With holes to fill, Rudy Gay adds depth and experience to Team USA

VIDEO: Rudy Gay talks about his chances to make Team USA

NEW YORK — Since Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski took control of USA Basketball, they’ve spoken often of building USA Basketball into more of a “program,” establishing continuity by having a pool of players they’d be able to call upon for the various international competitions.

Never was that depth more necessary than this summer, when Team USA lost three key frontcourt members (Paul George, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant) in the span of a few weeks. In need of size and scoring, Colangelo was pleased to get a call volunteering his services from Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay, who was part of USA Basketball’s 2010 World Championship team and represented the USA in the 2005 Global Games.

Being welcomed back to the USA Basketball fold was important for Gay.

“It means a lot,” he said on Wednesday night, after scoring a team-high 13 points in a 105-62 exhibition win over the Dominican Republic. “The fact that I was one of the options, and the fact that they trusted in me to be ready, and they thought I could help.”

When Durant announced he was out, Gay was two weeks into his workouts to prepare for the regular season, weights and beginning basketball drills.

“This is a time when you’re usually just working by yourself or playing pickup,” said Gay. “To play competitively and also have a little more structure, or a lot more structure, helps you going into your season.

“Since my surgery I haven’t really been able to play competitive basketball in the summer, so it’s big just to be able to get back and play competitive basketball.”

In last week’s exhibition against Brazil, Gay scored five points in a dozen minutes. Tonight against the Dominican Republic, Gay played almost 18 minutes and scored in a variety of ways, including knocking down a three and getting to the free-throw line.

Without Love, Durant and George, the U.S. team lost most of their interior depth. The 6-foot-8 Gay gives them a player with the size to swing between both forward positions, and even switch onto a center defensively in a pinch, as well as the offensively ability to score from the inside or outside. Combine that versatility with his international basketball experience, and Gay would seem to be a lock to make the final roster. Not that Colangelo and Krzyzewski have given Gay any hints as to his roster status: “None. None. That was agreed to upon me coming. I told them I didn’t want anything, I wanted to prove my way. We didn’t have a conversation about anything.”

Gay’s late arrival to this U.S. team was made simpler by the continuity of the USA Basketball program — just as the USA Basketball staff was familiar with Gay’s game and what he could bring, Gay was familiar with Coach K’s system and expectations. But while he mostly played small forward in 2010, Gay is now spending most of his time at the four, or power forward position.

“It’s not a natural four,” Gay said. “So I’m trying to learn the spots they want me to be at also how I can be effective at them. It’s more like a stretch four, especially when I’m in there. I think that’s what coach wants from me and the kind of game they want to see me play.

“I can guard different positions, make it easier on our guards. And that makes it easier for the whole team.”

USA handles Dominican Republic, moves toward roster reduction


VIDEO: Dominican Republic vs. USA Basketball

NEW YORK – It’s hard to know if the U.S. National Team got better on Wednesday. Their opponent in their second exhibition game wasn’t nearly as good as their opponent in the first. After pushing past Brazil in the fourth quarter in Chicago, the U.S. manhandled the Dominican Republic, 105-62, at Madison Square Garden. They won each of the first three quarters by double-digits.

The offensive numbers — 58 percent shooting, 10-for-23 from 3-point range, just 13 turnovers — were great. The defensive numbers — 34 percent shooting, 5-for-25 from 3-point range, 19 turnovers — were even better.

As much as it was an opportunity to take a step forward in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, it was a chance to see more minutes from guys who are vying for the last few roster spots.

USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said that all 16 players currently on the roster will still be on it Friday, when the team plays another exhibition here against Puerto Rico. But after that, some guys won’t be making the trip to Gran Canaria, Spain, for the next phase of training.

“I’m sure we’ll do something before we leave the country on Saturday,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ll get down to a lower number. We have to do that.”

The final, 12-man roster does not need to be submitted until Aug. 29. So the U.S. may take 13 players on the plane and wait to make a final decision.

The four players who did not play in Saturday’s win over Brazil each came off the bench on Wednesday. And three of them put up numbers that could help their cause.

