EuroBasket 2015: Romania the odd team out on the final night +++ Gran Canaria gets the Phantom treatment for USA vs Slovenia +++ TrueHoop breaks down how David Blatt will work with LeBron James +++ FIBA World Cup Preview: Group D +++ BiE’s editor takes the ice bucket challenge, nominates Basketball Ireland boss +++ Žydrūnas Ilgauskas considering a comeback? Wow LeBron has power +++ The Dream Team’s children +++ Highlights: Belgium beat Belarus, Germany stay alive +++ EuroBasket 2015: Bosnia, Belgium, Israel, and Latvia lock up spots +++ First Person: Follow the FIBA World Cup through BiE’s eyes +++

Shuffling pre-threepeat, Russians in Brooklyn: Last week’s five most intriguing Euroleague (and one NBA) acquisitions

All right, now things are getting interesting. Euroleague rosters are falling into place with top names signing with clubs that leave BallinEurope stretching the imagination – thinking about Papanikolaou outfitted in the Blaugrana here – and most of the prime pickups in the NBA have chosen their destinations for 2013-14. (Except … except … what about Nikola Pekovic and that $50 million deal? What is happening in Eurowolves land?)

Regardless of poor Peks’ situation, player movement kept things interesting for European basketball devotees even if no actual club games are being played. BiE took special notice of the following moves last week.

• Kostas Papanikolaou to Barcelona and
• Mirza Begic to Olympiacos. So the Reds want to threepeat, huh? Well, they’ll have to do so with quite a different look; the losses of Papanikolaou and Kyle Hines while adding Mirza Begic and Bryant Dunston means swapping two guys who played above their height for, well, actual height – not to mention opening up a barrage of questions. Could we really see a downshift in tempo in Piraeus? Does management expect to improve in rebounding, in which Olympiacos was third-best in the 2012-13 Euroleague? How much more court time will Stratos Perperoglou see? And how important can former Harlem Globetrotter Brent Petway be?

Intriguing stuff indeed, but what about that shiny new Blaugrana acquisition? The not-quite 23-year-old (his birthday’s next week) joins a roster that includes La Bomba, Marcelinho Huertas, Ante Tomic and up-and-comers Alex Abrines, Mario Hezonja and Marko Todorovic – in short, a lot of weaponry in the arsenal. More is needed in the backcourt with no more Pete Mickael and who-knows-what-Erazem-Lorbek-will-bring, but BiE’s picks Barca to be among the big league’s top-scoring sides in 2013-14.

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Quiz: The NBA- and Euro-centric year in basketball, 2011-12

2011-12: The year of Spanoulis?

Quick! Before those memories of basketball championships European and NBA fade completely, take a brief look back at the season that was – one crazy one on The Continent that began with Tony Parker, Ty Lawson and Mehmet Okur playing over here and concluded with titles taken by King James and Emperor Spanoulis. Get out those pencils and take the BallinEurope quiz…

1. The 2011-12 Euroleague season:
a) was one of the greatest ever
b) was the greatest ever
c) proved Jordi Bertomeu’s contention that “we don’t need NBA imports to be a top-quality competition
d) was awesome, but man, i’m jonesing. When does the season start?

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Kirilenko on playing for Utah Jazz, CSKA Moscow: “It’s hard to compare”

How Andrei Kirilenko handles reporters – just kidding

Amid a crowd of athletes well-versed in jockspeak, Andrei Kirilenko is a breath of fresh air. Though no controversy-stirrer on the Charles Barkley level (and who is, really, aside from Sir Charles himself), Kirilenko is personable, patient, friendly and fluent in two languages in the interview milieu.

Kirilenko arrived late to “open media” session after yesterday’s CSKA Moscow practice and quickly drew a crowd for the seven or so minutes he spoke to reporters in advance of the Red Army’s title quest tonight.

On the other side of the floor tonight will be Dusan Ivkovic, a man quite familiar with Kirilenko stretching back to the days when AK-47 was not quite the automatic weapon he is today. When asked who wins the battle between player and coach, Kirilenko deferred a bit, stating that “He knows me and Milos [Teodosic], so we won’t surprise him.”

When it was pointed that CSKA had beaten Olympiacos twice this season already, Kirlenko refused to acknowledge his side’s standing as heavy favorites in tonight’s game. “Look at Panathinaikos. We beat them twice this season, too. It doesn’t mean anything” in what is “not a playoff series in which you have a chance to have a mistake.”

Did Kirilenko have expectations going into this season after jumping from the NBA? Would anything less have been a disappointment? Well, said Andrei, “I’m very happy with this season, no matter how the final goes … I’m already happy with this season, because I had a great chance to play for the Russian fans. I had a great chance to play in front of a lot of my friends [and] family. It was a great season; we have a great team.”

Along similar lines, Kirilenko stated only on the inevitable NBA/Euroleague comparison question simply that “It’s a different game” – Perhaps he’s been reading BallinEurope and didn’t seek to start another comment war – and as for playing with the Utah Jazz as opposed to CSKA Moscow, “It’s different. It’s hard to compare. I played 10 years for Utah and I know everyone in that organization … it’s like a second home in the ‘States, but here you get back to the team where you started your career and you still recognize the guy who met you at the train station when you were 19 years old…”

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D-Will meets with Prokhorov in Istanbul, snaps in-game pic of Kirilenko

As has been widely reported, a big powwow in Istanbul is currently going on while the 2012 Euroleague Final Four plays out: The meeting of the minds (and money) features Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, team general manager Billy King and prospective free agent Deron Williams.

