LONDON The biggest trade of the NBA offseason didn’t seem to distract the U.S. men’s basketball team at all Friday as it thumped Argentina 109-83 to reach Sunday’s gold-medal game.
But the massive trade certainly gave everyone something to talk about after another U.S. blowout entering the final against Spain.
Kobe Bryant said he was “excited” to have Dwight Howard join him with the L.A. Lakers, who might have just surpassed Oklahoma City in terms of sheer talent accumulated in the Western Conference.
“I told (Howard) Los Angeles is the perfect place for him,” Bryant said after the U.S. dismantled Argentina for the second time this week. “Look at history – at all the great centers who have come to L.A. Now he’s the next in line. It couldn’t have put him in a better position. … I’m really excited for him and he’s very excited too.
“Look,” Kobe continued. “ I will probably play two-three more years, you know what I’m saying? And then the team is his. I’m excited for the Laker franchise because they have a player that can carry the Laker franchise well after I’m gone. He should be willing to accept that challenge.”
Howard was supposed to be a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, but he is recovering from back surgery. Andre Iguodala was the only current U.S. Olympian traded in the convoluted four-team deal, and he didn’t sound nearly as excited about moving from Philadelphia to Denver. In fact, he would barely answer questions about the subject.
While every Olympian in some way will be affected by the deal, some were more interested about Howard’s move than others. “I really don’t care,” Kevin Durant said.
Said Chris Paul, talking about Howard’s long-time wish to be traded out of Orlando: “You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. He’s definitely athletic. (The Lakers) lost a dominant big man (Andrew Bynum) and got another one.”
U.S. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski brought the trade up to Iguodala at the team’s meeting, eight hours before the tip-off against Argentina.
Said Coach K: “I talked to Andre at our meeting and he said, ‘I’m fine…’ Kobe’s going to be fine no matter what, and he should be really fine. Just imagine walking out on the court and there’s Pau (Gasol) and Dwight doing layups on the other side. That’s not a bad team. … But they all handled it professionally. They’re here to represent their country.”
Kobe talked with Gasol about the move Thursday night, and then both went out and won their games Friday to set up the gold-medal game.
The U.S. win was relatively easy, as the team led by only seven at halftime but then got hot. At one point, the U.S. team was 7-for-26 from 3-point range, but then it made 11 of its final 16 to win going away.
That pushed the U.S. into a game with Spain – a rematch of the 2008 gold-medal thriller. Spain was thought to be the biggest challenge to the U.S. men all along in this tournament with its size and experience.
If Howard had been able to come to London, he could have countered some of that. He is notable in London by his absence – but he certainly was present in a lot of people’s minds Friday across the pond.