Thoughts and Trade Machine tinkering: Can the Lakers trade Pau Gasol?

As Los Angeles Lakers fandom giddily awaits the possible debut of Mike D’Antoni on the bench tonight and the emergence of the superteam most observers expected, the inevitable whispers are beginning: Yes, Pau Gasol appears to be on some imaginary trading blocks (and perhaps even the actual one) already.

As BallinEurope understands it, the thinking goes something like this: Pau has not performed brilliantly early on this season. He’s at his peak trade value. Literally the only tradable assets beyond Gasol are Metta World Peace and Steve Blake – unless taking a flyer on Chris Duhon or Earl Clark proves irresistible to someone. Dwight Howard should exploit a pick-and-roll game enough so that the Spaniard’s specialized skills aren’t missed too much. And hey, let’s face it, they’ve been trying to deal this guy for quite some time.

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The Eurocentric 2011-12 NBA Eastern Conference preview (plus Official Fearless Predictions™)

While basketball lovers are getting something of a Christmas gift this season in the December 25 NBA opening day – BiE says “something of” there because this belated debut is kinda like your parents saying, “Well, we’ll just give you your birthday gift at Christmas.” When your birthday’s in October – BallinEurope would like to add to the virtual bounty under the tree with our annual Eurocentric NBA preview.

Here’s BallinEurope’s predominant working theory for at least the first two months of this season: The teams with more critical players who did a stint in Europe (or South America, for that matter) during the lockout will jump out to the best starts. And with a shortened season increasing the importance of every individual game, imagine what a, say, 17-5 could mean in the long-term – for a European equivalent of this model, how ‘bout that CSKA Moscow turbo boost?

So Kevin Garnett’s complaining that the preseason is too short … guys like Deron Williams have already been in real-game situations. Manu Ginobili is well rested but not “in basketball shape?” The Danilo Gallinaris, Mehmet Okurs and even the Gasol Brothers of the basketball world are set to go. More back-to-back games than ever before in NBA history? Hey, perhaps those two-a-days European coaches are so notorious for assigning will have readied these NBAers well more than the fortnight many of their colleagues are getting.

BiE would even argue that latecomers such as Tiago Splitter and late-peakers like Serge Ibaka are surely few steps ahead of the many American ballers who did not take Continental clubs up on even the most outrageous of offers. It is with this dictum in mind that this preview and Official Fearless Predictions™ were written. Today, the Eastern Conference.

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Introducing the 2010-11 BallinEurope Festivus Invitational Tournament

As a holiday present to the audience, each of you has received courtside tickets to the first annual BallinEurope Festivus Invitational Tournament. Thanks to the miracle of totally BiE-unaffiliated (and totally mind-blowingly awesome) website What If Sports, we can bring together great players of the past and present for true dream matchups – and without all the messiness of traditional time travel.

For this inaugural event, six virtual invitations were extended to some of the most memorable players and squads in basketball history. Paradoxes caused by requiring a player to play against another version of himself (a feat thus far only successfully achieved by M.J.) were kept to minimum with only one player – Chris Bosh, oddly enough – forced to warp the spacetime continuum a bit. (Although Coach K could also be appearing simultaneously on opposing sidelines as well.)

Take a look at the rundown of these six teams to imagine the outcome: Who will win the BiE Festivus Invitational? Stay tuned and happy holidays, everyone!

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Greece vs. Russia: He who wins shall lose?

Rosie knows it

“Sometimes when you win, you really lose. And sometimes when you lose, you really win. And sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs.” – Gloria Clemente, White Men Can’t Jump

Congratulations go out from BallinEurope to Teams USA, Turkey and Lithuania for getting tickets punched into the knockout tournament as VIP no. 1 seeds. And while the Argentina-Serbia battle tonight to determine how Group A shakes out should be a dandy, the one to watch – particularly if you’re a FIBA official or conspiracy theorist – will be Russia vs. Greece.

In what is definitely a case of “he who wins shall lose,” the no. 2 seed in Group C will face what appears to be the most difficult path to the championship game in the bracket. Assuming Team Spain handles winless Canada, the winner of tonight’s Russia-Greece contest would first draw Espana as no. 3 seed in Group D in the “eight finals,” followed by (Team USA) the winner of USA vs. Angola/Australia.

The loser of Russia-Greece would get a bracket that includes an opening game against France followed by the winner of Argentina vs. Brazil/Croatia – while hardly an easy road, which do you think David Blatt and Jonas Kazlauskas would prefer?