After missing Saturday’s game with a knee bruise, DeMarcus Cousins scored just two points, but was the game’s leading rebounder with eight boards in less than 16 minutes.

DeMar DeRozan, who was the leading scorer in the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, tied for the team-high with 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting on Wednesday. He’s one of the players most likely to be sent home this weekend, but has flourished in these fast-paced games.

Andre Drummond also seems like a likely cut, but also seemed at home with the up-and-down style, racking up 12 points and five rebounds (four offensive) in 16 minutes.

Gordon Hayward, meanwhile, was the only player who didn’t see any action until the second half on Wednesday. He was his usual solid self, but didn’t make much of an impression with the game already well in hand.

And that, again, was the issue with Wednesday’s game. The U.S. needs players it can trust in a hostile environment against a quality opponent. Though the MSG crowd had a sizeable Dominican contingent that got loud with every early basket, this wasn’t much of a test for the U.S. team or any of its players.

So, the decisions that Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo have to make in the next few days will not be easy. Cousins, DeRozan, Drummond and Hayward appear to be in competition with Damian Lillard and Mason Plumlee for the final two roster spots. After playing strong against Brazil, Plumlee did not play Wednesday, so that Drummond could see some floor time.

Lillard’s status may be tied to that of Derrick Rose, who also sat out Wednesday’s game after sitting out the last two days of practice. Neither Rose nor Krzyzewski nor Colangelo has expressed concern over the point guard and all three say they’re just being careful.

“I’m just trying to protect myself,” Rose said, “knowing this is a long, long schedule and this is the most basketball I’ll be playing in two years.”

He said that he will practice Thursday (a non-contact day) and play in Friday’s game against Puerto Rico. He called the soreness he’s been feeling since the Brazil game “just body fatigue” and said it had nothing to do with either of his surgically repaired knees.

“No, not the knees,” Rose said. “No, no, no, no. You don’t [have] to worry about that.”

But while Rose’s words may ease the worries of Chicago Bulls fans, four days of rest after one exhibition game can only elicit questions about Rose’s readiness for the World Cup, which begins on Aug. 30 with five pool-play games in the first six days.

Asked if there’s any concern about his starting point guard’s ability to handle the grind of what’s to come, Krzyzewski said, “We’ll find that out in the next few days.”

Kyrie Irving started in Rose’s place and looked sharp offensively. The rest of the starting lineup remained the same, making it more likely that Kenneth Faried will be the team’s power forward when it plays Finland on Aug. 30.

NBA continues commitment to troops

VIDEO: Commissioner Silver talks about the NBA’s “Commitment to Service”

NEW YORK — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a press conference at Madison Square Garden before the exhibition game between United States and the Dominican Republic to discuss the collaboration between the NBA, USA Basketball and the Department of Defense.

“Roughly 10 years ago, through [Coach Mike Krzyzewski], USA Basketball began a Hoops for Troops program with our United States Military,” said Silver. “[The] General and Coach K have both West Point and Duke University in common, and then over time that Hoops for Troops program was brought to the NBA and has turned into a commitment to service in which the NBA has partnered with our military, all 30 teams, to perform community service in our communities throughout the league.

“All 30 teams are now involved in it, and in fact, around Veterans Day this season, all of our teams have commitments to work together with military bases in their communities.”

“I like to think that this partnership — and that’s what it is, is a partnership — brings together members of the best military in the world with members of the best basketball teams in the world,” said General Dempsey.

“I mean, I think it’s actually quite a remarkable partnership and one that makes sense to America because thankfully the military enjoys a great esteem among the American people, as do these athletes, so if we can bond together and commit to give back, I think that we’ll be doing a lot of good, not just for ourselves, collaboratively, but also for the country, and that’s our goal.”

Silver also addressed the participation of NBA players in international events, a hot topic in the wake of Paul George‘s recent injury. “The answer is there is a big risk without enormous financial reward,” he said, “but I’m sitting next to our highest ranking military official, so I’m almost embarrassed to be talking about the risks that our players face as compared to what our men and women in uniform face, and only reiterate that ultimately it’s a personal decision for these players.

