MONROE notes: Olympic team comes into focus

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Mike Monroe

It was back on Nov. 26 when USA Basketball introduced Larry Brown as head coach of its next men¿s team, the one that will try to qualify for the Athens Olympics in this summer¿s Tournament of the Americas and also represent the U.S. at those Olympics.

Presuming it qualifies in San Juan, Puerto Rico in August, of course.

NBA vice-president for basketball operations Stu Jackson also said at the time that he wanted to have a core of five or six players in place by late in December so the organization could add two or three more by early February and then add ¿role players¿ to fill needs before summer.

Here we are near mid-January, still waiting to hear about that core. The players who are going to comprise it are the worst-kept secret in basketball: , , , and .

So what gives?

Well, turns out it¿s a little more complicated than just naming the players. There are contracts to be signed, a 19-month commitment the players are making to USA Basketball, and the organization doesn¿t want any loose ends or misunderstandings.

Yes, the players are under contract to USA Basketball when they commit.

¿Believe me, we¿re working on it every day," said Sean Ford, whose USA Basketball title is Assistant Executive Director of Men¿s Programs but whose job right now is to get those contracts signed, sealed and delivered. ¿We just want to be very sure we do everything right."

Expect the announcement to come within the next couple of weeks.

¿We¿d hoped to have the core together for 20 months," Ford said. ¿Well, 19 months is pretty good, too."

After getting the core in place, the committee's top priority, now that Shaquille O¿Neal has made it clear he won¿t be playing, will be to find big men to help out Duncan.

Don¿t doubt that the committee is working hard on .

But you might be surprised at some of the other big men under consideration ¿ until you see how many of the NBA¿s starting centers are foreign-born.

Yes, will be on USA Basketball¿s checklist.

And don¿t presume that just because couldn¿t make a layup in last summer¿s World Championship debacle in Indianapolis that he has been eliminated from consideration.

For one thing, Brown loves his defensive intensity.

¿I am sure he is being considered,¿ Brown recently told the Detroit News' Chris McCoskey.

¿All I tell the committee is that I want four guys who can guard the center and three guys who can bring the ball up court under pressure,¿ Brown said. ¿You know, you can¿t have 12 stars.¿

When asked if Wallace¿s lack of an offensive game would be a detriment to him getting selected, Brown said, ¿I don¿t know who has said that. I think that if you can play, you can play. It depends on the personnel you put around him. I don¿t think you can have five s on your team and I don¿t think you can have 12 offensive players, either.

¿I think they are trying to make a team, so I am sure, like I said, that he would be considered.¿

Word to the committee: Don¿t forget about just because he is a rookie. He definitely fits Brown¿s criteria of a guy who can guard the center. And he can do a lot more.

Shoes for Stoudemire

Speaking of Stoudemire ¿ while Nike¿s Phil Knight and Adidas¿ Sonny Vaccaro fall all over themselves trying to be the shoe provider for LeBron James because they think he is going to be a great NBA player straight out of high school, Stoudemire, who already is a great NBA player straight out of high school, is shopping for a shoe deal.

There is no hurry, says his agent, John Wolf. The youngster, Wolf said, ¿wants to focus on basketball."

Imagine that.

Johnson learning his lessons

And since we¿re discussing the ¿ right now you¿d have to put coach Frank Johnson, the league¿s Coach of the Month for December, on a short list of candidates for Coach of the Year.

Coaching ain¿t rocket science, but the best coaches succeed because they manage to connect with their players.

That¿s why I think Johnson¿s best move all season was listening to his players when the ¿ offense was so stagnant early in the season.

After the ' loss at Utah on Nov. 19 (which dropped their record to 5-4), called him and asked to talk. Accompanied by the team's other leaders, and Penny Hardaway, Marbury asked Johnson to be less animated on the sidelines and to loosen up the team's offense and, as Johnson told the Mesa Tribune, " let them play."

"I tried to do that," he said. "It's still a learning process for me."

I think Johnson already has learned the most important lesson: Give the players every reason to bust their butts for you.

New Bad Boy on the block

is beginning to remind me a bit of Dennis Rodman.

You know, very talented player who gains more notoriety for bizarre behavior than for what he does on the court.

I mean, the guy is averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, but he¿s already been featured in a major article in Sports Illustrated and another in Slam magazine and is about to be the subject of a cover story in ESPN Magazine.

I like his defensive prowess, too, but come on.

That said, I did like what appeared to be sincere contrition after his postgame lunacy at Madison Square Garden a week ago.

After learning how much it was going to cost him ($35,000 fine and three-game suspension that yanked another $65,000 out of his pocket) he told the Indianapolis Star¿s Mark Montieth: ¿That¿s the price you pay for doing stupid things. It was a dumb move. I won¿t do anything like that again.¿

¿ president Donnie Walsh, heretofore an ardent defender of Artest, was harshly critical this time.

¿I¿m pissed off about it,¿ Walsh said. ¿I¿m pissed off at Ronnie, not the league.¿

The didn¿t suffer too greatly during his absence, dropping only one game. And one member of the basketball operations staff went so far as to suggest in the long run the lunacy is going to make Artest even more effective.

