Well, we’ve got some basketball to look forward to
This really is a nuclear winter for the NBA right now. We had a season full of story lines and excitement, even from a Spurs perspective. Now all we’re left with is rubble.
The NBA Players Union and team owners have yet to meet since the lockout began – almost three long weeks ago. But don’t worry, there’s a scheulde for the imaginary season. As we speak, we’re missing what should have been the Las Vegas Summer League. Instead we’re left with crumbs of workouts and national team training.
Luckily, national team duty does represent some hope. We will see some competitive basketball in the remainder of 2011. Guaranteed. And though the Spurs won’t be taking part on a united front, several of the silver and black will be in action.
The biggest tournament in Europe featuring national teams, Eurobasket 2011, starts on August 31 in Lithuania. Tony Parker is one of the headliners of the tournament, as he should be. TP is aiming to get France into the 2012 Olympics in London; the two finalists at Eurobasket automatically qualify for the London games. 2009 second round draft pick Nando de Colo should be helping Parker on the French team, Les Bleus as they’re known. Parker and other French NBA players recently got their insurance issues taken care of, so they are good to go for the tournament.
Also participating in Eurobasket will be recent draftees Davis Bertans, who plays for the Latvian National Team, and Adam Hanga, who plays for Hungary. Also in the mix is Erazem Lorbek (Slovenia), who was acquired on draft night in the trade with Indiana that sent George Hill to the Pacers.
Hanga and Hungary, though, still have to qualify for the Eurobasket tournament. Hungary is battling with Portugal and Finland for the last two spots in the tournament. The three teams play a series of games against each other beginning on August 9, leading up to Eurobasket.
Additionally, the Spurs own the rights to several other players participating in the Eurobasket tournament. Robertas Javtokas (Lithuania), Sergei Karaulov (Ukraine) and Viktor Sanikidze (Georgia). 2010 draft pick Ryan Richards has not yet made Great Britain’s senior national team, so he’s still a summer or two off of major international competition. He’s playing in the Under-20 European Championships right now.
The other major tournament of Spurs fans’ interest is the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship. The Americas Championship features, you guessed it, teams from North, Central and South America. The two teams of greatest interest to Spurs fans are Brazil, featuring big man Tiago Splitter, and Argentina, boasting Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto, the latter of whom will forever be a Spur in many fans’ eyes.
Argentina has yet to clear up insurance issues for its NBA players currently under contract with NBA teams, but most expect that to be taken care of. Splitter is good to go for Brazil.
Like at Eurobasket, the two teams in the finals at the Americas Championship qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The United States is not participating in the Americas Championship because they automatically qualified for the London games by winning last season’s World Championships in Turkey. Not that it matters, though, no on one the Spurs plays for the good ol’ US of A.
Another Spur taking part in the Americas Championship is first round pick Cory Joseph, who recently joined the Canadian National Team. Joseph is from Toronto, though, so it’s totally legal. He’s not arbitrarily deciding to join the team or anything like that. Matt Bonner, on the other hand, did, albeit unsuccessfully. Regardless, for a majority of Spurs supporters, this will be their first look at Joseph against professional-level competition.
The major concern this summer, and every summer for the most part, is injury. Splitter has proven his toughness, but he’s yet to prove that he’s not injury-prone. And as we’ve learned over the years, Manu is perpetually one misstep away from disaster. To greater raise tension, the Spurs’ human insurance policy for Tony Parker in George Hill was traded away on draft night and replaced with a completely unproven, probably unready commodity (Joseph). San Antonio will probably sign a cheap veteran point guard in free agency once the lockout ends, but at this point it’s a concern.
Argentina will host this summer’s Americas Championship, which was a major factor in Ginobili and Oberto re-joining the team. This group of Argentines forever changed international basketball when they beat the United States at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis and won gold at the 2004 Olympic games. They deserve one last go-round beginning this summer in front of their home fans and culminating with next summer’s Olympics.
Personally, I love international competition. I enjoy watching Euroleague games in between NBA regular season contests and can’t get enough of national team competition. And while August and September will provide plenty of compelling content for Spurs followers, it’d be nice if we knew it was leading to something more come fall.