to him for sure.”
The topic of Kaepernick’s decision came up on the podcast when Carroll was asked about how it relates to recent events, including the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, a black man, was killed last week in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin and the three other officers on the scene were fired, and Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Kaepernick’s decision to protest during the anthem — and his inability to get back into the NFL after the 2016 season — came back to the forefront because of Floyd’s death, as well as a piece on CNN.com by former NFL executive Joe Lockhart in which he urged a team, specifically the Minnesota Vikings, to sign the quarterback whom many had believed was “bad for business.”
“To me, it’s really hard to look at what’s going on right now with all the violence and the protests and not look back to four years ago and say, ‘Look, this guy [Kaepernick] was trying to peacefully protest and nothing came of it,” Kerr said. “The killings went on and nothing changed and he was actually ridiculed so it’s a real tough one to think about.”
The Seahawks were linked to Kaepernick two years ago, when they discussed hosting the free-agent quarterback for a preseason workout. But the April visit was called off after Kaepernick declined to inform the Seahawks whether he planned to stop kneeling for the anthem, according to ESPN and multiple reports.
Sources told ESPN at the time that Kaepernick was unwilling to give any assurances to the Seahawks, who wanted to know that he would not kneel before games during the 2018 season. Carroll publicly acknowledged the Seahawks’ interest in Kaepernick but told reporters in April 2018 that reports of what happened with the intended workout were “blown up.”
Kaepernick likely would have competed for a backup role behind Russell Wilson with the Seahawks, who also had quarterbacks Stephen Morris and Austin Davis on their roster at the time of the planned workout.
Kaepernick’s decision was just one portion of an hour-long podcast in which the trio of accomplished white coaches said they all feel a responsibility to do more, both in terms of how they communicate different messages, and how they carry out those messages to their teams and the people around them.
“I think probably the thing that has to be done before anything is an understanding and an awareness that there needs to be a reconciliation, an admission of guilt,” Kerr said while discussing “a refusal to reconcile our sins of our past” as it pertains to slavery in America.
“I don’t think it should be — this is not a message of, ‘Hey all you white people, you should feel guilty; this is your fault.’ That’s not the point. But this is the way our country is, it’s our responsibility to admit that this is what’s going on in our country and let’s look at our past and let’s truly examine our past.”
Said Carroll: “We have to go beyond and act and take the action and it’s going to be a challenge for people. I feel frustrated I’m not doing enough. I’m not on it enough. I can’t get active enough to create the change. I think we need to make progress, not just change.”
Carroll said he has continued to discuss recent events with his own team during Zoom meetings.
Popovich, who has been highly critical of President Donald Trump and the way he’s handled a variety of issues, admitted he’s struggled to explain the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death to his own granddaughter.
“I was in a TV room the other day with my 8-year-old granddaughter and I was watching the news; she happened to walk in,” Popovich said. “And it was the exact time when they were replaying the policeman with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. And I didn’t realize she was there and I turned for whatever reason, I saw her standing there and she was just staring and she said, ‘Poppy, why does that man have his knee on that man’s neck?’ What is he doing?’
“And I was dumbfounded, I turned [the TV] off. And then I thought, ‘Should I have left it on and explained it to her? Or how do I explain it to her now that I have turned it off?’ I made some feeble attempt but I didn’t know how far to go, how deep to go. What age is it? Is she ready or not ready?
Then I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a problem for me.’ And then I thought, ‘What about a black family?’ You think they have a problem talking to their kids and figuring out what’s going on here? So it’s so convoluted and complicated that … everything sort of fades away if we don’t have that initial admission, that sorrowful recognition of what went on in the past and what has continued.”
Kerr, who has also been critical of Trump, was recently named to a committee on racial injustice and reform through the National Basketball Coaches Association alongside Popovich, and several other current and former coaches, in hopes the group can “pursue solutions within NBA cities” as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted earlier this week.
Both Kerr and Popovich reiterated they believe this group of current players are more prepared than ever to tackle larger societal issues and use their platforms for good.
“I think the players that we coach now, I think that they become a little bit more worldly sooner than in the past because so much has gone on,” Popovich said. “Our country has seen so much. And the Internet, social media, they’re so well connected. Often times players tell me what’s going on in the world and I go check it out because that’s the world that we have. In the past, everything was a little bit more insular. You just had your group, your family, your team, your coaching staff. But it wasn’t interconnected the way it is now. … I think they’re less prone to just accept things the way they are.”
Popovich noted many players in all professional sports leagues are “ready, willing and able” to make a difference in their respective communities “and try to make a stop to all the craziness that we see, and to really focus on helping, those places, those people, that have less than the rest of us.”
“[They’re] much more committed and much more ready to speak out,” Popovich said. “But it’s got to stay persistent or it’s just going to fade away.”
How international NBA players have stayed connected to home
THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION knew it needed to step in and help.
As the NBA has become more international in recent decades, its ranks have grown in kind. About a quarter of players on opening night rosters — 108 of 450 — hail from 38 countries and territories other than the United States. Many of those countries, such as Spain and France, were ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic well before it slammed the United States, where the death toll surpassed 100,000 on May 27.
Many of these players first experienced COVID-19 as it affected friends and family in their home countries before it spread in the U.S. For the NBPA’s chief international relations and marketing officer, Matteo Zuretti, long phone calls, text messages and emails presented a specific picture of angst, fear and stress. “When your loved ones are in danger or they’re going through a tough moment,” Zuretti said, “every mile that separates you from them is multiplied.”
In mid-May, after the NBA suspended its season, officials at the NBPA organized a Zoom call with players. They sought to focus on mental health — to listen to concerns and provide resources — and wanted to interact with a specific group that they found was experiencing the pandemic in a different way.
