Morning shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: The GameTime crew repors from Day 2 from Team USA camp

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant mum on move to D.C. | Report: Suns, Bledsoe nearing ‘irreparable’ relationship | Parker glad he took summer off

No. 1: Durant praises LeBron’s move, stays mum on own future — With LeBron James returning to his hometown of Cleveland over the summer, there’s been some buzz in the NBA world about whether or not Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant will pull a similar move come 2016. Durant will become an unrestricted free agent that summer and there’s hope among some in his hometown of Washington, D.C., that he’ll perhaps sign with the Wizards. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne caught up with Durant during Team USA’s practice in Las Vegas:

Kevin Durant made a point not to ask his friend LeBron James any questions. He gets enough of those already. Besides, James answered just about every question asked of him with the letter he penned in Sports Illustrated, in which he explained his decision to leave the Miami Heat and come home to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But Durant did reach out to congratulate James soon after he announced his decision.

“I thought it was well-thought-out. It was classy. It was a great move to do it as a letter,” Durant said after a training camp session with USA Basketball on Tuesday. “That was pretty cool. It’s funny seeing guys think about more than just basketball for once. He thought about the city where he comes from, about Northeast Ohio and how he can affect so many of the kids just being there playing basketball. I love that. So many guys get criticized for making the decision that’s best for them, instead of what’s best for everybody else. He’s a guy that did that. You gotta respect that. I applauded him, I texted him and told him congratulations on the decision and told him I was happy for him. As a fan of the game, it’s going to be pretty cool to see him back in Cleveland.”

Asked Tuesday if he might make a similar homecoming when he can become a free agent in two years, Durant said that was too far in the future to discuss in a serious way right now.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant said. “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. I grew up watching the Bullets/Wizards. I grew up taking the train to that arena, all the time, to watch Georgetown, the Bullets, the Washington Mystics. That whole city is a part of me. It’s in my blood. I love going back home, seeing my family and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City too.”

Still, the speculation is hard to escape. Durant said he went home this summer for a family reunion but didn’t go out much. Asked if that was because he’s constantly asked about coming back to the D.C. area someday, Durant smiled and laughed.

“Look, we going to put it out on tape,” Durant said. “It’s been talked about. Everybody’s asked me about it every time I go on Instagram or Twitter. All my friends ask me about it. So I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m naïve to the fact that people think about that stuff. But I just tell everybody that I’m here in Oklahoma City, [and] I love it here. Who knows what will happen? I never close the door on anything. But I like where I’m at right now, so I can’t answer that question.”

***  

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

Plumlee gives USA another big option


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Jerry Colangelo Interview

LAS VEGAS – Mason Plumlee got a promotion on Tuesday, moving up from the Select Team to the Senior Team at USA Basketball camp.

Primarily, this was a numbers thing. The National Team had 19 guys in camp and only five bigs. The addition of Plumlee gives them an even 20, which allowed them to split into two 10-man teams for scrimmages (one on each floor) against the Select Team in practice and for Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, a more formal intra-squad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

But Plumlee’s chances of making the final roster for the World Cup shouldn’t be completely dismissed. The staff here likes him.

“He has good size,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo told NBA TV in discussing Plumlee’s promotion. “He’s active.”

It helps to be nearly seven feet tall. The imbalance between the U.S. Team’s backcourt talent and frontcourt talent is not a new thing. And the late decisions by Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to stay home created more of an opportunity for a guy who was supposed to spend most his rookie season in the D-League.

“Giving him an opportunity to play with the USA Team,” Colangelo told NBA.com, “that puts him in a position where he could earn himself a spot [on the final 12-man roster]. It’s possible.”

Plumlee’s older brother Miles has good size and is active too. But the feeling is that Mason has a better basketball IQ, is a better pick-and-roll defender and is more skilled. In the eyes of one person who would know, Mason just cares about basketball more.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski had both of them at Duke (and there are even more Dukies on the support staff), so he obviously has a good feel for what both can do.

