Host of Argentina stars may skip Olympic qualifiers this summer

Associated Press • Apr 8, 2007 at 12:36 PM

Worn out from the NBA season, some star players might prefer a summer off instead of playing for their national team.

That's common for the U.S. team, but it could pose a big problem for Argentina.

The reigning Olympic champion might be without some its mainstays when the team heads to Las Vegas this summer for 2008 Olympic qualifying.

"I'm not sure right now," Spurs center Fabricio Oberto said. "I don't know if I'm going to be on the team. ... Maybe take this summer off. I haven't made the decision yet."

He's not the only one. Spurs teammate Manu Ginobili, Argentina's biggest star, also is undecided, as is another starter, Chicago Bulls forward Andres Nocioni, who has missed almost the entire second half of the season with plantar fasciitis.

Argentina's core players have played as much as basketball as anyone over the last five years. Argentina lost in the finals of the 2002 world championships and 2003 Olympic qualifier before winning gold in Athens in 2004. The Argentineans finished fourth last summer in the worlds, losing a heartbreaker to eventual champion Spain in the semifinals and falling to the Americans in the bronze-medal game.

All that play has them thinking it might be time for a rest.

"I still don't know. It's not an easy question right now," Ginobili said. "But we're talking about it. At this point, I'm closer to saying no and skip the summer rather than to say yes."

Argentina must finish in the top two at the FIBA Americas tournament from Aug. 22-Sept. 2 to participate in the Beijing Games and defend its Olympic gold. A finish between third and fifth earns a spot in another qualifying tournament in July 2008.

ADVICE FOR LEBRON: LeBron James' knee is aching at the worst possible time for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After Tuesday's victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, James said he was playing at about "80-85 percent" as the playoffs approach. He still managed 31 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, but if the Cavs are going to get past Detroit in the East, they're going to need King James at top form.

Many wonder if a summer spent playing for the United States in the world championships is starting to catch up with him.

To play all summer, then a full season is a grueling task, Minnesota star and former Olympian Kevin Garnett said.

"It's just too hard. Physically, it's just too hard to obviously play exhibition games, 82-game season plus playoffs and then play summer basketball or USA basketball," Garnett said. "It's a very difficult thing to do. It's easy to sit in the back and critique others and people and why they don't do certain things, but it's probably one of the hardest things to do in our league."

If James wants to ease the wear and tear on his body, Garnett has a simple piece of advice: "Just Say No."

"LB's going to step up. He's not going to let the pressure dictate what he's doing," Garnett said. "I think USA basketball, they're trying to throw it on him. He's human.

"Either (say no) or he's going to break down, and we all don't want to see that. At one point he'll step up and he'll speak up and it's OK to do that. You're body's talking to you, you have to listen to it."

NO STARS NECESSARY: Coaches who prefer team basketball to the star system must love the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 76ers traded their biggest name, waived the other one and have since turned into a respectable team that somehow brought slim playoff hopes into April.

With a victory in New York on Wednesday night, Philadelphia improved to .500 (22-22) in 2007. The 76ers played .267 ball before that - and few expected them to get much better after sending Allen Iverson to Denver in the middle of December.

"Our guys are just going on the court and doing the things that we've asked them to do," Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks said. "And the best part is that they've got some success out of it, and obviously people have noticed that."

Knicks coach Isiah Thomas is one of those people, saying the remaining Sixers players seemed to like being coached. They had little choice but to listen to Cheeks, realizing it would take a team effort to replace Iverson and Chris Webber, whose contract was bought out in early January.

Even though those two were good for about 50 points per game last season, Philadelphia has been better off without them. The 76ers were 25-26 since trading Iverson after Wednesday's victory, including 21-18 since waiving Webber on Jan. 11.

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