Eurobasket update: Tapas Roulette, Goran Dragic and 13-hour coffee breaks
MADRID -- Severe jet lag, an unshakeable post-Vegas hangover and an inability to speak the local language could not keep me from spending pretty much my entire weekend at the Madrid Arena, where Spain looks like the class of the Eurobasket tournament.
Lots of good basketball being played here, especially Sunday night's Greece-Croatia game, which was won at the buzzer by the Greeks on a jumper by new San Antoinio Spurs guard Vassilis Spanoulis, but we'll touch on a few side items before we get into the meat of what I'm seeing and hearing.
There are only a handful of Americans here, with the U.S. federation contingent led by Team USA director Jerry Colangelo and head scout Tony Ronzone not arriving for another day or so. I hope one or both of them speak Spanish, because it sure is a tricky place to navigate if you don't speak the language. Take it from a guy who arrived here Saturday morning super hungry, only to fail miserably in the two days since. The food here looks great, but if you habla espaņol only poquito, and all the menus are Spanish-only, you too often find yourself playing Tapas Roulette. One more bad spin, and I'm going from starving to delirious.
One other humorous note: The security guard protecting the smoking area outside the media entrance bears a resemblance to Tim Donaghy, but the fella speaks not one word of English, so he just stands there stone-faced when asked what's the over/under on the number of times he's going to give my credential the magnifying glass treatment before he recognizes me.
Oh, and one more thing: What's up with the weak dollar? It's been three years since I flew across the pond and things have really changed. According to my calculations, I paid 21 bucks this morning for a couple pieces of pineapple and watermelon and a few slices of Eurobacon. At this rate, it'll cost a year's tuition to purchase a cup of coffee at the World Championship in Turkey in 2010.
But enough of that. It's time to empty the notebook and tape recorder from my first two days at Eurobasket, where the basketball is umpteen times more competitive than the Tournament of the Americas, and the drama will only build over the rest of the week as six or seven capable teams compete for the mere two Olympic berths at stake.
So here we go:
Depending on which continent you live on and what news agencies you read, you could get the impression that Sarunas Jasikevicius is a lock to play for either the Golden State Warriors, Olympiakos of Greece or FC Barcelona of Spain.
Here's what he had to say:
"I'm really waiting for [Golden State] to trade me. It's been going on since February, and nothing's happening. I really don't understand this franchise, to be honest with you. I know what kind of offers they got for me, and they're not taking them. I know they're not planning on using me, so I really don't understand what they're trying to do with me. In that league, absolutely nothing depends on me, so I'm sitting by the phone and waiting."
Jasikevicius is due to make $4 million in the upcoming season, the last on a three-year contract he signed before coming to the NBA in 2005-06. There is a possibility a bidding war could break out between Olympiakos and Barca if Jasikevicius decided to walk away from the final year of his NBA contract, but Jasikevicius said he plans to be back in the United States three weeks from now.
"It's a decision I'm going to have to make after the Eurobasket, but I think I'm going to go back to training camp and just wait and see what happens," he said.
He said his preferred NBA address would be a team, "that plays more European. You know my style of basketball is more team-oriented, and I hope to find a team that actually passes the ball and plays team ball."
With both the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers still looking for point guards, there are a couple of potential deals that might make sense all around. Golden State does not want to take on any long-term financial obligations if its trades Jasikevicius, but both the Cavs and Heat could offer deals that would not tie up the Warriors' payroll beyond the upcoming season.
Cleveland could trade Ira Newble's expiring contract, along with a second-round pick or a fringe player such as Shannon Brown, while Miami could do the same with a package of Michael Doleac and Chris Quinn.
"As far as I know, there's really not much going on now," Jasikevicius said. "But from what I hear from my agent, Golden State had a lot of interesting offers. Whether they want to add another piece or add another expiring contract like mine with another piece, I've had my hopes up 10-12 times of getting out of there, and nothing happened."
Through the first four games of Eurobasket, Jasikevicius is the tournament leader in assists with 6.3, though he also has committed an average of four turnovers per game. He is averaging a team-high 14.0 points for Lithuania, which has been one of the best-looking teams thus far in compiling a 4-0 record.
Kobe Bryant has been keeping in touch with Lakers teammate Ronny Turiaf over the summer through text messages, one of which might have played a small part in inspiring Bryant's tenacious man-to-man defense at the recently completed Tournament of the Americas.
"I was giving him a hard time about stopping Leandro [Barbosa of Brazil], and he did it," said Turiaf, who is playing here for France. "He's playing with a chip on his shoulder as far as stopping the best player on the other team, playing his best basketball, and I'm hoping he can carry that on for us this year."