Colangelo told NBA TV that he wants “extra bigs in my back pocket” when this team goes to Spain. Not only is there a possibility of facing two Gasols and Serge Ibaka on their home floor for the World Cup gold medal game, but every big in camp not named Anthony Davis has question marks…

  • DeMarcus Cousins is a beast, but ultimately, the staff has to be able to trust him, both in regard to dealing with officials and in making decisions with the ball. During a scrimmage on Tuesday, Cousins punched a wall pad out of frustration as the ball went the other way in transition. It was something that would go mostly unnoticed in an NBA game, but that stuff registers with the staff. He has great skills, but USA bigs don’t need to play one-on-one.
  • Colangelo on NBA TV: “We’re going to end up, I really feel this way, with some specialists. Now, I’ll just use a name. He may or may not be that guy, but [Kenneth] Faried … Energy, rebounding. We looked at tapes of yesterday’s scrimmage. He came in and, within a minute, he was responsible for six points for his team, getting two offensive rebounds, getting out on the break. And the same with [Andre] Drummond. He did a couple of things in a short period of time that added six points.”
  • For the 6-foot-8 Faried, size is obviously the issue. Colangelo sees him more as an “energy” guy than a “big” guy. So the opponent likely would determine just how much he could play on any given night.
  • For Drummond, it’s a little similar to Cousins in that you have to be able to trust him in a big moment. Because of their energy and athleticism, both can make more of short bursts than Cousins or Paul Millsap. And short bursts is probably all the non-Davis bigs will get with this team.
  • Size is an issue with Millsap as well. And he just doesn’t have the explosiveness of Faried. But he’s obviously more skilled than the rest of the group. He’s an interesting case.

The role of a U.S. big seems pretty simple. You’re not asked to carry an offense here. You’re not going to be posting up on the low block. But you still need to put in your work.

“There’s a lot to it,” Plumlee said. “You know you have to be a great screener to play for [Coach K]. You have to be on the boards all the time. There are different things you have to see as a big man. Like, in our half-court sets, you’re going to be a playmaker-passer from the elbow. So, there’s a lot that goes into it. Just because you aren’t putting the ball in the hole, there’s a lot more to it.”

With so much uncertainty, you have to wonder if the U.S. might take four bigs on its roster (going back to that “extra bigs in my back pocket” line) for the first time since 2006, the first year of the Colangelo/Krzyzewski era, when the team lost to Greece in the semifinals of the World Championship.

Colangelo isn’t ready to make that kind of decision just yet.

“It could be [the year they again take a fourth big],” he said, “but there’s no lock on that. I want to put it in perspective. I do think we have to take advantage of this entire month of training camp, where we have an opportunity to see some things.”

Colangelo aims to cut the roster from (now) 20 to 15 after this week in Las Vegas. And maybe five of those 15 are big men, to allow the staff to really figure out what they have and what they need.

“We’ll learn something when we play Brazil in Chicago [on Aug. 16],” he said of an exhibition against the likes of Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. “That’s a huge frontline.”

Will Plumlee be there? After practice on Tuesday, he wasn’t even sure if his promotion was permanent.

“I’m just doing what they told me,” he said. “They told me to get on the 11:00 bus and I’m here.”

He seems like a long shot, but it sounds like Colangelo is keeping an open mind. Plumlee has two more days of practice and Friday’s Showcase to make the staff’s decision even harder.

When asked if he had spoken to teammate Kevin Garnett recently, Plumlee said that he did right before he came to Vegas. And it wasn’t about next season with the Nets (which they had already discussed), but this opportunity. Whether he makes the team or not, Plumlee is trying to take advantage of his time here.

“[I want to] just pick up things from the best players in the league,” he said. “It’s not everyday you get to practice with [Derrick] Rose, Kevin Durant and a lot of these guys. So you’re always learning no matter where you’re playing. You see what they do, their habits, the different things that they find success with, and then try to add it to your game.”

He might get even more time with those guys than he originally thought.

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – “Showtime” did, sort of, return to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

During the press conference to introduce former Lakers guard Byron Scott as the team’s 25th coach, old teammates Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes strolled into the Lakers’ practice gym to show their support. Johnson, a constant public critic of the last Lakers coach, Mike D’Antoni, nearly suffocated Scott with a massive, joy-filled hug.

Johnson declared this as “a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world,” and then proclaimed the impossible: “Showtime’s back, baby!”

Scott, 53, flanked Magic in the Lakers’ backcourt for three of the Showtime Lakers’ four championship runs during the 1980s, plus three other Finals appearances through 1991. Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., home of the old Fabulous Forum and then the renamed Great Western Forum where those teams dazzled the senses, obviously has intimate knowledge of how those high-powered teams excelled.

