USA Basketball Showcase big for roster hopefuls


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 3

LAS VEGAS – Thursday was a light, no-contact day at USA Basketball training camp. On the fourth day of preparations for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Select Team was gone and the Senior Team just went through drills and shooting.

This was to make sure everybody was fresh for Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, an intra-squad scrimmage that could go a long way in determining who will still be with this team when it reconvenes in Chicago on Aug. 14 and who won’t.

“Tomorrow night,” USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday, “if somebody just knocks somebody out, in terms of performance, that’s big. That is a big factor. So, not to put pressure on anyone, but it’s one thing to practice, it’s another thing to play in games.”

Here are the rosters for the game, with the players’ potential positions for the National Team …

Pos Blue White
PG Derrick Rose Kyrie Irving
PG John Wall
1/2 Stephen Curry Damian Lillard
2/3 DeMar DeRozan Bradley Beal
2/3 Kyle Korver James Harden
2/3 Klay Thompson
3/4 Paul George Kevin Durant
3/4 Gordon Hayward Chandler Parsons
4 Kenneth Faried Paul Millsap
5 Anthony Davis DeMarcus Cousins
5 Mason Plumlee Andre Drummond

We won’t know the details of the roster reduction until Saturday at the earliest. Neither will the players, who’ve been left in the dark about their status all week. Colangelo, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and their staff will meet after the game, discuss and evaluate what they saw.

“This isn’t evaluating one individual and his game,” Krzyzewski said Thursday. “It’s about evaluating a group and how a group will go together. All these guys are outstanding players. It’s just a matter of how we feel they can mesh as a unit.”

The U.S. won’t necessarily cut the roster down to 12 when it departs for the Canary Islands (for four more days of training and an exhibition against Slovenia) on Aug. 23. They took extra bodies abroad in 2010 and could do so again.

“I’m not saying we are going to do that,” Krzyzewski said, “but we don’t have to have the 12 until the day before [the World Cup begins]. We’d rather have it done before, but we’ll see.”

Here’s how I believe the roster stands at this point …

The locks

There are six guys who, barring injury, will absolutely on the team as it opens pool play at the World Cup on Aug. 30. They are (in alphabetical order) …

Stephen Curry – Curry didn’t play big minutes on the 2010 team that won gold in Istanbul, but he’s blown up on the NBA level since. It looks like he’ll be the sixth man, though he could be a starter at either guard position.

Anthony Davis – The starting center and likely one of two guys who will play big minutes (around 30 per game, maybe more in the final). Though he barely played in 2012, his last-minute addition to that roster (due to a Blake Griffin injury) is turning out to be a blessing. That experience will go a long way.

“It’s one of those things,” Krzyzewski said Thursday, “where a really good thing happened even though something bad happened.”

Kevin Durant – Well, duh.

Paul George – The starting small forward alongside Durant. He’ll get the toughest perimeter defensive assignment.

James Harden – Likely the starting shooting guard, who will share playmaking responsibilities with Rose and Curry.

Derrick Rose – Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have been downright giddy about what they’ve seen from Rose this week. He’s looked strong and in control, and his jumper is better than ever. It would be a real surprise if he isn’t the starting point guard against Finland on Aug. 30.

The other point guard

Colangelo told USA Today on Wednesday that it would be hard to keep more than one “pure point” on the roster, and labeled Rose, Kyrie Irving and John Wall as the true points in camp.

So it seems clear that one roster spot will come down to Irving vs. Wall. Irving is the more dynamic one-on-one player, but Wall is the better passer and defender.

Also, while Irving (35.8 percent) was a slightly better 3-point shooter than Wall (35.1 percent) overall last season, Wall was much better on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Wall had a 3-point percentage of 43.1 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 60.8 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, while Irving’s numbers were just 32.1 percent and 46.0 percent. Opponents will pack the paint and hope the U.S. Team is having an off night from the perimeter, so catch-and-shoot skills should be more important than pull-up skills with this team.

The specialists

Colangelo has said that, beyond a core of seven or eight guys, you need specialists. Those specialists could be energy guys, defenders, shooters or big man insurance.

