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If the United States finds itself matched against France in the latter stages of the FIBA World Cup in China, Donovan Mitchell will inevitably have to deal with the formidable obstacle of Rudy Gobert on one of his drives to the bucket.
Gobert, as you can imagine, is eagerly awaiting this potential matchup within a matchup against Mitchell — and has some advice for his Utah Jazz teammate.
“Pass the ball,” Gobert said, “or shoot a really high floater.”
No surprise there. When it comes to facing Mitchell for once, as opposed to teaming with him to try to establish the Jazz as a certified member of the Western Conference elite, Gobert is as candid as ever.
As the two-time reigning N.B.A. defensive player of the year, Gobert is always going to tout himself to win a one-on-one duel at the rim — with anyone.
Yet the tone is noticeably different when the subject turns to the ongoing debate about World Cup participation, which has only been rising in volume after a slew of high-profile withdrawals by Americans. Declining an invitation to the national team, when healthy, is unthinkable to Gobert, but he acknowledged in a recent interview that it’s a subject steeped in nuance.
“You’ve got to respect everyone’s choice to come or not come,” Gobert told me from France, where he is preparing for the tournament. The French are FIBA’s third-ranked team behind the United States and Spain.
A number of top players from the United States and Canada have walked away from World Cup invitations this summer. This includes several (like Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Tobias Harris, Jamal Murray and Australia’s Ben Simmons) who received sizable N.B.A. contracts in July, seemingly securing their future.
Gobert recognizes that some of his peers “see basketball as a business” and question whether the exertions mandated by a six-week international stint that starts late in the summer and extends into mid-September “might be too much before the season.” However. …
“I see it differently,” Gobert said. “I go there to represent my country and live some different moments than you live in the N.B.A. But everyone is different, so you’ve got to respect everyone’s choice.”
We addressed the topic in our preview of the Team U.S.A. training camp and will keep saying it: For all the justifications that have been cited by various North American stars for making their services unavailable, there’s no denying the prevailing mentality among players in this part of the world about the World Cup’s comparative lack of stature to the Olympics.
U.S.A. Basketball is indeed poised to field its weakest team in two decades in this World Cup, which opens Aug. 31 in China, but it won’t be facing a true crisis until the biggest names in the game start losing interest in Olympic participation.
Finding prominent World Cup advocates in the interim, though, takes some real searching, at a time when N.B.A. teams are urging their players to maximize rest and trying to minimize travel in what has increasingly become known as the league’s Load Management Era.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of them. In faraway Greece, he announced this week that he would trade his shiny new Most Valuable Player Award trophy for a World Cup gold medal with his country.
Gobert, Utah’s 7-foot-1 center, is a kindred spirit. Like Antetokounmpo, he is eligible for a “supermax” contract extension next summer in excess of (no misprint) $250 million. Like Antetokounmpo, Gobert is playing in the World Cup anyway, unswayed by the threat of an injury in China that could jeopardize those riches.
“I’m very proud of where I’m from,” Gobert said. “The emotions I can have by playing these kinds of games — I wouldn’t say it’s worth more than money because you need money, obviously. But I think those memories and the things we can build and the pride I have is really more important than that.
“Even though we all know that there’s always a risk if I get hurt,” Gobert continued, “I don’t think I will regret it.”
He is often asked what he would rather win — an N.B.A. title in Utah or an Olympic gold with France — and said he tries to swat those questions away every time, Stifle Tower-style, because the answer is both.
Gobert also can’t forget that he shot to prominence when he was 22 at the 2014 World Cup in Spain, where France upset the host in the quarterfinals with the help of his stout defensive play. Gobert’s breakout performance in that competition led to a third-place finish in the N.B.A.’s most improved player race in 2014-15, and put him, 2013’s 27th overall draft pick, on a path to franchise player status.
Fresh off earning his second All-N.B.A. selection and a second consecutive defensive player of the year trophy last season, Gobert calls the bronze medal he won with France at the 2014 World Cup “one of the best memories of my career.”
Five years later, Gobert, at 27, is France’s most important playerand described the next two summers as “a great opportunity for us to earn the heart of the French people.” He will be joined in China by the likes of Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum, Orlando’s Evan Fournier and the former N.B.A. guard Nando de Colo, but the French are still adjusting to life with the recently retired national team stalwarts Tony Parker and Boris Diaw.
As a competitor, Gobert insisted that he wanted U.S.A. Basketball to take “as many of the guys they can have” to China — meaning as many of its marquee personalities.
As a realist, Gobert will surely not protest too much, knowing that Team U.S.A.’s severely weakened state enables France to dream —more credibly than most countries in the 32-team field — about an even bigger upset than it sprang five years ago.
“Our goal is to win it all,” Gobert said. “We know there are a lot of very good teams, but we think we have a chance.”
The first road date of the Kawhi Leonard Era in Clipperland looks like a doozy: Clippers at Warriors is tentatively scheduled as the first regular-season game at Chase Center in an @NBAonTNT broadcast Oct. 24, league sources say (Aug. 2)
Countless NBA teams have been studying treatment methods abroad for years and, with increasing frequency, importing medical experts with soccer backgrounds to join and bolster their athletic training staffs. Keeping players fit in both sports has become a near 24/7/365 endeavor (Aug. 4)
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You ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line)
If you and you alone had to arrange this season’s Christmas schedule, what would it look like? — @PAndres2001 from Twitter
The Clippers playing against the Lakers at Staples Center is a natural — no matter who is listed as the home team. So that’s the one N.B.A. choice I did like. (It doesn’t really matter to me, for the record, who is listed as the home team.)