The session was led by Dr. William D. Parham, the NBPA’s director of mental health and wellness, and former NBA guard Keyon Dooling, the director of the NBPA’s mental health and wellness program.
“[Letting them know] that they have support of the brotherhood is very important,” Dooling said.
About 30 international players dialed in from cities around the U.S., sharing concerns about loved ones thousands of miles away and about when and how they might be able to see them again. They asked about their ability to leave the country and come back, about their family members’ ability to leave and come back, and whether family members would be able to join a “bubble” environment if the NBA season resumes.
The call, originally scheduled for an hour, went for more than 90 minutes. For as many different languages and backgrounds as the players shared and for as much as they’ve been in isolation in recent months, they found common ground. “They discovered that everybody is in the same storm,” Zuretti said.
These conversations struck a chord for Zuretti, particularly his personal communications with San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Nicolo Melli and Oklahoma City Thunder wing Danilo Gallinari. They are the NBA’s three active Italian players, and Zuretti too hails from Italy, specifically Rome, where his family members still live.
“I’m walking in their shoes,” he said, “so I know how it feels.”
AT FIRST, BELINELLI didn’t think COVID-19 would be that bad. Maybe just a fever — that’s it. But then he talked to his father, Daniele, who worked as a doctor for 42 years.
From Italy, his father offered a simple warning: “Be careful.”
By mid-February, during the NBA All-Star break, Belinelli vacationed with Gallinari in Turks and Caicos, near the Bahamas, and the shadow of Italy’s intensifying battle with the virus loomed over them. On Feb. 22, Belinelli tweeted an article about the virus. His parents were going to visit him in San Antonio, but they decided against it for safety reasons.
Belinelli, along with his countrymates Gallinari and Melli, sought insight from back home to grasp a better understanding of what was happening. Melli sent a flurry of texts to a friend serving as an emergency responder in his Italian hometown. During breaks between long shifts, the friend texted back grisly details.
“It was so bad that their army had to come out and pick up the corpses, the bodies, from the hospital,” Melli said. “And they cannot have a funeral. Family cannot be there. They cannot give the last hug, the last kiss. They cannot see each other in the eyes.
“They die alone, suffering.”
Belinelli started self-isolating, making only vital trips outside. On trips to a San Antonio grocery store, he would see shoppers who weren’t wearing masks or gloves, standing right next to one another. He’d wonder, Why weren’t people taking this virus seriously? While social distancing in New Orleans, Melli and his wife would stop at a nearby park for fresh air before heading out for groceries, and they’d see it packed with locals. For all their frustration, both players knew that the situation was far more real to them because of where they are from.
Melli shared details with Pelicans staffers. He told them that the league was going to shut down and that the coronavirus was far more serious than any of them knew.
“Guys,” one Pelicans staffer recalled Melli saying, “you have no idea what’s coming.”
When the March 11 game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz was suddenly delayed and the players were rushed back to their locker rooms, Gallinari feared the worst. Sitting by his locker, he began texting with Zuretti, relaying concerns that someone had tested positive. “He just knew,” Zuretti said.
The three players leaned on one another in a text thread that added links throughout each difficult day. They shared experiences, news and concerns about what was happening half a world away and, soon, in the American cities outside their doors. They asked questions about whether to return to Italy or stay put and, if they did stay, whether to stay in their respective cities or move elsewhere. They discussed ways to help, and all three eventually made charitable donations.
“It’s a crazy situation,” Belinelli said, “but we will be stronger.”
Although they forged different paths to the league, the trio of Italians have known one another for years and have played on national teams together. They all hail from Northern Italy, home of the first reported cases in the country and the first region to lock down on March 8. In their respective American cities, Melli, Belinelli and Gallinari offered warnings after hearing eye-witness accounts from Italy.
They became harbingers, sharing in the awful knowledge of what swept through Italy and what could happen in America.
AS ZURETTI LISTENED to players and watched the coronavirus spread both in Italy and in his home city of New York, a consistent theme emerged, one that was understood even if not explicitly stated: the distance.
It magnified and underscored every issue at a time when players were isolated and, for the time, could do little else but wait.
“This lack of certainty — and their inability to go and do what they’ve been doing for the last 10, 15, 20 years, every day — it has created a big hole,” Zuretti said. “There’s an empty space there. And the fact that some of them cannot even fill that space with the people they love, with the support from the people [they’re] closer with, it has been having a big impact on their experience during this pandemic, 100 percent.”
That experience is one that all players — American and international — are grappling with. “Some people might be on the West Coast,” Dooling said. “Their family might be in the South that’s being hit hard. Everybody’s experience is unique to them.
“[But] it hit our international players more because you’ve got bodies of sea separating them from their people and families. It’s definitely been stressful for them. What we try to do is support them through these kinds of experiences so they know they’re not alone.”
As NBA practice facilities reopen across the U.S. for individual workouts, Zuretti said basketball has proven to be a welcome reprieve for players. “It’s a way to exercise their superpower,” he said.
There’s an increased likelihood of NBA games resuming in July, likely in Orlando, Florida, though issues and logistics must still be worked out. On May 22, the Department of Homeland Security announced an order that “exempts certain foreign professional athletes who compete in professional sporting events organized by certain leagues, including their essential staff and their dependents, from proclamations barring their entry into the U.S.” Several leagues were covered by this exemption, including the NBA.
In the meantime, technology allows those who remain a world away from their families to stay connected. They can hear their voices over the phone and see their faces on virtual sessions. And while basketball remains on hold and circumstances keep them separated from family half a world away, Melli, Belinelli and Gallinari keep their text chain active.
“In this struggle,” Melli said, “the virus brought us closer.”
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