“And I should point out, it’s not just U.S. players we’re referring to. Probably collectively we have close to 50 NBA players participating in this World Cup on behalf of their national teams. So from an NBA standpoint, we have to look across all nationalities, not just on behalf of the U.S. team, but ultimately there is risk. I commented on Paul George earlier. I’m enormously sympathetic to him and his family because of his injury, but as he has said himself, he had no second thoughts about having participated. Larry Bird said it well: Injuries happen in sports. It could have happened outside the context of our national team, as well.”

Rick Barry recovering from bike crash

Rick Barry

Rick Barry was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in history by the NBA in 1996.

It’s the same Rick Barry in spirit. Seventy years old, 34 years removed from the final season of a Hall of Fame career as a scoring-machine small forward, his body is battered but he hasn’t lost any of his trademark tenacity.

The long recovery from a nasty July 19 bike crash in Colorado Springs, Colo., that resulted in fractures, stitches, surgery, layers of skin left on the ground in his adopted hometown and a cracked helmet as a reminder of how bad it really could have been? Just another opponent.

Not being able to put weight on the right leg for another two months or so because of a fractured pelvis, hours of physical therapy already in the books and countless more to come? Bring it on.

“I’ve always been very dedicated to things,” Barry said on the phone from his home. “I’ve always been very strong-willed. If I make my mind up to do something, I’m going to do it. Just like when I was a young kid. I was stupid and I smoked cigarettes. I just flat out said, ‘This is crazy. This is hurting my basketball.’ And so I just quit. I look at everything as a challenge. That’s the way I approach things, especially if it’s things I’m not especially fond of. I look at them as challenges and I hate to lose, so when I make it a challenge, it drives me and motivates me because I’m going to make sure I’m the one that comes out victorious.”

He is not especially fond of the rehab work, needless to say. He calls it extended training camp — and Barry hated training camps. But the strong will that helped drive him to 12 All-Star games in the NBA and ABA, the brash attitude that made him one of the game’s top personalities as well as a premier player, the determination that propelled the underdog Warriors of 1975 to their only West Coast title — it all helps now.

Barry is calling on the past at a time when his basketball is mostly limited to working with youngest son Canyon, who plays at the College of Charleston, wears his father’s No. 24 (retired by Golden State) and, in the ultimate hoops DNA, shoots free throws underhanded.

A month ago, Rick was on a ride with his wife and another couple. One minute, he was cruising downhill and turning a corner. The next, his front tire blew and there was Barry tangled everywhere and headed for five hours of surgery. The pelvis. A broken hand. Stitches and road rash.

“I just feel fortunate that it wasn’t worse than what it was,” he said. “I hit my head and the helmet cracked and all, but I didn’t have any head damage or anything at all, so that was a blessing. I could have had broken ribs and broken arms, other things that would have made it even worse trying to do the rehab. It’s hard enough with my broken left hand. That’s made it difficult enough. But, hey, everybody gets thrown. You get little bumps when you’re going down the road of life, and you deal with them and you move on. That’s the way it has to be. You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. I just feel grateful that it’s not worse than what it was.”

Being forced to slow down does give him more time to promote Ektio, a company that says its basketball shoes have been proven to reduce sprained ankles, as a minority owner. The accident forced him to miss hunting and fishing trips, as well as cancel plans to attend Hall of Fame ceremonies honoring his former Warriors coach, Al Attles. But Barry sees the positives, knowing that the crash could have been much worse.

“I should have a full recovery as long as I don’t put weight on my right leg and continue to do the things that I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve got two more months of that and then I can start to do 50 percent weight bearing. I don’t know whether I do crutches or a cane or do something and then I have rehab to do, but I expect to be back doing the things that I did before. I can assure you I will not be going fast downhill anytime.”

USA has plenty of room for improvement


VIDEO: All-Access: USA Basketball Men’s Team in Chicago

NEW YORK – The U.S. National Team beat a very good opponent in Chicago on Saturday. Brazil might be the best team the USA faces until the *quarterfinals or semifinals of the FIBA World Cup. And, thanks to a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter, the Americans won by 17.

