Gregg Popovich

AP

Gregg Popovich: It’s arrogant to blame U.S. for not winning gold

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Head coach Gregg Popovich called it arrogant and immature for people to blame the U.S. for not winning the FIBA World Cup, speaking after the Americans won their last consolation game to finish seventh overall — their worst international tournament result ever.

“Some people want to play the blame game,” Popovich said. “There’s no blame to be placed anywhere … like we should be ashamed because we didn’t win a gold medal? That’s a ridiculous attitude. It’s immature. It’s arrogant, and it shows that whoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world.”

The U.S. wrapped up play by beating Poland 87-74 after losing to France in the quarterfinals and Serbia in its first consolation game. Argentina and Spain play for the championship Sunday.

“It’s not written in stone that the United States is supposed to walk to a championship,” said Popovich, whose team with no NBA superstars lost three times total in the last month, ending a 13-year win streak for U.S. rosters with NBA players. “That’s pretty old-school thinking. Even the teams that have won in the past had a lot of close calls against several teams. It’s never been a cake walk. It’s not like the Dream Team.

“I’m not sure what satisfaction there is in beating everybody by 30, as in the past, way back. I don’t see the joy or the glory or the satisfaction in any of that.”

Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs coach who succeeded Mike Krzyzewski at the helm of Team USA after five straight Olympic or world titles, said he didn’t fault any of the dozens of NBA stars who withdrew from World Cup roster consideration this spring and summer.

“Everybody’s got a life,” he said. “This group, as I said, I couldn’t have been happier with any other group.”

The group included two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton) and one player with Olympic experience (Harrison Barnes). It’s possible the Tokyo Olympic roster could be 12 different players.

“What does USA Basketball have to do?” Popovich said. “Keep going. We coach, and they play, and we do our best. That’s what USA Basketball does. It’s not like something has to be changed.

“Some of these guys [from other countries] have played together, running the same stuff for eight, nine, 10 years. … This [U.S.] group would just continue to improve, without a doubt. I think it’s hard to argue with having just gotten together and never having played with each other before. They came a long way.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report from China.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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U.S. men’s basketball team hopes to find form Friday vs. Spain

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If the Basketball World Cup were held tomorrow, U.S. fans would have ample reason to worry.

On Wednesday, the squad battling for World Cup roster spots lost decisively to a group of journeymen, several of whom play in the G-League.

Video of the game (the U.S. team is in white; “USA Select” is in blue) won’t inspire confidence in the national team, which looks sluggish and sloppy while the unheralded group facing them scores easily.

Make no mistake — the U.S. team is still heavily favored in the World Cup, which starts Aug. 31 in China. Gregg Popovich‘s team has been drawn into a group with Turkey, the Czech Republic and Japan. A blogger on the official FIBA site puts the U.S. solidly atop the power rankings. The U.S. team has won all 18 games in the past two World Cups in 2010 and 2014.

But the roster has been considerably weakened. This team doesn’t have the game’s biggest stars — James Harden, Paul George, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Damien Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James.

The only All-NBA player on the U.S. team’s current 15-man roster is Kemba Walker, who made the third team. Myles Turner and Donovan Mitchell are the only other players who received votes. The roster will be cut from 15 to 12 before the World Cup.

This team, though, might play better in front of a crowd. A similar matchup on Aug. 9 in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas ended in a convincing 97-78 win for the U.S. team as Jayson Tatum scored 17 points in less than 16 minutes.

The U.S. will play Spain at 10 p.m. ET Friday in the Honda Center in Anaheim. The team then departs for training and more exhibition games in Australia before heading on to Shanghai a few days before their Sept. 1 opener vs. the Czech Republic.

LeBron James considers Olympic return under Popovich

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James might make another run at Olympic gold with Gregg Popovich.

James, who already has two gold medals, said that Popovich taking over as coach of the U.S. team will influence his decision on whether to play in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

“It factors a lot,” James said Saturday as the Cavaliers prepared to host Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs. “I’ve said that before. He’s just a great mastermind of the game of basketball.”

James skipped last summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to get rest after leading Cleveland to an NBA championship. But he’s still connected with Team USA and Popovich replacing outgoing coach Mike Krzyzewski could be enough to draw James back to the Olympics.

James will be 36 in 2020, but his game is showing no signs of decay and the three-time NBA champ has relished his previous Olympic appearances. He was a key member of the American teams that captured gold in Beijing (2008) and (2012), performances that helped him and the U.S. squad erase some of the disappointment from taking bronze in Athens (2004).

Krzyzewski, the Duke coach who led the U.S. team to three consecutive gold medals, had a hand in naming Popovich as his successor.

For James, the pick was perfect.

“Team USA is in good hands with him,” James told The Associated Press in 2015. “It was in good hands with Coach K. It’s almost like ‘The Godfather.’ We hand it off to Michael Corleone now.”

Earlier this week, James said he considers Popovich, who has led the Spurs to five NBA titles, “the greatest coach of all time. I’ve said that over and over and over. You have to be sharp, mentally and physically, when you go against his ballclub. If you were an NFL player, it’s probably the same as going against a (Bill) Belichick team.

“What they’re going to do, they’re going to do and you have to try to figure it out.”

James has lost twice to teams coached by Popovich in the NBA Finals — in 2007 with Cleveland and in 2014 with Miami. He admires the way the 67-year-old coach has adjusted and adapted over the years.

“A guy that’s been able to do what he’s done in an era of basketball where it’s changed so much and he’s been able to have a growth mindset and be able to change with the game,” James said. “Obviously Tim Duncan was a huge part of that because Timmy was allowed to change with the game as well, but he’s just continued to build around Timmy and Manu (Ginobili) and Tony (Parker) and bring pieces in and out throughout his whole tenure.”

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