Turiaf's use of the word "us" prompted the question of whether he thinks Bryant will still be with the Lakers once the season begins -- not exactly a certainty given the trade request Bryant put in with the Lakers earlier this summer.
"That's really none of my business," Turiaf said. "That's between him and management. As far as I know, I'm hoping and wishing he's going to be with us because I have a special relationship with him -- he's like a big brother, and he brings so much to the table on offense and defense.
"So I don't know. Training camp starts in like three weeks, and he hasn't been traded yet, so maybe that's a sign he's going to be there."
Speaking of the Serbs, by the way, we invite those not easily offended to seek out a full translation of Darko Milicic's rant against FIBA referees last week. Let's just say the rant is so vicious, we will no longer be accepting nominations for this year's version of the Tim Duncan I Hate FIBA award. In fact, we'll go so far as to say Darko's rant will set the standard for ref-bashing for decades to come. Yes, it was that bad.
Not many of the European players I have spoken to were able to catch much or any of the Tournament of the Americas on television, and the news of the Americans' newfound shooting prowess has been slow to cross the Atlantic.
"Well, that's a midrange jumper, and when you get players like Kobe, LeBron and Melo who have that midrange game, you're going to improve no matter what," he said.
One NBA front office executive here during Saturday's tripleheader said he was quite impressed by Slovenia point guard Goran Dragic, who is playing with a mask on his face to protect a broken nose.
Dragic, a 21-year-old who plays for Murcia of the Spanish ACB League, is said to have done a commendable job defending Parker in Slovenia's 67-66 victory over France.
The best individual performance I've seen from a non-NBA player was Greek guard Dimitrios Diamantidis scoring 23 Sunday against Croatia. Greece also has quite a post player in Lazaros Papadopoulos, who has his hair in two pigtails -- one atop of the other. Papadopoulos had his way Sunday against Croatian big men Mario Kasun and Stanko Barac, scoring 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
Outside of the fans cheering for the home country, Spain, the loudest group I've heard has been the contingent from Lithuania, who are as loud with their bass drums as they are with their tie-dyed gold, green and red shirts.
But prior to Saturday's Lithuania-Italy game, they respectfully heeded the public address announcer's plea for respect so that a moment of silence (and it was a long, long moment) could be observed for Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who died last week.
The Italy-Lithunaia game was exceptionally physical, the Lithuanians pulling it out at the end mainly because their floor leader, Jasikevicius, was calm down the stretch. Jasikevicius' counterpart, Italian playmaker Massimo Bulleri, was erratic down the stretch. One member of the Italian federation said that Bulleri has the misconception that he needs to go one-on-five in order for his team to succeed.
Italy has been one of the biggest disappointments of this tournament (though it has a long way to go to catch Serbia and Turkey), with the Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani shooting only 40 percent from the floor and the Golden State Warriors' Marco Belinelli making only 28 percent of his 3-pointers.
ESPN colleague Marc Stein was looking forward to reading some rosy and cheerful prose about the plucky team from Israel, which only made it to Eurobasket by winning a pretournament qualifier, then defeated Croatia.
So I was all set to oblige him Sunday, but then I got to the arena and watched Israel get handled easily by Portugal, one of the worst teams in the tournament.
Israel does have a legitimate NBA prospect in Lior Eliyahu, who was selected 44th overall in the 2006 NBA draft by Orlando, his rights then getting traded to Houston.
But his teammate, American expatriate Jeron Roberts (University of Wyoming, '98, and an Israeli by marriage) said he believes Elihayu is somewhat of a 3 1/2 -- not strong enough to be a power forward, not a good enough shooter to be a small forward. Elihayu shot 12-for-17 and scored 29 points in Israel's 94-85 loss Sunday to Portugal.
A word of caution to the folks back home convinced the United States is going to easily win the gold next summer in Beijing.
A total off 33 games have been played thus far at Eurobasket, and no team has yet been able to score 100 points -- the same number reached by Mexico in its 27-point loss to the United States two weeks ago in Las Vegas.
The defense being played here is stifling, and it'll be the Americans' ability to defend rather than their ability to score that will go the furthest toward determining their fate.
One more strange item: I am puzzled by these signs plastered all over the media work room that read: Coffee Break 9:00-12:00 and 16:00-2:00. If I'm not mistaken, that's 13 hours of coffee breaks each and every day. Promise to try and have that one figured out by the end of the week, so keep checking back. I'll be here through Sept. 16.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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