So, the rich guys of the NBA ownership group and NBA Players Association are fighting over how much smaller the players' piece of the pie should be in the new collective bargaining agreement, and finally set up their first bargaining session. However, the owners have indicated a regression to the terms they originally sought before negotiations began, now that the league is officially locked out, and the players have probably followed suit. Because going backwards in your negotiations totally makes sense. In other words, we're all in for a longer-than-normal offseason. In addition, the Las Vegas Summer League won't be played at all(in fact, the normal dates for it have already passed). Makes for a boring, basketball-less summer - and maybe fall - at PtR, right?
There's plenty of competitive basketball happening this summer and fall. You just have to know where to find it.
Let's start with the most obvious summer alternative to NBA ball.
San Antonio Silver Stars
In case you weren't already aware, the Spurs' sister team has played well so far this year. After jumping out to the best record in the league early on, they've taken a step back over the last month or so, but still hold the second-best mark, half a game behind the Minnesota Lynx. The Stars take care of the ball, as evidenced by their league-low turnovers/game number. Conversely, the Stars seem to be plagued by similar size issues to those of the Spurs, as they give up more rebounds per game than any other team.
As always, the Stars are led by Becky Hammon, who in addition to leading the team in scoring, leads the entire league in assists per game. Our former overlord Wayne(now of SpursPlanet) calls her a "female Steve Nash". Sophia Young and Danielle Adams team up to create a formidable frontcourt duo, second and third on the team in scoring.
One of the best things about the WNBA is free live streaming of the games. Check out the Stars' schedule, and click the "Live access" link during any game to watch. You can also click "Archive" next to any game that has already passed to watch those games.
The regular season will end on September 11, and the playoffs will begin later that week. Let's hope they have more success than that other San Antonio basketball team did once they get there.
Hungary - 2011 Spurs draft pick Adam Hanga will look to help his country qualify for the main Eurobasket competition. With only three teams remaining(Hungary, Portugal and Finland), but two open spots in the tournament, the chances are actually pretty decent that Hungary will make it. The teams will all play each other twice, once in each country, with the top two teams advancing to the main tournament. Hungary will play their qualifying games on August 9th, 12th, 18th, and 21st.
Main Competition (Lithuania)
Beginning August 31st, the biggest regional FIBA championship tournament will take place in Lithuania. There are some Spurs-related players taking part in the competition, so naturally, we'll concentrate on their home nations' prospects.
France - If you haven't heard of a guy named Tony Parker, you have no business reading this thread. It appears that Tony's going to have most of the other top-level French Talent playing alongside him, with Nic Batum, Boris Diaw and Rony Turiaf already committed, and Joakim Noah probably joining them. Going by talent alone, Les Bleus should be one of the favorites to win the tournament, but they've had most of these guys for a while, and always seem to fall well short of where that talent should put them. The wild card in all this is that none of the NBA'ers they have is a natural shooting guard, but Spurs draftee Nando De Colo is. If Nando plays well and makes good decisions, it could be enough to finally put them over the top. The French benefit from a relatively easy draw, as the best competition they'll face in Group play will likely come from the Serbian squad.
Great Britain - 2010 Spurs draft pick Ryan Richards had a string of dominant performances in the U-20 version of Eurobasket this past month, earning him an invitation to camp with the National team. With Pops Mensah-Bonsu recovering from an injury, Ryan should be a virtual lock to make the team for the real thing. Even though the Brits don't seem to have much chance in the tournament, watching Richards play against some excellent competition should give us an idea of where he is in his development, as some of the competitors he'll face in Group A are Omer Asik and Ersan Ilyasova(Turkey), Marcin Gortat(Poland) and the Gasol brothers(Spain).
Latvia - An even more recent Spurs draft pick, Davis Bertans has been invited to training camp for the Latvian senior National Team. Much like their southern neighbors in Lithuania, Latvia is a country that is pretty crazy about hoops. However, both have extremely small populations relative to most other European nations, so the potential talent pool isn't nearly as large. It would be a heckuva accomplishment if Bertans were to make the senior team at 18, so that bears watching. Latvia will kick off group play on August 31st against Tony, Nando and the rest of the French squad, and end it against the Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman-led German team.
Slovenia - Another small, but hoops-crazy country. Spurs fans are no doubt familiar with a couple of Slovenian players in Beno Udrih and Rasho Nesterovic. Rasho is hurt, while Beno and Sasha Vujacic spurned the national team for personal reasons, so the best players left on the team are Goran Dragic and Spurs big man prospect Erazem Lorbek. Slovenia always seems to field good teams, but one wonders if they might be found lacking without two of their best backcourt players.
Lithuania - Another Spurs big man prospect, Robertas Javtokas, will be playing for the host nation in this tournament. Javtokas has recovered quite nicely from the motorcycle accident that put his playing career in jeopardy several years ago, to become one of the better big men in Europe. A country with a stellar history of hoops, playing the tournament with home court advantage, has to be considered one of the tournament favorites. One bonus will be the fact that we could see a matchup of Javtokas vs. Richards on August 31st, since their teams face off on the very first day of group play. The downside of being in that group is having to face the Spanish and Turkish teams.
FIBA Americas Championship 2011 (Mar del Plata, Argentina)
Also beginning August 31st, the Americas tournament should be fun, but probably won't be as competitive as Eurobasket. Team USA is automatically qualified for next year's olympics after winning the World Championship last year, so they will be sitting this tournament out. So, the most talented team left in the tournament also happens to be the host nation. This one might be over before it begins, but at least we'll have some Spurs to watch.
Argentina - In addition to PtR deity Manu Ginobili, the 2011 Argentine squad includes Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni and former Spur Fabricio Oberto. No other team in the tournament has this much NBA-level talent, especially not the likes of Manu and Scola, who should be far too strong of a one-two punch for most of the other teams to counter. Honestly, if Argentina doesn't win this tournament with home court advantage and the most talented team, then they don't deserve to go to the olympics next year anyway. That said, the team's core is very experienced, and shouldn't really have any trouble with any of the other teams in the competition, with the possible exception of...
Brazil(updated - thanks to Glauber from Spurs Brasil) - The Brazilians could have made a case for most talented team in the tourney if it weren't for the absence of Nene and Anderson Varejao. Without those two playing, the frontcourt consists of Spurs center Tiago Splitter and a bunch of relative unknowns and undersized guys. Size doesn't matter as much in FIBA play as it does in the NBA, but Brazil's frontcourt is still their biggest advantage when they have a full team, so it hurts to be missing 2 of your best 3 big men. Leandro Barbosa will not be participating, which might actually be a positive development depending who you ask. Marcelinho Huertas is a good point guard, so if they run the offense through him and Tiago, they might have a fighting chance.
Canada - I'm just going to get this out of the way up front: Canada has no chance in this tournament, and they might not even make it out of the group stage. The reason to watch them will be because of Spurs 2011 draft pick Cory Joseph, who has a strong chance of getting the starting PG position. Last summer, there were some rumblings that Canada Basketball was going to get Matt Bonner citizenship and add him to the national team, but he didn't get citizenship in time, and is not on this year's team, so it's unclear whether he still plans to play for them in the future. Steve Nash probably doesn't want to put his body through the rigors of international ball without being able to consult the Suns' expert medical staff, so he will not be participating.
In part 2 of our non-NBA basketball preview(if necessary due to the lockout), we'll preview the new hoops season in Europe, with an emphasis, as always, on Spurs-related players. We might also take a look at the D-league, but the talent pool for the NBADL will be significantly diluted until the lockout ends.