While Prokhorov checks out his former charge Andrei Kirilenko during the games – quite probably with the ultimate goal of signing up the AK-47 for the Nets – he and King apparently are attempting to sweet-talk D-Will into reupping with his 2011-12 team. Though Williams has pointedly noted his dissatisfaction with the team and his intention to bolt once the free-agency period has officially begun, at the beginning of this month, CBS Sports quoted a source as stating that he was “leaning toward re-signing with the Nets.”

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Euroleague Final Four: The video preview

And this week … the Euroleague Final Four! To get things started, BallinEurope presents a roundup of highlight clips from the seasons-that-were of CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos.

(Wow, BiE wonders every time upon looking at that list just how the big league could have ended up with a more scintillating Final Four: You’ve got undisputed powerhouses in CSKA Moscow – the model example of how NBA refugees affected European basketball in 2011-12 – and FC Barcelona. You’ve got the defending champions with Hall of Fame coach and a nucleus of veterans on yet another title run. And you’ve got a compelling underdog story complete with the possibility of seeing the legendary Greek rivals meeting for a medal … couldn’t have written it better myself.)

First up, the favorites, namely, the big bad Red Army, 2011-12 edition. While Mikhail Prokhorov’s lot has been credited for the team’s relative resurgence at the beginning of the 2000s, CSKA Moscow has admirably continued its winning tradition after the billionaire’s jump to the New Jersey-cum-Brooklyn Nets – mostly through using the big-bucks tactics espoused by Prokhorov et al – and are poised to take a unique triple crown. Indeed, should CSKA prevail in the EL Final Four games and against BC Khimki for the Russian crown, the team will have amassed VTB, EL and PBL crowns in under two weeks of play.

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Why Andrei Kirilenko and CSKA Moscow must win the Euroleague

Regular readers of BallinEurope may recall a similarly entitled writeup on Montepaschi Siena on these pages from a long time ago – actually two weeks, but already it *feels* like quite a spell. Contributing writer Enrico Cellini was as surprised as any of us when Olympiacos began Siena’s ejection from the tournament, Facebook-messaging BiE with the note that “Siena is trying its best to prove me wrong…”

But this post doesn’t concern BiE’s now-busted bracket, a frustrating finish to what had been a good-looking campaign for Montepaschi Siena, or even the Final Four surprise Olympiacos. Nope, we’re talking CSKA Moscow and that individual symbol of all of international basketball in 2011-12, Andrei Kirilenko.

In fact, why waste time? BallinEurope gets right down into an even 10 reasons why CSKA and the AK must win the 2012 Euroleague title.

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“Sinister”: Zalgiris Kaunas owner to form political party, fight for “sport, culture, art”

Would you buy a used Lada from this man?

What’s up with the bizarre mix of politics and basketball going on in Europe? While Barack Obama butters up Italia with references to Danilo Gallinari and Marco Bellinelli, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is stumping in Russia on an apparently futile bid for the presidency there. And now … well, let’s just say Lithuania better brace themselves for weirdness in the political arena.

For those of you wondering why Vladimir “Mad Vlad” Romanov has been relatively quiet lately vis-à-vis his formerly incessant tinkering, toying and messing around with his professional sport teams, Žalgiris Kaunas basketball and famed Scottish football club Heart of Midlothian among them, this may be the answer. As it turns out, Romanov will be forming his own political party, one that will “fight for the country’s sport, culture and art,” as “these areas have been abandoned.”

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Prokhorov to sell New Jersey Nets? Wellllllllllllllllllllll…

At first, the headline is one hell of a stopper: Basketball writer Chris Sheridan tops his latest piece with “Prokhorov to sell Nets, donate fortune.” No, wait, it continues. “…if elected president of Russia.”

Ah, well, then. At present, Prokhorov is in Russia in an effort to win votes for his liberal, pro-business Right Cause party with few delusions of actually, you know, becoming Russian president; the Washington Post states that “his main goal at the moment is to force a second round, by keeping Putin under 50 percent and emerging as the second-place finisher.”

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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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Report: Deron Williams to Beşiktaş Cola Turka [Update: Maybe Zaza Pachulia, too?]

Beşiktaş Cola Turka, briefly known as the team employing Allen Iverson (remember him?), has reportedly agreed to terms with another, perhaps more reliable American NBA baller. Turkey-based sports news outlet NTV Spor announced today that Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets will be joining the TBL club for the 2011-12 with an out clause, should the NBA lockout end.

Williams stands to earn some $16 million with Mikhail Prokhorov’s team, should a season be played.

Update: A few hours after NTV Spor reported this story, the website added that the Atlanta Hawks’ Zaza Pachulia, too, would “in principle” be suiting up for the Eagles in ’11. And Besiktas coach Ergin Ataman has now gone on record as saying that Williams would be a bigger coup for Turkish basketball in terms of star power than that Iverson guy…

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