Buck Harvey: Bronzed: Ginobili, U.S. owe each other

LONDON — Manu Ginobili said he and his teammates know they aren’t as good as the United States. “We know our limitations,” he said, and Luis Scola took that further.

“You don’t need to be smart to know that,” he said, smiling.

That’s why they care about Sunday’s bronze-medal game as much as the Americans will care about their gold one.

“If bronze is the highest we can aim,” said Ginobili, “that’s our game.”

But that’s also why Ginobili and Scola owe so much to the U.S. team that went to Athens in 2004. Maybe Argentina couldn’t have won its groundbreaking gold medal then, no matter how much magic Ginobili had.

Unless the Americans had become as careless as they did.

It’s an NBA world at Olympic basketball, and that was clear after Friday’s game. Kobe Bryant talked for maybe 15 minutes, and the Olympics barely came up. Everyone wanted to know what he thought about the Dwight Howard trade.

Ginobili was asked, too, and he said this: “I’m so happy it happened finally. It’s been such a long soap, how do you say, soap opera.”

He was kidding, of course. Ginobili said he didn’t know the details yet, but he understood the basics.

“I know Dwight got to L.A. and (Pau) Gasol stayed,” he said. “That makes them even tougher. So we will go play them as hard as we always have and try to beat them regardless.”

It’s a parallel to how he’s often seen his national team. The Argentines never had the best talent. But if they played together, and kept at it, wasn’t anything possible?

That’s what happened in 2002 at the World Championships in Indianapolis. Then, Ginobili and Argentina became the first team to beat the U.S. with NBA players.

Most forget what happened the next summer. In qualifying in Puerto Rico, the U.S. routed Argentina by a margin greater than Friday’s 109-83 score.

More emphatic was this: The Americans went on a 21-0 run in the first half, with Tim Duncan starring, and led at the break, 60-27.

Larry Brown called it the best game any of his teams had ever had, and players said they had reversed what had happened in Indy.

“I think everybody’s back on notice,” Jason Kidd said afterward, “that we can play the game the right way.”

A year later in Athens, however, Kidd wasn’t there. Neither were Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Mike Bibby and Ray Allen, all of whom had been in Puerto Rico.

For various reasons — some were even valid — players had opted out. The American program was as unmotivated as the players, and what was left was a mess built around Duncan.

Given that, the Argentines beat the U.S. in Athens in the same semifinal the two were in here. And Ginobili remembered the Americans of 2004 this way on Friday:

“They had lost before (actually twice) and they were a little shaky. I think we faced the game knowing they were a better team than us, but that we had a better chance than we had today.”

The Argentines deserved that gold medal, and they were different, too. They were deeper and bigger than they are now, and they had a young Ginobili just entering his prime.

“We were younger, crazier and disrespectful, probably,” he said.

Still, there is no way a roster of American professionals should lose, not if the best show up, not if they try. As much because of 2004 as anything, USA Basketball woke up and remade itself.

Told what they had done to improve the Americans, Scola thought about it. “I think I should get paid,” he joked.

Ginobili and Scola got paid in another way. They have a gold medal on their résumés, as well as global respect.

Who can forget? Even as they try for bronze Sunday, there was a time when they forced the U.S. to do the same.


Twitter: @Buck_SA

Up-to-date details regarding Spurs’ season

Spurs fans anxious for payback against the Oklahoma City Thunder won’t have to wait long this season. The team that ousted the silver and black in the Western Conference finals last June is first up on the Spurs’ home-court schedule, slated for a nationally televised affair Nov. 1 at the ATT Center that will be the second game of the 2012-13 season.

For the first time since 2006, the Spurs will open the regular season on the road, this time in New Orleans on Halloween night.

The NBA champion Heat won’t play in the Alamo City until March 31.

Express-News NBA beat writer Mike Monroe offers some dates fans should circle on their calendars:


Oct. 31 — at Hornets: How good will No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis be? The Spurs will be the first team to find out.