* Lithuania, which would be on the USA’s side of the elimination-round bracket, is 10-0 in warmup competition. When the two teams would face each other would depend on how they finish in their pool play groups.

Anthony Davis was a beast, and the U.S. defense forced 20 turnovers and allowed just 78 points on 82 possessions. Offensively, they took advantage of those turnovers and got a lot of buckets in transition, both in the open floor and on secondary breaks.

But there was some ugliness in the U.S. offense at times, especially in the second quarter, when the Americans scored just 16 points on 22 possessions. And a lot of their issues came from an inability to generate good looks in their half-court offense.

The U.S. scored just eight points on 14 half-court possessions in that second quarter. And two of those eight came on a second-chance opportunity. For the game, if you take away second chances, the U.S. scored just 39 points on the initial play of 56 half-court possessions. And many of those came from guys breaking down their opponents in isolation situations after the offensive set came up empty.

There was very little offense generated from, well, the offense. The U.S. wasn’t exactly Spurs-esque on Saturday.

But it was their first game after just six practices. And in regard to the offense, the four practices they had in Las Vegas didn’t count for much, because, at that point, Kevin Durant was still on the team and very much the focus on that end of the floor.

The U.S. still has a ton of offensive talent, but mostly in the backcourt. Durant was coming off screens and handling the ball at the power forward position. Now, the guy who will likely play the most minutes at power forward is Kenneth Faried.

Faried’s energy and rebounding have been excellent. He and Davis complement each other well and have begun to develop some chemistry. But offensively, Faried is basically the exact opposite of Durant. And though Rudy Gay can serve as pseudo Durant at the four, he’s obviously not the same kind of offensive force. So things have to change.

“If you have Durant,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday, “you’re going to put things in for him. So, when he is not there, then those things aren’t in.”

The U.S. offense has never been all that intricate. Though there’s been continuity with the staff, every year they come together there’s been at least a handful of new players and only a few weeks to prepare for a competition that comes down to three or four 40-minute, single-elimination games.

On Saturday, the offense was simpler than ever. The USA’s half-court sets involved just two or three players and were pretty easy to sniff out. Most of it was either a high pick-and-roll, or a pin-down for one of the wings, with few secondary actions to follow.

Here, after his defender forced him to catch the ball going away from the basket, Stephen Curry faces up, with his four teammates just standing around …

20140816_usa_offense

We saw a lot of that on Saturday. The offense was much more about talent than teamwork. The whole was certainly not greater than the sum of the parts.

It was one game after just two non-Durant practices, of course. And the U.S. still won easily. There’s nothing wrong with scoring on the break or on second chances. You’re supposed to use your talent advantage when you have it, and making plays out of random situations is a huge part of offensive success on any level.

The U.S. has plenty of time to work things out. They have three more exhibition games, five pool play games, and an elimination game or two before they might be seriously challenged.

But the half-court offense is going to be important at some point down the line. Every U.S. opponent is going to do its best to slow the game down, pack the paint, and make the Americans execute their offense.

Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Dominican Republic (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), is another opportunity to work on just that. The Dominicans don’t have Al Horford, but they have more preparation under their belt than the Americans do. Every game is a chance to get better.

“The four practices in Vegas, it was centered around a team with Durant on it,” Krzyzewski said. “And so, since we came back, we’ve had like four practices and one game. And we played well in the game. We beat a really good team. So, this group is still evolving into a team, and that’s why these exhibition games are so important.”