There are two guys that fit the bill better than anyone. And beyond the six locks above, I’d label them as the most likely to make the roster (though that doesn’t mean they’ll have big roles).

Kenneth Faried – He doesn’t seem to fit in international basketball, because he’s 6-8 and can’t shoot. But he has ridiculous energy and bounce, he can finish on the break and he will outwork guys on the glass. Krzyzewski can put Faried into the game for a few minutes at a time, tell him to wreak some havoc and be confident that he will make a positive impact.

Kyle Korver – You know why he’s here. But the league-leader in 3-point percentage won’t hurt you defensively. He’s improved quite a bit on that end of the floor over the years.

These guys have unique skills, and both can be trusted to happily accept a limited role.

The rest of the core

So, if there are six locks and a seven- or eight-man core, who makes up the rest of the core? Colangelo wouldn’t bite at that question, but said they’re pretty set on who it is.

“That’s been pretty consistent,” he said. “It just depends. Is the core group seven or is it eight?”

The best bet to be that seventh or eighth guy is Klay Thompson, a guy who can shoot and play a little D on the wing.

The other big

Oh boy. This tweet from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst really stirred up some stuff Thursday evening …

The DeMarcus Cousins/Mason Plumlee debate is fascinating, and it’s too early to say that any decision has been made regarding the two. In fact, it’s extremely likely that both Cousins and Plumlee (and all the other bigs) will continue with the team to Chicago and New York, so that the staff can see them against other teams.

“This is a camp that is a month long,” Colangelo said, “not five days.”

The stop in Chicago will include an exhibition against Brazil, which has the front line – Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao – that most closely resembles Spain, the team, if any, that the U.S. would plan for when building its roster.

But the U.S. doesn’t necessarily have to match up against the World Cup hosts. In fact, in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympics, the three U.S. bigs – Kevin Love (19), Tyson Chandler (9) and Davis – combined to play just 29 minutes against Spain.

Davis could play that many himself this year. And if the U.S. does face Spain in another gold medal game, the hosts would worry about matching up with the Americans (namely Durant) as much as the opposite. The only difference between 2012 and this year is that the U.S. had bulkier forwards (LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony), who didn’t give up as much size to opposing bigs, while forcing them to try to guard them on the perimeter.

Back to Cousins/Plumlee, and back to Krzyzewski’s quote above about how the team will “mesh as a unit.”

Cousins’ advantages over other bigs are reduced when he’s not a focal point of the offense. And when he’s playing with the likes of Rose, Curry, Harden and Durant, he’s certainly not going to be that. He’s not getting 10 (or even three) post-ups as a back-up center on this team. And he doesn’t have the end-to-end speed to play the style that has been successful for the U.S. over the last several years.

“The style we play lends itself to what Anthony does,” Krzyzewski said, “or even what a Plumlee is doing. A little bit of [Andre] Drummond.

“DeMarcus’ game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he’s trying to make it. But also, as he grows, we have to look and see ‘Is there something we can do to help in bringing something more out of his game?'”

For Colangelo, the Cousins/Plumlee decision is about continuity from the starters to the bench.

“If you want to play a certain style,” he said, “you need the personnel to play that way. Now, some guys don’t really fit that way, but if there’s enough reason to carry someone … we play differently when he’s in the game. You have to make an adjustment.”

Plumlee does what they like. He runs the floor, he’s active and vocal on defense, and he stays in his lane. He’s certainly not perfect – it could be bad news if he has to make decisions with the ball or shoot free throws – but his type is a better fit on this team, especially when you’re talking about a roster spot that will see limited playing time. And yes, Cousins’ temperament is always a factor.

Drummond is definitely still in the picture, so this could be a three-man race for that back-up center spot. And it’s a race that will likely go from Vegas to Chicago to New York.

“We’re going to take a long look at our bigs,” Krzyzewski said.

Paul Millsap is likely in competition with Faried for the smaller big man spot. Millsap offers better offensive skills and floor spacing, but in short bursts, it seems clear that Faried can make a more immediate impact. It should also be noted that Faried was on the original roster, while Millsap volunteered to come when Kevin Love dropped out.

