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Howard-to-LA deal looms over London
Sitting at the interview podium, with his backpack, it was hard to tell Kevin Durant had just helped the United States crush Argentina, 109-83, to move into the gold-medal game.
Instead, it looked as if someone had taken his lunch money. He did not smile. He only occasionally made eye contact with the audience. And he most certainly did not look like somebody who sank five 3-pointers.
Why the long face?
Well, like many members of the Olympic team, the ones who had been expecting to play for an NBA title next season, they didn’t much care to share their thoughts on another Dream Team, the one being assembled in Los Angeles.
“I really don’t care,” Durant said of the Lakers acquiring Dwight Howard in a four-team trade Friday.
If the trade sent shockwaves through the NBA, the fallout was clearly evident here, across the Atlantic Ocean, where it commandeered the Olympic tournament for a day.
Durant was not alone among those with championship aspirations. Their mood seemed to be dampened by the prospect of the Lakers fielding a starting lineup of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Howard.
“I’m not answering questions about them right now,” LeBron James said.
Serge Ibaka, a forward for Spain and a teammate of Durant in Oklahoma City, was more willing to answer questions about why he was glued to the bench in the second half of Spain’s 67-59 semifinal victory over Russia than about how the Western Conference landscape has changed.
Chris Paul was happy to voice his opinion, but he simply shrugged.
“They lost a dominant big man, they got another one,” said Paul, whose crosstown Clippers — with a more formidable roster than the one that reached the conference semifinals last season — are back to being the other team in Los Angeles. “It don’t change much for me.”
Paul said he still considers Oklahoma City the team to beat in the West, particularly because nobody knows how good the Lakers will be. Maybe Nash and Howard seamlessly integrate themselves, maybe they don’t.
“Man, I don’t care,” Paul said. “When we come out here, look at our team. If it was on paper, and we didn’t have to play the game, we would walk out of here with an easy gold medal. If you put paper next to our team and every other team, we’ve got a cake walk.”
The United States did not help Paul make his point Friday. The Americans looked just as good on the court as they did on paper, busting open a close game with the same type of second-half burst that they had in the quarterfinals against Australia.
Argentina slowed the pace of the game and crept within 47-40 at halftime on Manu Ginobli’s 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending it to the locker room with hope that it might reprise its semifinal victory of 2004 over the United States.
But when Kevin Love, James and Tyson Chandler began crashing the offensive boards, the United States would end up with two or three open 3-pointers in a possession. Carmelo Anthony, Durant and Deron Williams were not going to miss them all.
“If you play your best game and they’re not very inspired, you have a chance,” Ginobli said, sizing up Spain’s prospects.
Two of the more ebullient faces to leave the court Friday belonged to Gasol and Bryant.
Gasol, who was reportedly included in the deal when it surfaced, was pleased not to be going anywhere. Bryant was trying hard not to be too giddy, but found the opportunity tougher to pass up than an open shot.
“It’s going to be sensational,” he said.
Bryant said that when the Lakers’ discussions about Howard began to percolate earlier this summer, his United States teammates told him they’d never be able to acquire Howard without trading both Bynum and Gasol.
“I was like, 'Maybe we can make it happen,'” Bryant said. “We got Pau for almost nothing. History does repeat itself.”
Bryant said he expected Howard, who will be a free agent next summer, would soon fall in love with being a Laker. He promised more touches than Howard got in Orlando, emphasizing that they would play through the post. And that Howard would relish being the latest in a long line of great big men.
“He’s next in line,” Bryant said. “He could not be in a better position than to be with this type of organization. I’m very excited for him, and he’s excited. I’m excited for the Laker franchise because they have a player who can carry the franchise long after I’m gone.”
If there were concerns that this collection of All-Stars would be wrapped up in trade talk, coach Mike Krzyzewski said that was not the case. He spoke earlier in the afternoon with Andre Iguodala, who was dealt from Philadelphia to Denver in the trade.
As for Bryant?
“Kobe’s going to be fine no matter what,” Krzyzewski said. “He should be really fine.”
When the chuckles died down, Krzyzewski allowed his mind to wander, too.
“Just imagine walking out on the court and there’s Pau and Dwight doing layups on the other side. I mean, that’s pretty good. That’s not a bad team to start out with.”
Maybe even a Dream Team, one that for everyone else has the feel of a nightmare.