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

> Which player who already has switched teams this offseason will best flourish with his new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m surprised there isn’t a “besides LeBron” qualifier on this, since James outflourishes pretty much everyone every year. He’s my easy answer in his first season back in Cleveland. After that, the guy who ought to flourish most is Lance Stephenson, since he’s a little older (presumably a little more mature) and will get every opportunity to be Charlotte’s go-to guy. But I’m not sure I trust him yet to fully “get it.” So I’ll say Spencer Hawes, Clippers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you are the best player in the game, you flourish wherever you go, which is why the easy answer is LeBron James, the returning, conquering hero who will put the Cavaliers immediately into title contention in the Eastern Conference.  But I also think Pau Gasol is a perfect complement on the Bulls front line with Joakim Noah and I’ve got an eye on the venerable Vince Carter, who could be the wing scorer that lifts the Grizzlies into the upper half of the West race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m going a bit off the radar here with Jameer Nelson in Dallas, a re-tooled team that believes it could be top-four in the West. He’s been in such a tough situation the last few seasons, from the “Dwightmare” to Stan Van Gundy‘s firing to a total rebuild, that getting to the veteran-laden Mavs will be a breath of fresh air. Plus, he’s a great fit. Dallas badly needed a starting point guard after losing Jose Calderon in the Tyson Chandler trade. Nelson eliminates the need to start Raymond Felton and allows Devin Harris to come off the bench. Offensively, Nelson just has to be steady. He’s got weapons all around in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Defensively he’ll provide some much-needed tenacity. Nelson’s only 32 and with good health he very well could put himself back on the radar.

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson joins Charlotte for the 2014-15 NBA season. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson flourished last season in Indiana, so it’s not like this will be a breakout season. But the move to Charlotte opens possibilities he will reach a new level, certainly statistically beyond the 13.8 points a game last season. It lines up as a perfect opportunity. He will be especially motivated to prove the Pacers wrong for not spending more to re-sign him, and now Stephenson goes to a team that needs more scoring. He can do that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Other than LeBron James, right? Lance Stephenson looks like a great fit in Charlotte, with the ability to give their offense a boost. He’s improved dramatically over the last two seasons, will still be only 24 years old when training camp opens, and likes to get out on the break, where his new team wasn’t very effective last season. With a top-10 defense, Al Jefferson, and now two guys who can create off the dribble, the Hornets will be fun to watch … and very good.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like how you excluded Kevin Love from this question, keeping us all from picking the same guy. And I’ll even refrain from choosing LeBron James, the most obvious choice of the century. I think Pau Gasol will ease into an opportunity to recharge his career. He looked worn out and worn down during his final seasons in Los Angeles. He’s still an unbelievably skilled big man with plenty left in his tank. The idea of Gasol and Joakim Noah working in tandem with a healthy and rejuvenated Derrick Rose should have folks in Chicago fired up. Gasol is free from the pressure of trying to be something he was not in Los Angeles. Expectations went through the roof for him after winning back-to-back titles alongside Kobe Bryant. When injuries and uncertainty changed the mood in LA, Gasol struggled with that burden. Rose and Noah are the leaders in Chicago. All Gasol has to do is what he does best, and that’s play the game he loves without any extra Hollywood drama involved.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player who has the best chance to make an immediate impact is Pau Gasol. The last few years he’s slipped defensively, but in Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defensive system in Chicago, they should be able to game plan around Pau’s deficiencies and get the best out of him. But it’s offensively where I think he could really shine. Gasol is on record as preferring to work in the post, which is probably fine with the Bulls as Joakim Noah is so effective at the top of the key, giving Gasol plenty of room to operate down low. And Gasol and Noah are probably the two best passing big men in the NBA, and together, with Rose and Butler and other guys cutting off of them, this may be the first time in a while the Bulls will be able to mount a powerful attack on both ends of the court.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: You mean “which player that hasn’t won two rings, isn’t considered the best around the globe and isn’t having a good time in Greece right now”? When you have LeBron James changing jerseys, then you have the answer in all your questions.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s been plenty of positive cases of players moving on in free agency with the opportunity to flourish with their new team. If I have to pick one, I’ll take Pau Gasol after signing with the Chicago Bulls. Gasol’s last few seasons in LA were tough, albeit productive, and now he can find himself on a team that really values his skills. I’m looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joakim Noah. They could legitimately become the best-passing big man duo in the NBA. Gasol’s varied offensive game will get the opportunity to shine in Chicago because he’ll be playing with an unselfish center in Noah. He has a nice back-to-the-basket game with varying moves, he’s still a decent mid range shooter and as always, he’ll look to set up his teammates. Gasol’s ability to operate and pass in tight spaces will work perfectly with Noah. The Bulls’ offense will look less cramped with four perimeter players surrounding one pick-setting big in Noah. They’ll be a lot better to watch offensively in 2014-15 and a lot of that is down to Gasol.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Lance Stephenson will surely relish his role with the Charlotte Hornets. He will be one of their main ball-handlers and creators. Stephenson has showed flashes of overall dominance when he gets it going and he will have more chances to prove his worth with his new team. Also a trio of small forwards will be do well in their new teams, that would be Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons for the Wizards, Rockets and Mavericks respectively. Pierce will be the veteran leader Washington needs, Ariza will be the do-it-all forward for Houston while Parsons will hopefully be the second scoring option to Dirk in Dallas (or third, depending on where Monta fits in this year).