The redundancies

In answering a question about Gordon Hayward on Thursday, Colangelo said, “We have a lot of redundancy at certain positions and body types and sizes,” and put Hayward in the same category with Chandler Parsons and DeMar DeRozan.

“This will be very competitive for a number of guys because of the redundancy,” Colangelo said. “You could go one way or another.”

If you go back to those catch-and-shoot numbers, Parsons (41.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes) was much better than DeRozan (34.0 percent) or Hayward (31.8 percent). He’s also a good playmaker, so give him the edge going into Friday night.

The other guards

Damian Lillard is thought of here as a one/two in the mold of Curry. And it’s hard to see them taking two of those. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he definitely won’t be in Chicago or that the staff doesn’t like him, but he seems the most likely to be done after Friday.

Bradley Beal has flown under the radar this week and is probably behind Thompson in the two/three consideration. But nobody should be eliminated from potentially being on the 15-man list before Friday’s Showcase.

The wild card

Colangelo told Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet that it’s not impossible for Love to ultimately be on the World Cup roster. Love withdrew from camp because of trade uncertainty, but again, the roster doesn’t have to be set until Aug. 29.

Cavs No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded on Aug. 23. So, it’s possible that Love could be dealt to Cleveland and then decide to play at the World Cup.

That could obviously send a bad message – that you can skip training camp and still play – to other U.S. players. But if it comes down to a decision between Kevin Love and Mason Plumlee, it may be difficult not to compromise your principles.

Predictions

So here’s a guess of what the roster will look like after it’s reduced this weekend, in the order they were addressed above …

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Anthony Davis
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Paul George
  5. James Harden
  6. Derrick Rose
  7. Kyrie Irving or John Wall
  8. Kyle Korver
  9. Kenneth Faried
  10. Klay Thompson
  11. DeMarcus Cousins
  12. Andre Drummond
  13. Mason Plumlee
  14. Chandler Parsons
  15. Bradley Beal or Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap or Irving/Wall

No. 15 will depend on what the staff thinks it needs and who played well on Friday. And the number of players going to Chicago doesn’t necessarily have to be 15.

It’s not all good news for the Bulls surrounding Rose


VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks to reporters after USA Basketball practice

From NBA.com staff reports

Well, all those good warm and fuzzy feelings surrounding Derrick Rose lasted all of, what, four days? After nearly a week full of folks focusing on how good the 2011 NBA MVP looked back on the court, now the news regarding the Bulls’ star has taken a negative turn.

The Chicago Sun-Times, reporting from Team USA camp in Las Vegas, posted a story Thursday centered on some interesting comments attributed to Rose. Here is the most notable chunk of the interview:

“I know it’s been there,’’ Rose told the Sun-Times, acknowledging there has been growing tension between the organization and his camp. “I heard there were some upset people.

“I’m happy I didn’t personally see it. I don’t want to see that. I kind of wonder where it was coming from because it seemed like whenever I was around, everything was all right. It bothered me because when I wasn’t around, I would hear from certain people that everything wasn’t all right.’’

So notable were the comments and the story that Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf made an awkward move to address them in a team press release. Here is Reinsdorf’s statement in its entirety:

“I am confounded by the irresponsible report in the Chicago Sun-Times suggesting there is anything approaching discord or confusion between the Bulls executive office, coaching staff, and Derrick Rose or any other Bulls player. To the contrary, I can remember no time when the organization has been any more focused, optimistic, and cohesive. I’ve got to assume suggestions otherwise are intended to undermine the goals and objectives, spirit, and reputation of the Chicago Bulls. I am deeply disappointed that unnamed sources and totally inaccurate statements and assumptions can be used to foment nonexistent friction. The report is totally without basis or fact. It is pure malicious fiction.”

It seems like Friday’s USA Basketball showcase (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) couldn’t come at a better time for Rose and the Bulls, who will probably cherish the chance to talk about what happens on the court again. At least for one day.

T’Wolves need a king’s ransom for Love


VIDEO: Relive the Timberwolves’ top 5 alley-oops from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At this point in the process, if Kevin Love doesn’t end up trotting out for the starting lineup with LeBron James on opening night this season, it’ll be a true shocker.