¿It didn¿t bother me too much," this insider told ¿That¿s part of what makes Ron so effective. Everybody is a little afraid of him"

As I recall, everybody was a little afraid of Rodman, too.

Especially cameramen.

The Life of Riley

It wasn¿t bad enough for Pat Riley that his former assistant, Jeff Bzdelik, got the better of him when the beat the Wednesday night.

He also had to depart Denver knowing things are going to get a lot better for Bzdelik a whole lot sooner than they¿re going to get better for him.

Denver is going to have salary cap space aplenty next summer.

Riley is going to be in a salary cap black hole, thanks to the $24 million ¿s and ¿ contracts will occupy.

¿If I could¿ve, I would¿ve done the same thing (Kiki Vandeweghe did),¿ Riley said. ¿If you¿re going to start over you¿re going to start over. I think they¿ve done a great job. If you¿re going to sweep the table, sometimes it¿s hard because you have salaries that others don¿t want.¿

¿For next year (Denver¿s position) is 10 times better than ours. Now, if they can get some of those (free agents) to come here, then they¿re ready to strike. They get another lottery pick and if they get two free agents, they¿re ready to roll.

¿That¿s where we want to be. That¿s where I was my first year here. We cleaned the table. We can¿t do that (now) because we have a couple of max contracts that we want to augment with other players. So we have to wait a little longer.¿

Riley will be 58 before the season ends.

I wonder how much longer he is willing to endure the losing he admits has gotten hard for him to stomach.

Big Apple conspiracy?

Remember when Riley said the refs had it in for the ?

Well, I wonder what they have against the , who have shot the fewest free throws in the league.

Thus, Don Chaney has begun lobbying a bit for more equitable treatment of his undersized ¿bigs," and .

"I mentioned to the referees that Kurt's getting beat up quite a bit," Chaney said. "Kurt's a big guy and he takes a lot of punishment, but it's not even on both ends. I just wanted consistency. They get bumped a lot. It's because they're small, and the bigger guys have a tendency to lay bodies on them and it doesn't look like a foul. But it is."

Things abuzz in Charlotte

Bob Johnson¿s naming of Ed Tapscott to run basketball operations for his new Charlotte expansion team was a given from the day Johnson was awarded the franchise.

Tapscott vowed to be aggressive in his team-building concepts and said he and Johnson were equally determined to build a successful team.

"There are those who make it happen," Tapscott said. "There are those who watch it happen. And there are those who wonder what happened. We want to be an organization that will make it happen."

Now Tapscott has to start making it happen by building a basketball operations staff, beginning with a general manager.

There are quite a number of bright young player personnel guys out there, but assistant general manager Larry Harris might be the front-runner because of Tapscott¿s longtime relationship with GM Ernie Grunfeld.

Harris tops the short list of guys I recommend Tapscott consider, along with Sacramento¿s hard-working Wayne Cooper, Denver¿s talent-savvy assistant GM Jeff Weltman and director of player personnel Leo Papile.

I keep hearing that former Sonics-Nuggets-Wizards coach and GM Bernie Bickerstaff is going to wind up on Tapscott¿s staff, too, but not as GM.

Lots of old are anxious to join Johnson¿s organization, including Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry.

Don¿t expect a Charlotte GM announcement until after the season.

Fast breaks

  • I haven¿t yet seen the commercial shot for Apple computers, but I know someone who has. All you really need to know about it is that it features Yao and Verne Troyer, the actor who played ¿Mini Me¿ in the Austin Powers flicks, seated next to one another on an airplane. Said Yao: "When I saw the finished product, I definitely enjoyed it. It was pretty funny. But the process of making it was very tiring. I had to sit there with lights on my face. It felt like I was right up against the sun."

  • Alert Diogenes. We¿ve found an honest man. Eddie Curry, whose playing time has been minimal this season, hit 6-of-7 shots against the on Wednesday to score 15 points and reach double figures for the first time in 12 games. But he finished with only one rebound in 16 minutes, none defensive. "That's what is going to keep me off the court, my lack of rebounding," Curry said.

  • My favorite statistic of the season, of particular note now that Utah¿s joined all-time leader in the very exclusive 10,000 assist club: Twelve NBA tams have fewer than 10,000 career assists among all their players. And the now have two players whose total of 25,437 assists (15,434 for Stockton; 10,003 for Jackson) is more than any team¿s entire roster.

  • Enigma of the Week: can¿t shoot a lick unless it¿s a 3-pointer. He ranks third in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 47.2 percent (42-for-89). Bowen, a starter only because of his defensive prowess, is making only 43.2 percent (51-for-118) of his non-3 pointers. Gee, I thought the shorter shots were supposed to be easier. Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address,
  • Tagged: Celtics, Pelicans, Nuggets, Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Heat, Bucks, Timberwolves, Nets, Knicks, Magic, Suns, Spurs, Jazz, Wizards, Brad Miller, Metta World Peace, Ben Wallace, Kobe Bryant, Eddie Jones, Bruce Bowen, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas, Othella Harrington, Tracy McGrady, Shawn Marion, Tim Duncan, Amar'e Stoudemire, Yao Ming

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