And-Ones: Team USA, Referees, Most Improved Player, Oden

Ahead of this year’s World Cup, Team USA will play a pair of exhibition games in Abu Dhabi in August, writes ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. The U.S. national team will face Germany on August 18 and Greece on August 20 in the World Cup tune-ups.

As Windhorst outlines, the exhibition games seem to be part of a concerted effort by the NBA to further establish itself in the Middle East. The Bucks and Hawks played a pair of preseason games in Abu Dhabi this past fall, and the league opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Abu Dhabi in 2022.

Additionally, foreign sovereign wealth funds are now permitted to become minority shareholders in NBA franchises by purchasing stakes of up to 20%. According to Windhorst, Mubadala (Abu Dhabi’s fund) has reportedly displayed interest in making that sort of investment in an NBA team.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • After blasting the league’s officiating – and singling out referee Ben Taylor – Raptors guard Fred VanVleet received a relatively light fine, which will give players the “green light” to continue criticizing the game’s officials, Windhorst stated during a Get Up segment on Friday (YouTube video link). VanVleet could have been fined up to $50K, but was only docked $30K, which Windhorst notes is less than Ja Morant and Marcus Smart were penalized earlier in the season for “heat-of-the-moment” curses at referees during games.
  • Josh Robbins, Kelly Iko, and Eric Nehm of The Athletic debated the frontrunners for Most Improved Player and weren’t in total agreement on which player deserves the award at this point. Robbins and Iko like Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, while Nehm favors Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen. All three writers have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Thunder as their current runner-up.
  • Mirin Fader of The Ringer takes an in-depth look at former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden‘s efforts to continue finding joy working in basketball following his brief, injury-marred NBA career.
  • Bill Duffy‘s BDA Sports is being acquired by WME Sports, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who explores what the purchase means for the two agencies, Duffy, and BDA’s clients (a group that includes Luka Doncic).