We’ve crossed that threshold in this summer’s ongoing Love-to-Cleveland saga. The news that the Minnesota Timberwolves are dealing exclusively with the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We’re all agreed that the potential addition of Love pushes the Cavs over the top in the Eastern Conference, at least on paper, when you have a three-man All-Star core of James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.

But what does Love’s departure mean for the Timberwolves? Losing Love doesn’t put them in any more of a precarious position than they are in right now. They didn’t make the playoffs with him and won’t be considered a playoff factor without him in the rugged Western Conference. Not with Ricky Rubio leading a young cast that better include Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, along with their own youngsters (including HT faves Gorgui DiengZach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III) in yet another rebuilding effort.

It took a while, but I’m on board with this deal getting done, and sooner rather than later. LeBron gets what LeBron wants. And if he wants Love on his side, it shall be. (My golden rule on players remains, though. So Love comes with a clarification sticker: If you cannot take your team to the playoffs as the No. 1 option, you’re either a No. 2 or a No. 3 option.)

All that said, Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders would be wise to hold out for a king’s ransom for Love, given what the franchise has gone through since the last time they traded away the face of the franchise. Oh yeah, today is the anniversary of the 2007 trade that saw Kevin Garnett relocate to Boston where he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win a championship and help revive the Celtics.

It’s been that long, and more, since the Timberwolves were involved in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference (they haven’t made the postseason since 2004). They traded Garnett to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks (one of which was acquired in a trade with Minnesota a year prior). The deal marked the largest NBA trade ever for one player, and in hindsight it still wasn’t enough.

Jefferson, an All-Star caliber big man and franchise building block now in Charlotte, wasn’t ready to step into Garnett’s shoes back then. For all of his spectacular skills, Love hasn’t been up to that task either. Timberwolves fans have had to suffer through numerous restarts and regime changes since Garnett’s departure and none of them have worked.

Anyone who tells you they are convinced Wiggins, Bennett and that future first-round pick Saunders will get from the Cavs for Love will spark the revival the Twin Cities have been waiting on is delusional. It won’t happen anytime soon, and certainly not in time to take the sting off of seeing Love compete for a championship as soon as his first season away from Minnesota.

And if Love is the transcendent talent so many believe him to be, his presence alongside LeBron and Kyrie should result in the Cavs being the cream of the Eastern Conference crop immediately (above or at least alongside Indiana and Chicago).

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, will have to endure yet another round (or two … or three) of blueprints for what has turned out to be a seemingly never-ending franchise rebuild.

This isn’t news to Saunders, whose roots in the organization (and Minnesota overall) run deep. He knows better than anyone the pressure the Wolves will be under until Love is dealt … and then again after Love is gone. One dreadful, non-playoff season blends into another and before you know it, a decade (or more) has passed without the postseason.

And that’s why Saunders should squeeze every ounce of whatever he can from the Cavs in this deal. Make them pay for the right to add Love. A king’s ransom isn’t too much to ask for now.


VIDEO: Check out the Timberwolves’ top 10 plays from last season

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Day 2 of Team USA’s practice

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love talks narrowed to Cavs | George: Pacers should have won title | Rose draws rave reviews in Vegas | Scott could have coached Lakers earlier

No. 1: Report: Wolves working solely with Cavs on Love deal – The Denver Nuggets. The Boston Celtics. The Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Cavaliers. At various points this offseason, those four teams — and perhaps others — have been involved in talks to acquire Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love. That list has apparently been narrowed to just Cleveland as a seemingly inevitable pairing of Love with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving grows closer. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, who first reported this bit of news, have more:

The Minnesota Timberwolves were engaged in serious Kevin Love trade talks with no teams other than the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, adding to the growing belief around the NBA that Love teaming up with LeBron James is inevitable, according to sources briefed on the situation.

After ESPN.com reported last week that the Cavaliers remain the front-runners to acquire Love in a trade co-headlined by No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, sources this week have described the Cavs as the only team in contention for Love. Sources say the Chicago Bulls have become increasingly pessimistic about their chances of trumping Cleveland’s offer, while the Golden State Warriors remained unwilling to bend on their longstanding refusal to surrender Klay Thompson in a deal for Love.

