Dalembert, Team Canada go separate ways
If you like drama, then Canada's heart-stopping, lurching, improbably comeback win over South Korea Wednesday morning was for you.
There was conflict, tension and a major plot twist - and that was before the Canadian national team even left their hotel.
According to multiple sources, the decision to have Philadelphia 76ers centre Samuel Dalembert leave the team came just hours before Canada's do-or-die win against South Korea.
National team coach Leo Rautins confronted Dalembert as the team bus was about to leave for the arena, questioning his commitment to the team. Dalembert in turn challenged Rautins.
One source said it was Rautins who told Dalembert to "get lost," while another said it wasn't clear who had the final word, only that there was mutual agreement the team and it's high-profile centre should part ways.
Attempts to reach Dalembert yesterday were unsuccessful, but his agent, Marc Cornstein, disputed the notion his client's commitment to the national team program was ever in doubt.
"I did talk to him briefly," Cornstein said from Las Vegas. "The only thing I can say is questioning any type of commitment on Sam's part is ludicrous. It's been extremely difficult to get high level NBA players to become part of the national team program and Sam not only made the effort last year to get his Canadian citizenship, he committed his off-season last year to helping Canada qualify for Greece.
"And this summer, unless I'm mistaken, he was there at the beginning of training camp and hasn't asked for any special treatment, so I don't know why anyone would question his commitment."
National team veteran Rowan Barrett said the team is unified going forward.
"The bottom line is you're representing Canada here," Barrett said. "The coaches, Leo, the last guy on the team, the doctors - we are all united here. We aren't waiting for Steve Nash or Sam Dalembert. We have to do it with the guys who are here."
The move came only a day after Dalembert struggled badly in Canada's opening game against Slovenia in which he was 1-of-9 from the field and grabbed four rebounds.
In interviews after the game, Rautins called for Dalembert to give a greater effort offensively and defensively, but added he wasn't singling him out for the loss.
Yesterday, Rautins said the decision to part ways with Dalembert had been "brewing for a while."
According to sources, some of the tension began last summer in Las Vegas when Dalembert - though initially enthusiastic about being part of the national team program for the first time, even going so far as to treat his teammates to a few nights out - increasingly isolated himself from the team, was regularly late for meetings and was quick to opt out of practice.
This year, the frustrations started when Dalembert, despite advance warning of the national team's schedule, volunteered for the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program even though it conflicted with the summer season. Dalembert eventually withdrew from the program and arrived on time for the team's three-week training camp. Again, he took his teammates out for a night in Toronto, but once more seemed to lose enthusiasm for the task.
He took himself out of Canada's final three exhibition games, citing a pre-existing hip problem. At the time, Rautins praised Dalembert for continuing to participate in meetings and attend practice - and he was an enthusiastic teammate on the bench.
In Europe, insiders say Dalembert didn't participate in team meals and spent most of his time with a group of friends he had travelling with him.
"He's not a bad person," said one player agent who asked not to be named. "But his level of dedication isn't the same as a Rowan Barrett or a Joel Anthony. He's kind of got an NBA aura. He's a role player in the league, but he sees what stars can get away with there and now that he's in a smaller pond, he's pulling a lot of the same stuff."
Dalembert came to Montreal from Haiti as a teenager before moving to New Jersey to pursue basketball and finish high school. Rautins worked diligently to push Dalembert to get his citizenship work done.
Sources say Rautins may have created some of the issues because the program was desperate to add a player of his stature in the absence of the likes of Nash. "He's a player's coach and he was so happy to have Sam that he may have overlooked some things and set up a double-standard," one source said.
Dalembert is the second big man Rautins has sent home in less than two weeks. On the eve of departing for Europe, he cut former Niagara University star Juan Mendez in favour of Rens Brempong.
Canada's inside rotation will be sorely tested tomorrow against Croatia, which boasts one of the bigger and more experienced front lines in the tournament.