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Rondo leaves Team USA; FIBA Worlds roster set

It’s a good news/bad news news item for Team USA backers: The good news is that the Red-White-and-Blues finally have their 12-man roster for the 2010 FIBA World Championship roster; the bad news is that the electrifyingly exciting Rajon Rondo won’t be on, having essentially decided to leave the team proactively before his dismissal.

Figuring the writing was on the wall after the Spain game on Sunday in which he received his first “DNP” since his rookie year with the Boston Celtics, Rondo was quoted by ESPN as explaining that leaving the team was “what’s best for the country.” He also said that the DNP was “part of it. We knew coming in [that] it was still tryouts until we make the team that goes to Turkey.”

As for the official word, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo’s statement read in part: “Rajon came to us and said he was going to withdraw from the team, that he had some family matters to attend to and some things to take care of before the NBA season. He did an outstanding job during our training, we appreciate the effort and commitment he made to our program and he completely has our support.”

And BallinEurope would be remiss in not catering to a certain segment of its audience (ahem, Lithuania, cough, ahem) if BiE didn’t post perhaps Rondo’s most notorious play in what would be his last game with the squad:

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Just enough Durant to give USA win after ferocious Spain comeback

Is Kevin Durant the next Kobe Bryant after all? Team USA fans are certainly swaggering today after their guys’ strong showing in upending the defending FIBA world champions, 86-85.

Durant was the alpha dog for the US – a role many including BiE worried about going unfilled a la my least-favorite 2006 team – in scoring 25 points and showing he’s still a master of the zone in completely controlling Spain’s last possession to cap the win for Team USA after an incredible second half from Espana.

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Spain vs. USA friendly: Five things to watch for

The biggest of all this year’s international basketball friendly matches goes down in Madrid tonight at 7pm GMT (9pm CET, 1pm EST) as prospective 2010 FIBA World Championship favorites Spain and USA meet in the first truly serious test for either team.

It’s also a rematch of the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold match of sorts; while Team Spain returns the majority of their surely revenge-seeking squad, Team USA has famously rolled over its entire roster to create a smaller, quicker team contrary stylistically to recent American national teams.

Those of you in countries wherein the game won’t be broadcast (and here BallinEurope basically means nearly every nation in Europe, basically) can watch Spain vs. USA — and Wednesday’s Greece vs. USA game — online for free at FIBA TV. On his part, BiE will be watching for the following items first.

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BallinEurope’s 2010 FIBA World Championship power rankings 4.0

BiE was waiting for a result from last night’s Brazil-Argentina game in Spain before preparing this week’s edition of the official BallinEurope 2010 FIBA World Championship Power Rankings.

Now that those numbers are in, the long-awaited list may be unveiled; who’s hot and who’s not? In BiE’s opinion, readings off the lay lines of the ever ether-shifting momentum (plus YouTube videos!) look something like the following.

1. (↔) Spain. It’s been a good news/bad news deal for Spain this week. The bad news is that Team España is finally experiencing a few injury woes, a situation nearly every legitimate qualifier except the USA has faced in July/August: Jorge Garbajosa and Alex Mumbru did not practice yesterday, while Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez will sit tonight against Brazil. The good news: the slightly new-look Spain brought in Sergio Llull and returned Juan Carlos Navarro on Sunday against Argentina to take control of the second half and win, 83-76, in Logroño. Nice arsenal Sergio Scariolo has there.

2. (↑) USA. All right, so BiE isn’t *quite* ready to leap up and start chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” just yet, but maybe Coach K’s run-run-run philosophy can work – at least against lesser-lights like France and China. Maybe former University of New Mexico Lobo Danny Granger can be a go-to guy for the Red-White-and-Blues. Maybe things are as simple as Andre Iguodala’s summation of “We’re the fastest team in the world, so we’ve got to use that to our advantage.” Maybe Lamar Odom can play center against the likes of Spain and Turkey … wait a second, losing some perspective here…

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New York news: Kobe praises Spain; Team USA, Puerto Rico cruise

Kobe can beat this guy

Kobe Bryant was hanging around in New York last week as part of the World Basketball Festival festivities and, upon praising Team Spain, was dutifully quoted by Spain-based sports media outlet

“When it comes to really tough opponents,” said Bryant, “no doubt, Spain is the team.”

Kobe has seemed somewhat positive about this year’s edition of Team USA and philosophized to reporters that, if they take care of fundamentals, they’ll be all right. “The formula for winning is always the same: defense and rebounding. No matter where you play, rebounding and defense gives you the win. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing against aliens from Mars.”

In terms of the actual games closing the World Basketball Festival, Team USA demonstrated a remarkable arsenal of weaponry in taking out France, 86-55. (This just ain’t France’s year in international sport, is it? An early bouncing for Les Bleus and 2010 will go down as Bizarro 1998.)

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