Wiggins is not eligible to be dealt until Aug. 23 after signing his rookie contract last week, but numerous league insiders — some of whom are gathered in Las Vegas for this week’s Team USA training camp — have begun to describe a Love-to-Cleveland trade as a “when” transaction as opposed to an “if.”

The expectation remains that the Wolves will emerge from this saga with no less than Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick from the Cavs in exchange for Love before August is out.

ESPN.com reported last week that the Bulls had re-emerged as a serious suitor for Love, despite the fact they had a few more trade assets to offer Minnesota before last month’s NBA draft. But sources said this week that Chicago essentially has conceded to the Cavs, knowing it can’t furnish a player with both Wiggins’ superstar potential and his favorable rookie-scale contract.

The Wolves also signed veteran guard Mo Williams this week, making fellow vet J.J. Barea — who sources say Minnesota is determined to offload as part of a Love deal — more available. It’s believed the Wolves hope to convince Cleveland to take Barea as part of a Love trade or find a third team to absorb Barea’s expiring contract.

The Warriors conceivably could still give Cleveland something to worry about if they suddenly put Thompson on the table while the Cavs are waiting for Wiggins to become trade eligible, but sources say Taylor prefers a package headlined by Wiggins to a Thompson-led haul for Love.

***  

USA camp – Day 3 notes


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 2

LAS VEGAS – Media time after Day 3 of USA Basketball training camp went a little long, because everybody was watching an extended game of “King of the Hill” between Kevin Durant, Paul George and James Harden.

“King of the Hill” is a three-way game of one-on-one. Player 1 tries to score on Player 2. If he does, Player 2 steps off the floor and Player 3 comes in and to play defense. But if Player 2 gets the stop, he moves to offense and tries to score against Player 3. The game goes on until a player gets five buckets.

That shouldn’t take long, but the trio played the game from several different spots on the floor. (Here’s a vine of a couple of right-elbow possessions.) By the time they were done, they had gone for a good 20 minutes or so, drawing quite a crowd of media, USA teammates, coaches, and other onlookers. And this was after a full practice.

“It was intense,” George said afterward. “At the end of the day, we’re out here to get better. And there’s no better guys for me to go against, for myself to guard than KD and James. And James is quick and low to the ground and KD’s got the length, so it’s good for me, offensively, as well. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to get better and work hard. And I think we took it to another level.”

Yes, that was George giving credit to Harden’s defense. At one point, Harden blocked Durant’s seemingly unblockable shot, getting in some trash talk afterward.


VIDEO: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Paul George play a game of King of the Hill

***

Speaking of Durant and George, they’re the latest USA forward tandem that no other country that can match up with. And by putting them on the same team every day, the U.S. staff is making sure they get time to build some chemistry.

***

Harden and Durant, meanwhile, are two of only five players in camp with Senior National Team experience. But 12 of the other 15 were here last year for a four-day mini-camp.

The U.S. had no competition to play in last summer. By winning the 2012 Olympics, they automatically qualified for this year’s World Cup and had no reason to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought 28 guys to Las Vegas, so they could get to know them and get them integrated into the system.

It was only four days and with so many guys in the gym, none of them got all that much playing time in the scrimmages. But it reduced the learning curve for the whole group and allowed them to hit the ground running on Monday.

“A big thing is their familiarity with me and the coaching staff,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time trying to get to know them. So, it lends for familiarity.”

And it has paid off.

“We have actually gotten more in in the first three days of this camp,” Krzyzewski said, “than we have our previous three camps.”

DeMar DeRozan was one of those guys here last year.  

U.S. set with another talented tandem at the forward spots


VIDEO: All-Access: Paul George at USA Basketball Practice

LAS VEGAS – For most of the Jerry Colangelo/Mike Krzyzewski era, the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team has played two nominal small forwards together.

On the 2008 Olympic team, the starting forwards were LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. On the 2010 World Championship team, it was Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant. And at the 2012 Olympics, it was Durant and James.

One reason is that the international game requires more shooting on the floor than the NBA game, where you can have offensive success with two traditional bigs. Under FIBA rules, defenses can play zone and pack the paint.

The other reason? Well, the U.S. is really freaking talented at the small forward position.