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

> With Kobe healthy and playing like he was, say, two years ago, are the Lakers a playoff team this season? Why (or why not)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat Charles said. It’s over for the Lakers as a playoff team as currently constructed. They dare not use Kobe Bryant as heavily as they were before his Achilles injury, unless they’re looking for a way for insurance to pay a chunk of his noxious salary, for he surely would break down again. And he doesn’t have enough help, not in the West, not to be taken seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, a pair of All-Stars, joining him in the starting lineup, Kobe was pushing his body to the the limit two years ago — and still the Lakers barely made it into the playoffs. He’d played 92 consecutive minutes in two games on the night his Achilles tendon blew out. Howard left. Now Gasol is gone. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle hardly fill their shoes. Steve Nash is broken and you just can’t sell me that Swaggy P is a difference maker. If Kobe can drag the Lakers to the No. 8 seed, it would be one of the great achievements of his career. But there aren’t enough margaritas left in the summer to get me to the point where I’d see that happening.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think so. First off, which team that finished in the top eight is going to drop out? The bottom three teams — Golden State, Memphis, Dallas — all seem to be better off. Phoenix and New Orleans should continue to improve and challenge for a playoff spot. Anybody envision Portland or Houston free-falling out of the playoffs (barring significant injury)? Secondly, the Lakers roster is an odd mix of talent cobbled together after the franchise was shunned by the summer’s top free agents. Only then did L.A. hire new coach Byron Scott. If they do make the playoffs, mark me down for Scott as Coach of the Year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. Because they finished 22 games out of the playoffs last season and would need Kobe playing like he was eight or 10 years ago to come close to making up that difference when there are so many holes in other places. Because it’s not easy to identify a 2014 playoff team in the West that will drop out and Phoenix and New Orleans are easily ahead of the Lakers and the other hopefuls for “next in” predictions. And healthy or not, Kobe will still be 36. He can still be good, and anyone who counts him out right now is making a mistake, but he can’t be enough to lift this team that high.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Absolutely not, because their defense is going to be awful and the Western Conference is too good. The last time Kobe was healthy, he was pretty efficient offensively, but was often the source of L.A.’s defensive breakdowns. And at 36 years old and coming off of two leg injuries, he may be the best defender in the Lakers’ backcourt this season. The frontline, meanwhile, is lacking guys who erase mistakes on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. You are asking if we can put Kobe in a time machine and have him play healthy the way he did two years ago would this current Lakers’ crew be a playoff team, which is wholly unfair to Kobe and all of the players who will join him on this team. The Lakers from two years ago have been scattered to the wind. Dwight Howard is in Houston. Pau Gasol is in Chicago. Earl Clark is in … sorry Earl. The fact is, as good as the Western Conference was two years ago, it took Kobe pushing himself to the brink to help the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs with the eighth and final spot. The Western Conference is better and deeper now than it was two years ago. The Lakers, quiet frankly, are not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are not. Two years ago they squeaked into the playoffs, and that was with Kobe literally breaking himself down the stretch to try and will them into the postseason. They made it, Kobe didn’t. Even if Kobe is 100 percent this season, his supporting cast isn’t as strong as that 2012-13 team, that still had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. This year’s Lakers team should see a rotation around Kobe including Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin. But in a stacked Western Conference, I just don’t think that’s enough firepower to carry these Lakers to the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Let’s be honest. Nobody can expect that Kobe will play like he used to. Many players have defeated injuries in the past, but none managed to beat Father Time. Bryant is 36 and that’s the bad news. Answering the “if” question, I think that the Lakers can become a playoff team, because Kobe has proven himself as a leader of a team that revolves around him. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Boozer will play (especially if he will be used at the 3 spot) and what kind of impact will Julius Randle, potentially one hell of a scoring big man, will have.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: They’re a better team with Kobe Bryant but I certainly don’t think they’re a playoff team. The West is so competitive right now that it would take a monumental effort for an aging Kobe to take this team all the way to the playoffs. Aside from, say, Phoenix, a lot of those borderline playoff teams like Dallas and potentially Memphis have improved in the offseason so you could legitimately have a 45-47 win team miss out on the playoffs again. Can you see the Lakers winning 48 games? It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try though, he’s probably the only guy in the organization with a ferocious win-now edict, while the rest of the organization looks to preserve money, sign guys on short-term deals and look ahead to free agency in 2015. Also, are there multiple defensive stoppers on this Lakers team? Didn’t think so.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Yes, if they stay healthy; that is the biggest issue they have the last two years. I think their rotation at the bigs this year is better with a healthy Jordan Hill and new additions; veteran Carlos Boozer, athletic forward Ed Davis and highly touted rookie Julius Randle. Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Clarkson will provide the help at the wings with specific strengths to their games to complement Kobe while Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash form a good combination at point guard. Although they will be at a disadvantage on defense they will surely be great on the offensive side of the court. But the main reason is Kobe himself: a healthy ‘Black Mamba’ is a complete player who will provide leadership, clutch shooting, defense and scoring outbursts thereby taking over some games.

