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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.”

MORE: Chris Paul will return to Olympics, Michael Phelps says

Tony Parker, France beat Canada to complete Olympic basketball field

Tony Parker
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Tony Parker and France will round out the 12-team Olympic men’s basketball field after beating Canada 83-74 in the final of a last-chance qualifying tournament Sunday.

The San Antonio Spurs point guard scored a game-high 26 points in Manila, including 15 in the last seven minutes to extend a five-point lead.

Parker could headline a French roster in Rio with enough NBA talent to contend for a medal. Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw also helped France qualify this past week, and Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier could join them at the Olympics.

Canada failed to qualify for Rio. Its best player, Andrew Wiggins, skipped the last-chance Olympic qualifier, where Canada was bidding to make its first Games since it had Steve Nash in 2000.

Parker led France at the 2012 Olympics with 15.7 points per game. The French lost two games in London, to the gold medalist U.S. in group play and silver medalist Spain in the quarterfinals.

In September, Parker and France fell in the EuroBasket semifinals to Spain in a winner-goes-to-Rio game.

The defeat forced France to the last-chance, winner-take-all, six-team Olympic qualifying tournament in the Philippines.

The Olympic men’s basketball field includes all but one of the 2012 Olympic quarterfinalists (bronze medalist Russia failed to qualify):

Brazil — Host nation
U.S. — 2014 World champion
Australia — Oceania champion
Nigeria — Africa champion
Argentina — Americas finalist
Venezuela — Americas finalist
Spain — Europe finalist
Lithuania — Europe finalist
China — Asia champion
Croatia — Last-chance qualifier
Serbia — Last-chance qualifier
France — Last chance qualifier

The U.S. is grouped with France, Serbia, Australia, China and Venezuela. The top four teams reach the quarterfinals.

Here’s the U.S. men’s group schedule:

Saturday, Aug. 6 vs. China – 6 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 8 vs. Venezuela – 6 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 10 vs. Australia – 6 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 12 vs. Serbia – 6 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 14 vs. France – 1:15 p.m. ET

MORE: Ten years later, remembering lone U.S. loss under Coach K

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LaMarcus Aldridge will miss Olympics; U.S.’ big-man options left

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San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is the sixth of 31 Team USA finalists who will be unavailable for the Rio Olympics, according to ESPN.com.

Aldridge cited a finger injury, according to the report.

“We always support a player’s decision when it comes to participation with his national team,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said in a statement confirming the news Monday.

He would join five others who have said they will miss the Olympics or are expected to miss the Games for various reasons — Stephen CurryChris PaulJohn WallAnthony Davis and Blake Griffin.

The absences of Aldridge, Davis and Griffin would leave the U.S. with the following big-man options among the finalists:

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings (2014 FIBA World Cup)
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (2014 FIBA World Cup)
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (2014 FIBA World Cup)
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets (2008 Olympics, 2006 FIBA World Championship)
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (2012 Olympics, 2010 FIBA World Cup)

The U.S. Olympic team is expected to be announced late this month.

MORE: U.S. has 4 point guards left after Curry’s withdrawal