When you have the two best players in the world on the same team, you’re not going to have them backing each other up.

This year’s edition of the National Team has Durant playing next to Paul George, one of the best two-way players in the league and an MVP candidate through the first half of last season. With those two teamed with Anthony Davis, the U.S. starting frontline is pretty much set in stone.

All you have to do is look at how the 20-man roster has been broken up in training camp this week. Once Kevin Love decided to back out of participating this summer, it became obvious who would start at the three, four and five positions. So, the staff set out on allowing the trio to start building chemistry from the start of camp. Each of the first three days, Davis, Durant and George have been on the same team.

“We’re going to play a lot together,” Durant said Wednesday. “The chemistry is going to come. But if we stick with it, continue to keep learning and playing off each other, we can be great.”

Though it’s becoming clearer with every day that passes that Derrick Rose will be the starting point guard for this team, the minutes distribution in the backcourt is still in the air. So the George-Durant-Davis trio has been teamed with different backcourt tandems each day.

On Monday, it was Rose and James Harden (the best bet for the starting two at the World Cup). On Tuesday, it was Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry. And on Wednesday, it was Rose and Klay Thompson, with John Wall subbing in for Rose after a few minutes.

“We wanted that with different guard tandems,” Krzyzewski said. “So you give them all a chance to play with those two guys, and with Anthony.”

George knows that, playing next to Durant and the guards on this roster, his focus has to be on one end of the floor in particular.

“I [have] got to be a defender,” he said. “We got guys that can make shots, run the floor and make plays. I got to be a defender for us. We got a bunch of defenders here, but I can be the versatile one that can guard 1-4 and be able to make plays when I need to.”

That’s the role that Iguodala played in 2010. Durant carried the U.S. offense, averaging 33 points per game in the final three games, but Iguodala’s defense — like holding Linas Kleiza to four points on 1-for-11 shooting and stripping him clean multiple times in the semifinal — was also critical.

Davis, Durant and George is a freakishly long and athletic frontline. And though they each averaged more than 20 points per game last season, George likes the potential of the trio defensively more than anything.

“What’s great is we can switch everything and not give up much,” he said. “I’m excited with that lineup. We can really cover the floor with our athleticism, our length, our speed.”

The U.S. only has 12 days of practice, one intra-squad scrimmage and four exhibition games before it begins World Cup pool play in Bilbao. So chemistry building from Day 1 is important. But so far, it has come at the expense of versatility building. With Davis, Durant and George always teaming together, they haven’t had the chance to team with other frontcourt pieces.

“The thing we haven’t been able to do,” Krzyzewski said, “is take a look at Paul at the four.”

With two NBA small forwards playing the three and four on this team, you’d think they were interchangeable in the game flow. And as George explained, they are on defense. But there are some distinctions between the two positions in the U.S. offense.

“The four, you’re setting a lot of screens instead of coming off the screens,” Chandler Parsons, a candidate to back up Durant and George, said. “You’re taking the ball out of bounds instead of running the wing. In different sets, you’re in different places. But for the most part, if you’re moving and you continue to get around, it’s all the same stuff.”

At some point, George will get the chance to play the four alongside another one of the U.S. forwards. But for most of the World Cup, he’ll be Durant’s running mate. James may be taking this summer off, but there still no country in the world that can match up with the U.S. forwards.

His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Take a look at Kevin Durant and Team USA as they practice

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Here’s what we’ve learned about Kevin Durant through his first seven seasons in the league: He’s his own man, capable of independent thought and making intelligent, well-reasoned decisions.

He chose to sign a five-year extension in 2010 without demanding an option for an early out. To ensure maximum appeal as a corporate pitchman, he strategically didn’t tattoo areas of his body visible when in uniform. A few years ago a stunned public discovered that Durant’s uniform-covered torso resembles Allen Iverson.

He is the league’s reigning MVP coming off a grueling season in which he logged a league-high 3,121 regular-season minutes followed by a postseason-high 814 minutes (even though his Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games in the Western Conference finals), yet he remained committed to Team USA, currently holding camp in Las Vegas. Remember, this squad will compete in the upcoming world championships in Spain (recast as the FIBA World Cup). This is not an Olympic year or even an Olympic-qualifying year. Durant doesn’t have to be here. He chose to be here.