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line.  

Morning shootaround — Aug. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose’s status for Team USA unknown; Cousins 50-50 vs. D.R.? | Report: Heat in pursuit of Barbosa | Report: Monroe’s agent sought sign-and-trade deals

No. 1: Rose’s status for next U.S. exhibition unknown — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski gave point guard Derrick Rose a chance to rest during Monday’s practice in New York, but Rose again sat out most of yesterday’s practice, too. As our John Schuhmann reports from U.S. camp, Rose may not start tonight’s game against the Dominican Republic:

The U.S. National Team continues to take precautions with Derrick Rose, who sat out a second straight day of practice on Tuesday.

After Monday’s visit to the U.S. Military Academy, Team USA got back to work at the Brooklyn Nets’ practice facility. Rose was in practice gear and did some light work, but did not participate in the full practice, which included some scrimmaging.

Rose’s status for Wednesday’s exhibition against the Dominican Republic at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) hasn’t been determined. He started at point guard against Brazil on Saturday and should do the same when the World Cup begins on Aug. 30, but if he plays Wednesday, he could be coming off the bench.

“Chances are he won’t [start],” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Tuesday, “because the rule is if you don’t practice the day before, you don’t start.”

That rule “is just kind of an informal thing,” Colangelo added.

Asked if he knew if he would be playing Wednesday, Rose said, “Hopefully, I am.”

“Today was just another rest day,” he added, saying that it wasn’t planned. “I’m just seeing how I feel every day. There’s nothing wrong with rest. It’s not like it’s the season, so I’m not worried about it.”

So, there’s no need for panic, Chicago. Rose has played just 10 games over the last two seasons and has had surgeries on both knees. The status of his comeback was the biggest focus of the U.S. team’s first week of training in Las Vegas. But he has looked ridiculously quick and explosive every time he has taken the floor. And he doesn’t feel the need to push himself every day with the Bulls’ season still 10 weeks away.

Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com has some additional notes on Rose, as well big man DeMarcus Cousins saying he’s “50-50″ tonight:

Knee soreness kept Derrick Rose out of practice Tuesday, making it the third straight day he has not played any basketball. And that left Team USA officials wondering whether Rose will be capable of handling the rigorous World Cup schedule.

Also, DeMarcus Cousins practiced Tuesday but listed himself as 50-50 for Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the Dominican Republic, an assessment that appeared to catch Mike Krzyzewski by surprise when the comment was relayed to the coach.

