OKC faces tough decision with Harden

Among other factors — mainly greed, greed and more greed — one of the primary motivations for last year’s lockout was to implement stricter financial punishments to narrow the gap between the NBA’s haves and have-nots.

So it comes as no small irony that one of the first victims of the league’s punitive measures could be the small-market Oklahoma City Thunder, who have assembled a ridiculous collection of elite young talent but will be hard-pressed to keep all their pieces together.

After rewarding cornerstones Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to long-term contracts, there might not be enough cash left over to retain James Harden, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year and OKC’s main decision-maker down the stretch.

Without an extension by Oct. 31 he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer, which means the Thunder will have the right to match any of the substantial offers he’s likely  to receive on the open market. But as NBA.com’s David Aldridge examines in , they might not have the resources to do so. In doing so he compares their situation to that of the Spurs, who have had to routinely make difficult decisions over the years:

OKC is in the same relative position as the Spurs found themselves at the start of their dynasty. San Antonio made its choice, building a four-time champion around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Only Duncan got a max deal out of those three, and San Antonio has been able to keep its core together for a decade. But the Spurs had to let Stephen Jackson go to Atlanta in free agency in 2003, and it took them nine years to get him back. They had to let Hedo Turkoglu head to Orlando as a free agent in 2004, and, painfully, trade the rights to Luis Scola to Houston to keep their financial house in order.

On that note, perhaps Harden should take a close look at Parker and Ginobili, both of whom were rewarded with multiple championships for taking less than they would have gotten elsewhere.

But it’s also fair to put some of the focus on the  the NBA has put in place to limit massive overspending.

The Thunder did everything the old-fashioned way: i.e. they actually drafted and developed their key players, instead of poaching free agents and disgruntled superstars to form one of the so-called “Super Teams” that whipped so many into a frenzy. (Think Miami and the Lakers.) And yet they might not be able to reap the full benefits of their ingenuity should Harden walk.

If so, that would seem to be a classic case of unintended consequences for a new set of rules that were supposed to help, not hurt, small-market franchises.

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

Olympic recap, quarterfinals

The Spurs’ Olympic contingent took a huge hit in Wednesday’s quarterfinals, with only Manu Ginobili advancing to the semifinals. (His “reward?” The opportunity to play, and possibly lose, to the United States for the third time in a month.) Patty Mills at least went down shooting, while Tony Parker and his French teammates simply went down in a meek loss to Spain.

Patty Mills: 26 points (9 for 20 shooting), 6 rebounds, 2 assists in to the United States. Mills did what he’s done for most of the Olympics – carry an Australian squad lacking its only elite international player. Against a different team, it might have made a difference. Against the U.S.A., all it did was delay the inevitable. It was impressive nonetheless, capping another strong Olympics for Mills and propelling him into his first full season in San Antonio with some momentum.

Manu Ginobili: 16 points (5 for 11 shooting), 8 rebounds, 3 assists in over Brazil. Ginobili has had better games in these Olympics. But he was still hugely impactful, doing a little bit of everything while playing 36 of a total 40 minutes. (His best play, a 360 spin move followed by a tomahawk dunk after being fouled on the floor, didn’t even count!) It’s entertaining in general to watch Manu hurtle across the court, but never more than when suiting up for his native land. The way he, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni play off of one another is a thing of beauty.

Tiago Splitter: 6 points (2 for 5 shooting), 4 rebounds, 4 assists in Brazil’s 82-77 loss to Argentina. Splitter had some nifty moments, most surprisingly with a series of deft passes. But he didn’t do nearly enough in a game Brazil was starving for anything of note to support Leandro Barbosa and Marcelinho, who combined for 22 points apiece.

Tony Parker: 15 points (6 for 20 shooting), 6 rebounds, 1 assist in to Spain. As Parker went, so did France, withering down the stretch in the face of Spain’s steady, methodical play. The beginning of the end came early in the fourth, when Parker blew a layup that would have given Les Bleus a five-point lead. They instead scored a paltry two points over the next seven minutes, a stretch in which Parker was powerless to avert another painful loss to Spain.

Boris Diaw: 15 points (6 for 11 shooting), 8 rebounds, 5 assists. The full Boris Diaw Experience in a single game. He was the best player on the court during the first half, at which point he was on pace for a triple double. But he went from homeless man’s Magic Johnson to regular homeless man in the second, registering five points, two rebounds and no assists over the final two quarters as France threw away a prime opportunity to avenge its loss to Spain in the 2011 EuroBasket final.

Nando De Colo: 2 points (0 for 3 shooting), 2 rebounds. De Colo has been inconsistent throughout the Olympics, but he still managed to show flashes of competence and potential in most of his games. Not so against Spain, amassing as many turnovers and personal fouls as points. France doesn’t expect or need him to be great, but even average would have been a huge help.