NEW YORK – After a 112-86 victory over Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden on Friday, the U.S. National Team is set to cut its roster from 16 down to the 12 guys who will play at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game that the staff will discuss the roster Friday night and inform the four players who won’t be going to Spain about their fate Saturday morning. Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had previously indicated that they might take more than 12 when the team flew to the Canary Islands on Saturday afternoon, because some of the final decisions were proving to be difficult. But Krzyzewski made it clear that they decided not to take any extras, for two reasons.
First, because it’s “really difficult,” according to Krzyzewski, for a player to travel abroad and eventually get sent home early. Secondly, with just one exhibition game remaining (Tuesday against Slovenia), it’s time for this team to finalize its rotation and everybody’s roles.
“Now that we’re down to 12,” Krzyzewski said, “we can get a little bit more precise with things.”
It’s fair to guess that the 12 players on the final roster will be the 12 that played in Friday’s win; guards Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose; wings James Harden, Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson; forwards Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons; and bigs DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Mason Plumlee. The starting lineup – Irving, Curry, Harden, Faried and Davis – remained the same from Wednesday’s rout of the Dominican Republic.
One of the players to not hit the floor, Gordon Hayward, reportedly is the first of the group to be cut. The other three DNPs – DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard – have seemingly been on the roster bubble since camp began in late July. But though Krzyzewski chose who played and who didn’t on Friday, he wouldn’t say that those four were definitely the ones who wouldn’t be on the plane Saturday afternoon.
“No, no,” he said. “It’s a collective decision and Jerry puts the final stamp on it. We haven’t had a chance to discuss the new input from tonight.”
It would seem that one variable could be how Rose feels after playing his second exhibition game. After last Saturday’s win over Brazil in Chicago, he took four days off and was replaced by Irving in the starting lineup.
But Krzyzewski said that he’s already “had conversations” with Rose about how he feels, and it’s clear that Rose will be on the team, barring any issues between now and Aug. 29, when the final roster is due.
“I feel very confident about Derrick,” Krzyzewski said. “I think Derrick feels very confident.”
It remains to be seen how many of the USA’s nine potential games Rose will play at the World Cup. It’s safe to assume that it’s less than nine, especially with the five pool-play games in the first six days.
“If he needs a day off,” Chicago Bulls coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said of Rose, “he’ll get a day off.”
And Krzyzewski is fine with that. And as the U.S. tries to win its fourth straight gold medal in international competition, it will also be trying to get Rose back into top basketball shape.
“These guys want to play with him,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of getting back is to be around a group of peers, who want you to be really good.
“That’s what we’ve seen over the years. That’s where the brotherhood develops. That’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the last nine years. We think that can happen again and hopefully, that will help Derrick as he gets ready to keep participating in this, but also for the NBA season. I think it’s a huge, huge help for him.”
So the U.S. will likely have just one full-time point guard – Irving – on the roster, with Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and depth is needed up front, with Cousins and Plumlee backing up Davis.
One of the two centers will likely have a limited role. The same can be said for shooting specialist Kyle Korver and stretch four Chandler Parsons. The first players off the bench should be Rose, Thompson and Gay, who looked more comfortable on Friday, having just joined the team last week in Chicago.
Puerto Rico made things interesting for 20 minutes, taking a five-point lead in the first quarter and staying within two until Thompson beat the halftime buzzer with a pull-up 3-pointer. Veteran guards Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea were able to take advantage of the USA’s aggressiveness on the perimeter to push Puerto Rico to 47 points on just 40 first-half possessions.
The U.S. tightened up its rotation and its defense in the second half, using a 14-2 run to take control.
“We tried to do too much trapping [in the first half], and they’re just too good,” Krzyzewski said. “Second half, I thought we played really, really well.”
Still, the U.S. will need Tuesday’s exhibition game and all five pool play games in Bilbao to sharpen up for single-elimination action in Barcelona and Madrid. With Saturday’s cuts, the focus can go from choosing a roster to winning another gold.
“There’s still,” Krzyzewski said, “a lot to do.”