Nov. 1 — vs. Thunder: TNT couldn’t wait for a nationally televised rematch of the Western Conference finals.


Nov. 29 — at Heat: LeBron James finally has a championship ring. Can he defend his first title?


Dec. 7 — vs. Rockets: Jeremy Lin is a Rocket now. The Spurs’ Interstate 10 rival hit the reset button again, with Lin as the new centerpiece.


Dec. 30 — at Mavericks: The I-35 rivals don’t look much like last season’s Mavs, not with Jason Kidd and Jason Terry gone. But Dirk Nowitzki is still around.


Jan. 9 — vs. Lakers: Los Angeles hasn’t landed Dwight Howard — yet — but it did add the ageless Steve Nash. How good will the Lakers be on the fast break now?


Feb. 6 — at Timberwolves: Next season’s rodeo road trip will encompass nine games in 18 days, beginning with this game against the T’wolves and concluding Feb. 24 against the Suns.


Feb. 27 — vs. Suns: The aroma of the rodeo will still be in the arena when Spurs fans get their first look at their heroes in more than three weeks.


March 6 — vs. Bulls: Recent reports indicate 2010-11 MVP Derrick Rose will be sidelined until March. Could this be one of his first games back from a torn ACL?


March 31 — vs. Heat: Love him or hate him, this will be your only chance to see James at ATT Center next season.


Oct. 6: vs. Montespachi Siena, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 10: vs. Hawks, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12: vs. Nuggets, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 14: at Rockets, 1 p.m.

Oct. 20: at Heat, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 21: at Magic, 5 p.m.

Oct. 26: at Wizards, 7:30 p.m.

NBA teams all get set to shop

NBA free agency begins at 11 p.m. today. Priority No. 1 for the Spurs? Re-signing 36-year-old, self-declared “Spur for life” Tim Duncan to a deal that will take him to the end of his career.

The Spurs also have to weigh offers to Boris Diaw (unrestricted) and Danny Green and Patrick Mills (restricted), then consider offers to other free agents.

Nets point guard Deron Williams is the prime prize on the unrestricted market. He asserts he will either be the centerpiece of a restructured roster as the team moves to Brooklyn or continue his career in his hometown of Dallas.

Express-News NBA beat writer Mike Monroe breaks down the top of a free-agent marketplace that will generate rumors by the thousands before teams can actually begin signing players July 11:


Tim Duncan, Spurs
Position: Forward/center
What to expect: He’s made it clear he wants to finish his career in San Antonio. The value of his final contract is the tricky part. He made $21.2 million (pro-rated) last season. What’s his value at age 36?

Deron Williams, Nets
Position: Point guard
What to expect: The top prize in this free-agent derby, definitely at max money. He says he has narrowed his choices to the Nets and Mavericks. Best guess: There’s no place like home — and for Williams, that’s Dallas.

Kevin Garnett, Celtics
Position: Forward/center
What to expect: Like Duncan, Garnett is 36, with a chronically painful right knee. If he decides to keep going, it’s hard to see him starting over in a location other than Boston.

Jason Kidd, Mavericks
Position: Point guard
What to expect: He’s 39, but so smart he is still effective, but at what price? He took a big salary hit when he re-signed with Mavs in 2009. He will take another to re-sign with the Mavs.

Steve Nash, Suns
Position: Point guard
What to expect: He has been fiercely loyal to the Suns but finally seems ready to move. Does Canada’s all-time greatest player want to finish his career in Toronto? Probably not if the Suns improve enough to satisfy him and convince him to stay.

Ray Allen, Celtics
Position: Shooting guard
What to expect: Watching him struggle with sore ankles in the playoffs was painful. If surgery works, he has still got the league’s sweetest shot. Seems headed for the sun, either Phoenix or Miami.


George Hill, Pacers
Position: Point guard/shooting guard
What to expect: Already turned down a $6 million extension from the Pacers and definitely would prefer to return to the Spurs. Hard to imagine Indy letting him walk without compensation.


Twitter: @Monroe_SA