It is nice to see Toronto back on the Christmas docket, after nearly two decades, but I would have preferred seeing the Raptors play host to Golden State rather than the Boston-at-Toronto offering we’re getting. I am a traditionalist, which means advocating for an N.B.A. finals rematch on Christmas — irrespective of how different the teams will look in December compared to what we saw in June.
Denver is playing host to New Orleans in another Christmas matchup I would revise. I like the idea of the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson playing on what many regard as the most eagerly anticipated date on the regular-season calendar, but why not against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies in a showdown of the top two picks from the June draft?
The Nuggets should also keep their place in the Christmas lineup, given Denver’s status as one of the favorites in the Western Conference, but I would line Nikola Jokic & Co. up against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s a matchup for the true fan, so please spare me the lecture about how this is the potential finals preview to haunt anyone concerned about TV ratings.
For the last slot, I need at least one matchup with some tension — in the N.B.A.’s true Christmas spirit. Houston at Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook’s first game on Thunder soil as a visitor? Kristaps Porzingis’s return to Madison Square Garden as a member of the Mavericks? Al Horford’s maiden visit to Boston as a member of the hated Philadelphia 76ers? Any of those nominees would have worked for me.
Regarding Malcolm Brogdon as a huge loss for the Bucks, as you wrote recently, I disagree. I say that the Pacers won’t even make the playoffs with Brogdon. He will really miss playing with Giannis, who commands double teams as often as anyone in the N.B.A. When I watch Brogdon, he always seems to be alone in the corner with no one even covering him because of all the attention paid to Giannis. In Indiana, Brogdon is going to show you how good — or how average — he really is. I will write to you again at playoff time — to say I told you so. — Al Vega
There isn’t much of a question in here, but this is an email enterprise. So questions (or comments) that are emailed in via the proper channels will always get priority.
Your Brogdon assessment strikes me as a bit harsh, but the Pacers undoubtedly have some questions to answer after a fair bit of off-season change. It says here, for starters, that they will miss Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young.
But a fully healed Victor Oladipo can create space and opportunity for Brogdon in different ways — primarily penetration. So I don’t share your level of concern there. The bigger question mark remains the frontcourt pairing of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.
The success of the Pacers likely hinges more on how Turner and Sabonis mesh offensively rather than what happens with Brogdon, whose arrival bolsters a backcourt that Indiana officials were looking to upgrade.
What’s your go-to item at Starbucks? — @MavsDraft from Twitter
This question is a byproduct of a weekend Twitter exchange involving a media colleague from Dallas (@SeeHend0) and a Mavericks fan (@TylerAtoms) who noticed me at a Starbucks because he saw me “rapidly texting” on three phones.
For the record: It was only two phones. I always carry my trusty BlackBerry KEY2 and an old, oversize iPhone.
Second: Since you asked, I suppose I can reveal that I have a very complicated relationship with Starbucks.
That’s because your humble newsletter curator is an unapologetic coffee snob. I always try to patronize independent coffee houses and go out of my way to avoid Starbucks unless I am in an airport — or unless I need a coffee fix after 7 p.m. (Which does happen frequently to writers.)
The only Starbucks menu offering that I am consistently happy with is their Cordusio short. Unfortunately, on the Starbucks visit in question, I was informed upon ordering that Starbucks is preparing to do away with the Cordusio completely. (It is already restricted to the seasonal menu and not easily found at the register when I ask for it.)
If this warning was true and the Cordusio is indeed an endangered species, combined with the recent revelation that Starbucks plans to stop selling newspapers as of Sept. 1, there will be no relationship I would even admit to.
On each of the last three teams U.S.A. Basketball has sent to the FIBA World Cup, at least six of the 12 players on the roster were 24 or younger. That sort of roster composition is likely to happen again when U.S.A.B. officials announce their 12-man roster for the World Cup in China later this month.
Only nine of the 29 players in U.S.A.B. training camp this week in Las Vegas are 25 or older: Harrison Barnes, Brook Lopez, Kyle Lowry, Khris Middleton, Mason Plumlee, Marcus Smart, P.J. Tucker, Kemba Walker and Thaddeus Young.
Bill Bertka, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach and scout, turns 92 on Thursday. Bertka recently received a lifetime impact award from the N.B.A. Coaches Association named in honor of Tex Winter.
Bertka’s one-game stint as the Lakers’ interim head coach in 1999 as the bridge between Del Harris and Kurt Rambis enabled Bertka, then 71, to establish himself as the oldest man to coach a game in N.B.A. history. Only three other coaches in league history have coached a game after their 70th birthday: Hubie Brown, Larry Brown and Team U.S.A.’s Gregg Popovich.
The Toronto Raptors’ inclusion as part of the league’s five-game Christmas Day broadcast lineup next season marks just the second time in franchise history that the Raptors have been scheduled to play on what is regarded by many as the marquee date on the regular-season calendar. A Toronto team led by Vince Carter lost to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 2001 in its only other Christmas Day game.
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