The biggest team they'll ever be on

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The biggest team they'll ever be on

LONDON (AP) -- The U.S. men's Olympic basketball team is favored to win again, and some think it's a matter of the players just showing up.

If that's the case, they could be in real trouble.

Showing up anywhere has been difficult for the Americans, whose traveling woes have nothing to do with a call by the referee.

Friday they arrived nearly 20 minutes after the scheduled start for their opening press conference, making anxious photographers wait extra long for that first click when LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the reigning gold medalists walked in.

"Two days we've had nothing but issues with transportation. No one's fault in particular, just general," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "We've been through so many neighborhoods, when this is over we're going to be able to do a little history on the city of London."

The bus carrying the U.S. team Friday drove to the wrong gate, which when the heightened security is factored in at an Olympics venue, may as well be the wrong city. The team had a similar problem on its first trip to see the basketball arena Thursday, along with going to the wrong place after its arrival in London from Barcelona, Spain.

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that he wants his team to be as consistent with its shooting as the team's bus drivers have been with their loss of direction.

"So far we've gotten lost on every one of our bus trips, so right now it feels chaotic," he said.
They'll hope to have an easier time figuring out the route to the gold medal podium.

Before arriving in London, things had been going more smoothly for the Americans. They fit in five exhibition victories around the casinos of Las Vegas, a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington before taking a day off to enjoy the sun and shops of Spain on Wednesday.

U.S. guard Russell Westbrook looked like he had just come from Barcelona, wearing shower shoes along with his U.S. basketball warmup suit.

The Americans aren't quite the megastars they were four years in Beijing, where basketball was wildly popular. Still, they're different than almost all the other athletes here, that being reinforced when the communications official reminded media that the press conference time shouldn't be used for player autographs or personal photos.

But the players are trying to act like regular Olympians, touring the athlete's village Thursday and meeting fellow American competitors such as sprinter Tyson Gay and swimmer Jason Lezak.

"It got crazy, it got hectic, but in a fun way," forward Carmelo Anthony said. "Everybody wanted pictures. We was out there just having fun, mingling with the other athletes, not just from the U.S. but from other countries. It feels good to be loved around the world."
Chris Paul said it's a mutual lovefest.

"I was explaining to (Westbrook) and (Kevin Durant) what's so cool about the Olympics is they are on the biggest team you'll ever be on," Paul said. "You see all the athletes with USA T-shirts on ... we're all teammates."

They begin play Sunday against France, a medal contender led by Spurs All-Star Tony Parker that features six NBA players, trailing only the U.S. for most in the field. The French are in a group of teams along with Spain, Argentina and Brazil -- all of whom lost to the Americans in exhibition play -- who could challenge a U.S. team that believes it's better than it was in 2008 but recognizes that its opponents are, too, and won't take anything for granted.

"I think there's always a target on our back and every team, their biggest game is against us," swingman Andre Iguodala said. "I feel like some teams are happy with just losing by less than 10. We had exhibition games where teams, they lost, but they were just happy it wasn't a 50-point game. And then sometimes even back home, like, we can't be arrogant. We have to be humble and we have to go in every game, play hard, play respectful, because anything done the wrong the way on our end will be blown out of proportion. So we're kind of, that microscope has been put on us."

The Americans were never threatened in 2008 until the gold-medal game, when they pulled away in the final two minutes to beat Spain by 11. They had some difficult stretches in exhibition play, trailing Brazil and Spain after one quarter and having a 20-point lead cut to four in the final minutes by Argentina, so they aren't assuming a simple path back to gold.

"I don't think anything's going to be easy," guard Deron Williams said.

Not even the bus rides.

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When does NBA free agency begin? Important offseason dates for the Wizards and the NBA

When does NBA free agency begin? Important offseason dates for the Wizards and the NBA

The NBA offseason is still a few weeks away, as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers do not begin their NBA Finals rematch until Thursday after a full six-day layoff. If it goes seven games, their series will not end until June 18.