And he’s a big story in Vegas. Everybody wants to know if, inspired by LeBron James‘ homecoming, he’ll leave the Thunder for his long-suffering hometown Washington Wizards in 2016 when he becomes a free agent.

In the NBA it’s never too early to spin theoretical free-agent story lines. Mostly because NBA front offices are actively planning for the Durant sweepstakes. Teams have to align contracts today to ensure available salary cap in two summers just to be in the chase. The NBA is a star-driven league and Durant (with potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love likely headed to Cleveland in a trade) is the next available fast track to contention.

And yes, the up-and-coming Wizards are preparing. Who wouldn’t love to add Durant to the promising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal? Washington’s books are in line for summer ’16, and you might have heard they hired a new player development assistant, David Adkins. Adkins? He was an assistant at Durant’s alma mater Montrose Christian in Maryland, and is said to be close to Durant. The plot thickens.

Fine, but any insinuation that Northeast Ohio’s re-embracing of LeBron tugged Durant’s heartstrings toward D.C. is a reach. The Cavs drafted the locally loved Akron phenom out of high school. He elevated the hometown NBA franchise to a Finals appearance in 2007 and three years later stomped on the hearts of his faithful with the incredibly insensitive “Decision.” Four Finals runs and two championships with the Miami Heat later, LeBron, all grown up, decided it was time to mend fences. Great story.

It’s not Durant’s story. Durant did tell reporters Tuesday that he grew up taking the train to Georgetown games, although he left home to play college ball 1,300 miles away at Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and the next season moved with the franchise to Oklahoma City, a close-knit town he’s professed his love for countless times, and as recently as his MVP speech for the ages.

The Thunder are perennial contenders. Durant holds close relationships with coach Scott Brooks, as well as teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and many others in the organization. Most of all, Durant willingly immersed himself in the community. When he won the MVP, the city declared him “OKC’s MVP.” The governor and state representatives attended the ceremony.

If he were to leave OKC, it’s not a stretch to suggest that community will be more devastated than D.C. will be elated. With Durant, 25, in a Thunder uniform, the championship window is open-ended.

But hey, a lot can happen in two years. The Thunder could win a championship. Or two. Or maybe they don’t and Durant’s patience runs thin, after all he’ll be nine years in by the summer of ’16. Maybe the Durant-Westbrook relationship sours. Maybe Brooks gets fired. Maybe Durant ultimately decides he wants to play for a billionaire owner more responsive to spending when the moment calls.

So maybe Durant does go home, even though the number of stars who have gone home pales to those who never do when given the chance. We’ve seen Durant don Washington NFL gear and — not sure if anybody’s pointed this out — he’s got a Washington Nationals logo tattooed above his belly button. Durant does love his D.C. sports.

So maybe he does go home. Or perhaps, as was speculated when Durant hired Jay-Z to represent him, he goes to the Knicks or Nets. They’ll all be in line (yep, even the Nets will be flush with cap space by then).

Yes, the script that has Durant riding a white horse into Washington, where the Wizards/Bullets haven’t won a title since a decade before Durant was born, is real. It could happen. Durant could also play 20 seasons in OKC.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant told reporters in Vegas. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.”

Durant might as well memorize those lines. He’ll need to cue them up over and over during these next two years.

But what we’ve learned of him over the last seven years is Kevin Durant is his own man.

Blogtable: Tough Team USA call

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Get an up-close look at Kyrie Irving’s Team USA experience thus far