Yet even Scott, who along with all Lakers fans can appreciate Magic’s exuberance for bringing a Laker Man back to the helm, had to tap the brakes on Magic’s “Showtime” giddiness here in the real world of 2014.

“We can’t play that way,” Scott said during his press conference. “We don’t have a Magic Johnson.”

Touché.

Remember, it was D’Antoni when hired five games into the 2012-13 season who embraced the faux return of Showtime, declaring his inherited edition would score 110 points a game or something ridiculous. Such bravado presumably came from either an attempt to capture angry Lakers fans enamored with Phil Jackson, or from his past successes running-and-gunning in Phoenix with two-time MVP Steve Nash, whom the Lakers had acquired that summer, only at a slightly more advanced age than he was in those heady Suns days.

Nash remains with the Lakers. He’s 40 now and has played 65 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and just 15 last season. Kobe Bryant was a bushy-haired rookie during Scott’s final season. Scott returned to L.A. for the 1996-97 season for a final hurrah after playing a few seasons elsewhere a couple years after Magic’s initial stunning retirement.

The offense Kobe and Nash will run, Scott said on Tuesday, will be a mixture of everything he’s ever done at his previous stops with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, where he was the poor sap who took the gig just before LeBron James declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.

His greatest chore, Scott said, going full anti-D’Antoni (who truthfully had no shot last season with the unending injuries that ravaged the team), will be turning this group into a defensive-minded unit. Scott probably choked just a bit as he glanced at the Lakers’ stats last season. They finished 28th overall in defensive rating, giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” Scott said. “These three gentlemen [Magic, Kareem and Wilkes] that’s sitting in this front row, the first thing that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control.”

Just prior to making that statement, Scott said he told general manager Mitch Kupchak that he assembled a roster that will be “very competitive.” Hopefully Scott remembered the Lakers are still in the Western Conference. Anyway, there’s nothing like new-coach optimism.

On the bright side, the Lakers were so awful last season that it figures to be next-to-impossible to be as bad. The Lakers lost a franchise-record 55 games. Kobe played in six. He’ll be back. We know he’ll be paid a handsome $23.5 million next season, but we don’t know at what level he’ll perform or how he’ll adapt his game to his changing athleticism and physical capabilities following the torn Achilles tendon of two seasons ago and last season’s knee injury. Or how his patience will stand up to a mediocre team and a new coach, even one this time he personally endorsed.

Nash, as mentioned, is back, too, but how long he can play or how effectively is a total mystery.

Pau Gasol is out. Vetaran power forward Carlos Boozer is in.

The rest of Scott’s team looks like this: No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle, then Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre.

Showtime? The straight-faced Scott was right to tap the brakes.

Give him credit for that, and now give him time to implement a system and gain some cohesion, and time for trusted management to work some magic in the coming summers that missed the mark with available superstars this time around.

Only then will we know if Magic can truly crow that Showtime’s back, baby.

Top stat lines for USAB players in 2013-14

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By Joe Boozell, NBA.com

It’s easy to fret about a USA front line sans Kevin Love and Blake Griffin squaring off against Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka and the Spaniards.

America, I’m here to tell that team USA is still loaded with talent.

While Team USA is missing some of the NBA’s best, the 2014 roster at training camp in Las Vegas is still stocked with scorers, passers and everything in between. Many players experienced breakout campaigns in 2013-14, while others simply maintained the level of greatness they’ve displayed throughout their careers.

To avoid a list dominated entirely by MVP Kevin Durant, here are the top stat lines (with 10 different players represented and no individual player repeated) from Team USA members in 2013-14.

10. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors – February 1, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 36 points (14-for-29-FG) and 12 assists

VIDEO: DeRozan drops 47 in loss to Portland 

DeRozan is one of the most exciting young scorers in the NBA, using a combination of natural athleticism and an emerging skill set to bend defenses. He went on an absolute rampage in the second half of this game against Portland, scoring 30 of his game-high 36 points in the final 24 minutes. Fourteen of those points came in the third quarter while 16 came in the fourth. DeRozan also added 12 dimes to an already impressive showing and took on the primary ball handling responsibilities from Kyle Lowry for the evening.

9. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz – January 7, 2014 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – 37 points (13-for-17-FG), 11 rebounds and seven assists

VIDEO: Hayward nets a career-high 37

Performances like this apparently gave Jazz and Hornets brass ample reason to throw $63 million at Hayward this summer, as they know the level at which he is capable of playing. The former Butler wunderkind did his best Durant impression on this January night — granted, KD went for 48 points of his own, but the Jazz won the game by 11. The Thunder sliced a 24-point Jazz lead to just five, but Hayward responded by sinking five consecutive jumpers, two of them 3-pointers.

8. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – April 13, 2014 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves – 35 points (13-for-21-FG), 15 rebounds and six assists


VIDEO: Cousins records eighth straight double-double

With Griffin and Love backing out of Team USA festivities, Boogie could play an integral role in Team USA’s fate in Spain. Though he played for the lowly Sacramento Kings, Cousins was no stranger to big statistical outputs — he averaged well over 20 points and 10 rebounds per night. On what would be his last game of 2014, the Kentucky product went out with a thunderous bang, recording his eighth double-double in a row to end the season. The Kings had one more game left on the calendar three days later, but naturally, Cousins wouldn’t be a part of it. He picked up his 16th technical foul against Minnesota which warranted a one game suspension.

7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers – December 17, 2013 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – 36 points (11-for-23-FG, 8-for-12 3PT FGA), 10 assists and eight rebounds

VIDEO: Lillard has a monster game against Cleveland

Lillard has already established himself as having a flair for the dramatic, an awfully impressive thing to say about someone who’s spent just two years as a pro. Not only did the Blazers guard come up just two rebounds short of a triple double, but he also drained the game-winner in a thriller against Cleveland. The eight 3-pointers were a career-high for Lillard, who bested fellow Team USA hopeful Kyrie Irving in a showdown of two of the best young point guards in the NBA. Lillard’s shot came with just 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock.

6. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – November 9, 2013 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 39 points, 12 assists and five rebounds

VIDEO: Irving explodes for 39 and a game-winner

Speaking of Irving, ‘Uncle Drew’ knows a thing or two about late game heroics himself. Sure, this game went to double overtime, and regulation and the first overtime both ended in clanks from Irving. But the third time was the charm, and who are we to be picky about game winning shots? Irving also logged a game high 48 minutes for the Cavs and was a team high plus-13.  He and Michael Carter-Williams combined for a healthy 60 points and 25 assists on the night.

5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors – April 13, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 47 points (16-for-28-FG, 7-for-14 3PT FGA) and four steals


VIDEO: Curry lights up the Blazers for 47

Team USA’s strength is its shooting, speed and quickness, so it’s no coincidence that three consecutive point guards make their way onto this list. Curry’s 47 points were a season high, but it was the third time in 2013-14 that he eclipsed the 40 point mark and the sixth time in his heralded career. Although his defensive chops are sometimes questioned, the Dubs star did his part in slowing down fellow Team USA member Lillard, who scored only 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting for the Blazers.

4. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – April 11, 2014 vs. Chicago Bulls - 26 points (11-for-17-FG), 26 rebounds and three blocks

VIDEO: Drummond has 26 and 26 against the Bulls

Games like this are the reason why Stan Van Gundy was so eager to take over the basketball operations in Motown, as Drummond looks like a young Dwight Howard on numerous occasions. 26 points are to be applauded and 26 rebounds, in the midst of battling against Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, are especially noteworthy. But that count wasn’t even a career-high for Drummond, who pulled down 26 boards against the Knicks earlier in the month. Like Cousins, Drummond’s muscle will be of paramount importance for the success of this USA squad.

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets – March 9, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 41 points (7-for-12 3PT FGA), 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals

VIDEO: Harden erupts for 41 against Portland

What’s with the Trailblazers making three appearances on this list for the wrong reasons? Harden had his ups and downs in the postseason series against Portland, but he had a brilliant night against them in March. He scored 17 of his game-high 41 points in the fourth quarter including a huge 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime. Harden also has been criticized for his lack of interest defensively, but Wesley Matthews, who was crucial in the postseason victory of the Rockets, was held to just 5-for-15 shooting in the game by Harden. Houston won this one in overtime by a score of 118-113.