But for 28 other teams, like the Washington Wizards, the offseason has already started. Here is a look at the most important dates to watch this summer as the Wizards and the rest of the league prepare for the 2017-18 season:

June 1: NBA Finals between the Cavs and Warriors begin

June 13: Deadline for early entrants to withdraw from draft

June 22: 2017 NBA Draft (Wizards hold the 52nd pick in the second round)

June 24: Deadline for restricted free agents to use their player options (Wizards have no players that apply)

June 26: NBA awards show hosted by Drake (Wizards have no finalists)

June 29: Deadline for all player and team options (Wizards have no players that apply)

June 30: Last day of league year, deadline for teams to make restricted free agents qualifying offers of 125% of their salary (Wizards will have to decide on Otto Porter, Bojan Bogdanovic and Trey Burke)

July 1: First day of new league year, free agent moratorium begins allowing teams to negotiate with players and reach verbal agreements

July 1-6: Orlando Summer League

July 3-6: Utah Summer League

July 6: Moratorium ends to start free agency and trades

July 7-17: Las Vegas Summer League (Wizards will participate)

July 13: Deadline for teams to revoke qualifying offers to RFAs

July 15: Deadline to sign first round picks

September 5: Deadline to sign second round picks

September, TBA: Training camp opens

As you can see, it will be a very busy offseason for the league. For more on the free agent options for the Wizards, check out these links:

Top free agent forwards who could help Wizards, Morris

Top free agent shooting guards who could help Wizards, Beal

Top free agent point guards who could help Wizards, Wall

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Scouting the Stanley Cup Final: Possible Caps’ Free Agent Targets from the Nashville Predators

Scouting the Stanley Cup Final: Possible Caps’ Free Agent Targets from the Nashville Predators

Yesterday, JJ Regan took a look at pending free agents on the Stanley Cup-bound Penguins that could be of interest to the Caps.

Today, I’m taking a look at Nashville’s expiring contracts and evaluating whether anyone could be of help to Washington as the team looks to retool on the fly this offseason.

(All contract info via www.capfriendly.com)

Mike Fisher

Position:C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:37
Last contract:2 years, $8.8 million/$4.4 million annual cap hit
Season stats:18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games

Fisher, the Preds’ second line pivot and team captain, enjoyed a bounce-back season after struggling through a down year in 2015-16. In addition to racking up 42 points, his highest total in four years, Fisher plays on both special teams units. He does the little things, too. He led all Predators’ forwards in hits (160), ranked second in blocked shots (66) and won a career-best 54.9-percent of his draws. Long respected for his work ethic and leadership, Fisher was give the ‘C’ last year after Shea Weber was dealt to Montreal for P.K. Subban. He’s also married to country music star Carrie Underwood. The bottom line is Fisher has been a good player for a long time in the NHL. But given the fact that the Caps have three centers under contract for next season (Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle) and are likely to ink Evgeny Kuznetsov to a long-term extension, there’s simply no fit here in Washington. Not to mention, it wouldn’t seem likely that the Preds would want to lose their captain two summers in a row.

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Vernon Fiddler

Position:  C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:37
Last contract:1 year, $1.25 million
Season stats:2 goals and 2 assists in 59 games with the Devils and Predators.

A solid fourth liner who returned to Nashville via a trade from New Jersey in February, he’s good defensive player, can kill penalties and is effective in the faceoff circle. Although he’d likely come cheap, I don’t see a fit with the Caps. It’s also possible he’ll retire following the season. Fiddler did, however, play his first six NHL seasons under Barry Trotz in Nashville and remains a favorite of the Washington coach.

Harry Zolnierczyk

Position:  LW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:30
Last contract:1 year, $575,000.
Season stats:2 goals and 2 assists in 24 games.

A depth player who spent 24 games in the American Hockey League this season, the bottom-six winger made his postseason debut last month and has drawn into the Predators’ playoff lineup eight times (1 goal, 1 assist, 9:05 of average ice time). There could be an opening on the left side of the fourth line if the Caps don’t re-sign Daniel Winnik, and Zolnierczyk, who has an economics degree from Brown, would come cheap. The Caps, however, can fill that role with a younger player who’s already in the organization.

P.A. Parenteau

Position:  RW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:34
Last contract:1 year, $1.25 million
Season stats:13 goals and 15 assists in 67 games with the Devils and Predators

Acquired by Nashville in March from New Jersey to provide postseason scoring depth, Parenteau is one of the game’s most well-traveled players. In fact, he’s played for eight teams since 2006, never spending more than two seasons in the same city. He’s played in one game in each of the three playoff rounds this spring but has not recorded a point. Again, Parenteau would likely come on the cheap but the Caps will have younger options.

Yannick Weber

Position: Defense
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season:29
Last contract:1 year, $575,000
Season stats: 1 goal, 7 assists in 73 games

Weber is a third pairing D-man for the Predators who doesn’t see time on special teams. That said, he’s a reliable vet, a right shot and wouldn’t cost much. And the Caps have a lot to sort out on the blue line.

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