> You’re Mike Krzyzewski. You have some decisions to make. What’s your toughest call? Who do you go with?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I can’t take my eyes off the five point guards: Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and John Wall? How many can you put on the 15-man roster Coach K wants by the time camp ends? Four? Probably not. I’m guessing three. Unless Team USA assistant and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gives Coach K the wink to keep Rose off the team as injury prevention, I believe Rose is a lock. My second lock is Curry because he can swing over to the 2 and shoot the lights out of any zone defense. Now I have a real problem. Irving is a two-time All-Star and a $90-million man. Wall made his All-Star debut in February and is an $80-million man. Lillard is already an All-Star after two seasons and has ice in his veins. I think Irving is going to get the spot, but my choice is Wall. I really like how he’s maturing, both in his physical and mental game. He pushes the tempo, has consistently posted higher assist numbers than Irving and Lillard and shoots the 3 well enough, especially on this squad. So there it is, Wall gets my third and final point-guard spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That point guard group is as elite as it gets. Outside of Steph Curry, whose ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor is crucial in international competition, I don’t know that there any locks for the roster in this group. I can see any combination of three making sense for the final roster. And that means two All-Stars get left behind. Picking two guys from a group that includes Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall seems like an impossible situation, one that Coach K’s peers who will be in Spain would love to be laboring through right now. But this is about the best fits for this particular team and until we see them work through training camp, I don’t think we can jump to any conclusions about who fits best. If I’m picking, Irving and Lillard would seem to make the most sense based on skill-sets and versatility.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Who are the bigs on the roster behind Anthony Davis? There’s a reason why, with the addition of Mason Plumlee on Tuesday, the big position is the most crowded. There are no obvious choices (or any Senior Team experience) beyond Davis and all those guys have their flaws. Assuming Davis plays 30 minutes per game, you need guys who can bring energy in short bursts. So I would take Kenneth Faried and, yes, Plumlee. Those guys can make an impact a few minutes at a time and are more trustworthy than Andre Drummond. And I would seriously consider bringing a fourth big – Paul Millsap, in this case – for the first time since 2006. Millsap gives you the opportunity to put an extra shooter on the floor in certain situations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the loss of Kevin Love is looming large. And with Blake Griffin out as well, I am very interested to see how the backup center spot shakes out. Anthony Davis seems to have established himself as the starter, but behind him do you go with DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond? Or do you look for mobility and speed and try Kenneth Faried? If it’s me, I take Paul Millsap and pray Davis stays out of foul trouble, but if I’m in a pinch hope Kevin Durant or even Millsap can steal you a couple of minutes at the five.

Blogtable: New coach who’s the best fit

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Byron Scott talks with Lakers.com after being hired as L.A.’s new coach

> Which of the league’s nine new head coaches best fits his team?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I really like the grittiness of Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn, the mind of Stan Van Gundy in Detroit and I applaud Cleveland for thinking out of the box in hiring David Blatt. But, I’m most intrigued by Phil Jackson’s guy, Steve Kerr in New Yo … er, Golden State. Kerr might be a rookie coach, but he has so many weapons to work with and if that squad can stay healthy, I feel we’re going to see a very free and loose team hustling up and down the floor and putting up a lot of points.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As much as I’d love to give the nod to Byron Scott and that underdog bunch the Lakers have put together this summer, I can’t go there. David Blatt, on the other hand, has the perfect canvas to work with in Cleveland with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and whoever else remains on that roster by the start of training camp. It’s rare that you will get a coach with the experience and accomplishments Blatt has compiled over the years coaching what looks like (and should be) a contender. Everything Blatt says and does will be magnified a zillion times because of LeBron’s presence, but he seems to have the perfect temperament to handle such things. I’m looking forward to seeing what Blatt can get out of Irving and some of the Cavs’ other young talent (provided some of those youngsters are still on the roster in October).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: We don’t know exactly what kind of coach Steve Kerr will be, but if he’s been influenced by both Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, he needs bigs who are multi-skilled. And the Warriors entire frontline  – Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – can pass and make plays. With all their talent, Golden State ranked just 12th offensively last season. It will be interesting to see if a new system can push them into the top five or six on that end of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: First of all, I didn’t even really realize that one-third of the NBA has new head coaches — I guess that wheel is still spinning. To me, the most interesting fit is in Detroit, where Stan Van Gundy takes over. The very public way that things collapsed in Orlando makes it easy to forget just how good Van Gundy was for most of his time there. The Pistons have an odd assortment of pieces, particularly if they bring back Greg Monroe, and last year’s experiment of playing Josh Smith at the three went about as well as any Atlanta Hawks fan could have told you it would go. But Van Gundy has always used a system to fit the pieces available to him, and I’m guessing he’ll do the same in Detroit and make the best out of what he has.

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine future

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.