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – March 16, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics – 40 points (14-for-22-FG, 12-for-12 FT), 21 rebounds and three blocks


VIDEO: Davis goes for a career-high 40 against Boston

The Brow is just 21 — and if his career keeps trending in such a positive direction, he could become the face of USA basketball for years to come. Davis matched his age in rebounds against Boston in this Pelicans victory while also notching 41 points. Both were good for career highs for Davis, who is the youngest player since Shaquille O’Neal to collect at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game. His previous career high for points was 36, and he also erased his career high for rebounds, 19, all in one fabulous effort.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder – March 21, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors – 51 points (7-for-12 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and seven assists


VIDEO: Durant pours in 51 versus the Raptors

As mentioned previously, Durant had several gargantuan performances that could be compiled into a list of their own, but this one takes the cake. Durant scored an astonishing 38 of his 51 points in the second half and overtime, good for his fourth career 50 point game. It was also his 39th game scoring 40 points or more in his young career. Durant gave the Thunder the lead for good by drilling a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining in the second overtime, capping the game-high 52 minutes he logged on the night. Durant looks to be the leader of this USA group heading into the FIBA World Cup, and if he can resemble the guy who showed up on a chilly March night in Toronto, the Americans should be salivating at their chances.

 

 

 

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the Phoenix media during last season’s exit interviews

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Electric point guard Eric Bledsoe one day might command an NBA max deal. It just doesn’t appear that day is today.

The Phoenix Suns want to pay Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, the same as what the Toronto Raptors paid Kyle Lowry earlier this month ($48 million over four years). It’s a pretty fair deal for a player like Bledsoe, who is entering his fifth season and spent three seasons as Chris Paul‘s backup. Plus, he missed half of last season, his first in Phoenix, with a knee injury.

The fearless, 6-foot-1 Bledsoe — when healthy — formed a dynamic backcourt with Goran Dragic and is seeing much bigger dollar figures for himself: max dollars over five years (reportedly $80 million).

He’s seen fellow point guards Kyrie Irving and John Wall break the bank when eligible for extensions (Bright Side of the Sun does a good job here of comparing Bledsoe to his contemporaries). This summer fellow restricted free agents Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward rode the market to max deals. Of course, they received the necessary help from other teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets, respectively — making aggressive plays for their services (Parsons landed in Dallas for $46 million over three years when Houston declined to match; Hayward stayed with Utah when the Jazz matched the Hornets’ four-year, $63-million offer).

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

Bledsoe was counting on another team making him that max offer. In that case, the Suns were thought to be prepared to match. And if they decided otherwise, well, Bledsoe would happily cash his checks in another state.

But as is the case with Detroit big man Greg Monroe, a fellow restricted free agent, an offer sheet has not materialized. And at this late stage where most teams have shopped to their limit, it appears an offer sheet won’t walk through that door.

Bledsoe, 24, has been quiet throughout his free agency, but he did give a brief interview the other day to WVTM during a street-ball hoops event in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

“First off, I’m going to let my agent handle it,” Bledsoe said. “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.”

The Suns aren’t using restricted free agency against Bledsoe. They’re playing by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve made a good offer for a player who has started 78 games in his career, and are now sitting back and letting the market work. So far, no team has forced the Suns to increase their offer.

If no offer sheet comes, Bledsoe’s most likely path is to accept the Suns’ $48 million offer, grow with a team on the rise, play at an All-Star worthy level (as Dragic did last season) and and shoot for a max deal in four years.

Or he can take a riskier approach and accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns extended him at the start of free agency (making him restricted), and go for that max deal next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is playing this just as he should. He has to be mindful of his club’s salary cap situation this year and beyond.

Dragic, a bargain at $7.5 million this season, will surely decline his player option next summer for 2015-16. With another big year like he had last season, Dragic could double his annual salary. McDonough also traded for Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas this summer and will pay him $27 million over the next four seasons.

This obviously isn’t the way Bledsoe envisioned the summer unfolding.

Eventually he will have to make a decision, and it should be an easy one. He should happily accept the Suns’ $48-million offer. From there he can create his own value by evolving into a team leader and helping the Suns become bona fide Western Conference contenders over the next four seasons.

If he does that, then come four years from now, Bledsoe will have the max offer of his choosing.

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any reasonable conversation about the balance of power in the NBA starts with the world champion San Antonio Spurs, the rest of the rugged Western Conference and spreads from there.

But no region of the NBA has seen the sort of influx of talent and energy that the Eastern Conference’s Central Division has this summer. From LeBron James coming home to team up with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland to Pau Gasol joining Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago to the top two picks in the June Draft — Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, for now, and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee — things have changed dramatically.