But if Rose’s knees remain sore – officially, the team said he was held out for “precautionary reasons – and he does not play, the makeup of the final roster will be much more uncertain than it appeared it would be when this week began. If Rose cannot handle the workload of playing three games in three nights and five games in six nights when pool play begins in Bilbao, Spain, the roster would effectively be reduced to 11 1/2 players.

Tuesday’s practice marked Cousins’ first live scrimmage since he was injured last Thursday in Chicago, suffering a bone bruise in his knee.

“He did well today, he’ll play tomorrow … I’m expecting him to play,” Krzyzewski said before being informed of the “50-50″ comment. “He should be a guy who’s in the rotation. The fact that he’s come here and I’ve gotten to know him, I can push him better and I can understand him better. He gives us somebody different when Anthony (Davis) is out of the game. But we still have decisions about whether you might (have) Anthony at the 4 and one of the other bigs, DeMarcus or one of the others, at the 5.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the state of the U.S. National Team

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No. 2: Report: Barbosa on Heat’s radar — The Heat re-signed point guard Mario Chalmers this offsesaon and still have his backup, Norris Cole, under contract. Could another point guard soon join Miami’s mix? According to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami has interest in former Suns guard Leandro Barbosa, especially after Toney Douglas officially inked a deal with a team in China:

The Miami Heat continue to distance themselves from some of last season’s roster in the wake of LeBron James’ free-agency departure to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The latest member of last season’s roster to relocate is point guard Toney Douglas, who has signed with play with the Jiangsu Dragons, the Chinese Basketball Association team that previously featured current Heat center Chris Andersen.

The Dragons will be Douglas’ sixth team in five seasons, having previously played over that span for the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Warriors and Heat.

Douglas’ deal in China has been reported at $1 million for one season.

Free-agent guard Leandro Barbosa, who currently is working with the Brazil national team in advance of the World Cup in hopes of showcasing his game for an NBA return, has drawn interest from the Heat.

A source familiar with the situation said Barbosa is on the Heat’s radar, but is one of several veterans the Heat are considering, with no signing imminent.

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No. 3: Report: Monroe’s agent pursued sign-and-trade deals — Although it hasn’t officially happened yet, it’s just a matter of time before Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe signs a one-year qualifying offer with the team in order to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Monroe will be in Detroit for at least one more season, but according to a report by Michael Lee of The Washington Post, his agent tried to get him to the Western Conference via sign-and-trade deals:

The only leverage Monroe possesses is to take the qualifying offer and take control of his own destiny next year without the restrictions he faces now.

Monroe and his agent, David Falk, never sought an offer sheet from another team but pursued sign-and-trade proposals with at least five other teams, including Portland and Oklahoma City, according to person familiar with the discussions. Monroe denied receiving a reported five-year, $60 million offer – or anything close – from Pistons and would’ve been unlikely to accept either way.

His frustrations with the Pistons are understandable since he is about to have his fifth coach in five years with incoming coach Stan Van Gundy (who will also serve as team president) and Detroit is no closer to being a playoff team than it was when he arrived.

Monroe has until Oct. 1 to sign the deal and would essentially flip the tables on the Pistons. He would then have the right to veto any trade but would sacrifice his Bird rights in the process, making it more unlikely that he will move on before next summer. If a player wasn’t enamored with his situation in the past, he would typically take the money now — either from his current team or another suitor — and force a trade later.

The Pistons are aware of Monroe’s desires to leave and Van Gundy has alluded to the possibility of losing their talented big man in a year.

“I really don’t feel a real sense of anxiety about it,” Van Gundy told reporters last month. “I know I would love to have Greg long-term, that’s what I want. But you can only control what you can control. I’m fairly relaxed about it.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thunder star Kevin Durant stands by his decision to pull out of Team USA play … ICYMI, Brandon Jennings got Twitter riled up yesterday after saying Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan … Good news for New Orleans Pelicans fans: Jrue Holiday, Ryan Andersen and Eric Gordon are all said to be healthy … Ex-Knicks, Nets, Wolves, Celtics and Suns guard Stephon Marbury will play himself in a play about himself in China … Sixers rookie Joel Embiid recently became Twitter friends with WWE legend The Iron Sheik