LeBron James' return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James’ return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

The Indiana Pacers won the Central Division and finished with the best record in the East last season, but they have garnered more attention this summer for a player (Lance Stephenson to Charlotte) that they lost in free agency than they did for anything else they have done. They’ve been usurped, in the eyes of many, by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, before the summer/free agent business has been finalized.

If the Cavaliers can find a way to secure Kevin Love via trade from Minnesota, they will not only enter the season as the favorites to win the Central and the East, they’ll rank right up there with the Spurs as the favorites to win it all. (And had Carmelo Anthony chosen the Bulls over remaining with the New York Knicks, the Bulls would be in that mix as well.)

You have to wonder what Stan Van Gundy, the new team president and coach in Detroit, and Jason Kidd, who takes over as coach in Milwaukee, are thinking now. A rebuilding task in Detroit, whatever gains are made during the 2014-15 season, will likely be overshadowed by what goes on elsewhere in the division. Kidd’s shocking move from Brooklyn to the Bucks, and the ensuing fallout, lasted a couple of days before taking a backseat to all things LeBron and Love.

“It’s hard to rank them right now, before we know exactly what happens with Love and Cleveland. But I don’t think it takes any stretching of the imagination to assume there will be no more competitive division in the league than the [Central], and that’s based on just those top three teams alone,” a Western Conference advance scout made clear to me. “The Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are all going to be legitimate contenders. And I think the Pistons, with Stan running things, could be one of the more improved teams in the entire league. And there’s a chance no one will notice because of what the Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are doing.”

The most intriguing part of the entire transformation of the division is going to be watching if the Pacers, a fragile bunch by the time their season finished in the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron and the Heat, can get back on track with the increased competition. Frank Vogel and his crew took advantage of the opportunity to step into the void when Rose and the Bulls slipped from their top spot the past two seasons. Tom Thibodeau kept the Bulls among the East’s best without Rose available. Now he’ll have an energized Rose, whose confidence is soaring as he attempts to earn his spot on USA Basketball’s roster for next month’s World Cup in Spain, and the Windy City twin towers of Noah and Gasol to build around.

The key for the Bulls, of course, is a healthy Rose.

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that,” Rose told our John Schuhmann when asked how close he was to regaining his superstar form. “My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

I don’t know that Rose’s confidence is enough to convince me that the Bulls are truly ready to reclaim that top spot in the division. And I’m not completely sure LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland means the Cavaliers push past the Pacers for that No. 1 spot. But it’s clear that the Central Division is where we could see the best power struggle in the league next season.

The July 2014 ranking of the Central Division (based on what each team has on the roster as of July 29, 2014):

1) Indiana Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and the crew won’t give up the banner without a serious fight. They’ve learned from last season’s mistakes and won’t have to worry about whatever distraction Stephenson might have been. A clean slate for 2014-15 is exactly what this team needs.

2) Cleveland  Sorry Cleveland, but LeBron coming home doesn’t automatically make you the top dogs in the division or the conference. Not around here. The pressure isn’t just on LeBron, either. New coach David Blatt, Kyrie Irving and that supporting cast are all shouldering that load as well.

3) Chicago Derrick Rose is feeling good. And that can’t be anything but a great thing for the Bulls. But we need more than good vibrations to push the Bulls up the food chain. If Rose lights it up in Vegas during USAB training camp and later in Spain, an updated evaluation will be in order.

4) Detroit Greg Monroe‘s future with the Pistons remains a bit uncertain. But the rock for the future is Andre Drummond, who is also on the USAB roster, working to earn a spot on the World Cup team. Van Gundy’s system requires shooters, which the Pistons added in Jodie Meeks, and to an extent Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. Josh Smith remains the wild card.

5) Milwaukee It’ll be fun watching Parker’s game evolve under a young coach like Kidd. But the Bucks are still at least two years away from being a factor. They simply don’t have the personnel to compete with the top teams. And there is a learning curve the entire organization will have to undergo before the Bucks get back into the mix.


VIDEO: Relive the Bulls’ top 10 plays from 2013-14

Morning shootaround — July 29


VIDEO: Take a slow-mo look at Team USA’s practice in Las Vegas

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Griffin has back fracture | Rose pleased with Bulls’ offseason | Report: Spurs deny Ginobili’s World Cup bid | Waiters wants to be Cavs’ starting shooting guard

No. 1: Report: Griffin has back fracture — When Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin withdrew from Team USA last week, he said he was doing so to focus on getting ready for next season in L.A. While that is likely true, another reason he left the team, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne, is because of a small fracture he suffered to his back:

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin withdrew last week from Team USA training camp for the FIBA World Cup because he was advised by doctors to give a small fracture in his back more time to heal before the start of the next NBA season, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com.

Griffin is expected to make a full recovery from the injury, which sources say was suffered during the playoffs. However, doctors advised him to sit out international competition this summer for precautionary reasons.

Griffin has continued to work out this summer in Los Angeles with teammate DeAndre Jordan and former Laker and Clipper Sasha Vujacic.

Both Griffin and Minnesota forward Kevin Love withdrew from the training camp last week, which left Team USA thin in the front court and prompted the late addition of Atlanta’s Paul Millsap to the camp.

***  

NBPA can finally move forward with election of new executive director


VIDEO: Michele Roberts Interview

LAS VEGAS – Eighteen months after Billy Hunter was fired, the National Basketball Players Association elected a new executive director,

Amid chatter of unhappy agents and with former player Jerry Stackhouse speaking publicly against the process before it was done, the NBPA executive committee was unified in their approval of Michele Roberts, a Washington D.C. trial lawyer.

After a search process led by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, three finalists — Roberts, Dallas Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery and tech industry CEO Dean Garfield — each gave 45-minute presentations to a group of 117 players in attendance at a Las Vegas hotel. Roberts then received 32 of a possible 36 votes from team reps and executive committee members.

“We’ve never had this amount of players here for a meeting, to give their input and feedback,” NBPA president Chris Paul said. “After all the hours and time our executive committee, along with an amazing search committee that helped throughout this process, it’s an unbelievable feeling to have the wonderful Michele Roberts now as a part of our team.”

“Anytime you get 90 percent of the vote or more and full participation from the entire body,” secretary-treasurer James Jones added, “it signals that guys understand that this is a very big deal. This is a big decision and we did not want our guys to take it lightly, to do as we’ve done in the past, which is rubber stamp a process. When you have discussions, you have emotions, but as you see with the result tonight, our players are unified. Outside influences, outside forces may look at what happens in our room differently than we do. But we all knew that our players want what’s best for the union and we showed it.”

Paul made it clear that Roberts was more than impressive in both her interviews and in her presentation on Monday.

“From Day 1 in interviews,” Paul said, “she tackled every question head first. She did it first with the executive committee and search committee, and then today with our players.”

The fact that she’s a woman, now the first woman to run a major North American sport’s players union, was not a factor.

“My sense was the only thing people cared about was my resolve,” Roberts said. “If I had been a man, who exuded less confidence in my ability to do the work, I don’t think I would’ve got the job.

“I’d like to believe, as I’ve believed for most of my career, that I’ve earned something because of who I am and what I do, not because I’m a woman.”

“Even though she’s a female,” Paul said, “she’s very relatable to a lot of our players.”

In a text to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, one committee member said simply, “She’s a beast.”

Stackhouse, a former NBPA vice president who wasn’t allowed to watch Monday’s presentations because he’s no longer an active player, didn’t seem all that impressed. Shortly before the vote was taken, he insinuated that the executive committee forced Roberts’ election upon the players, because the other two candidates didn’t come close to passing muster.

But Stackhouse admitted that he would have loved the job himself. And the members of the executive committee didn’t seem concerned about his agenda.

So now, they can finally move forward and begin preparing for the next round of collective bargaining, likely to take place in 2017. Roberts said that preparation for those negotiations began “yesterday.”

“We understand that this is a defining moment in sports,” NBPA vice president Roger Mason Jr. said. “A $2 billion sale [of the Clippers], a lot of good things going on in our league, some of the most recognizable faces around the globe. And we understand that next time we have a chance to go through collective bargaining, we have a whole lot more to talk about, and the discussion is going to be different.

“I think what we wanted to do is to make sure we had a leader in place who understood that vision, who realized that opportunity at hand and who could give us a vision on how we can get where we want to go.”

Though Roberts doesn’t have much of a basketball background — she’s a fan who watched a lot of hoops with two older brothers — she’s a leader. She’s also clearly a fan of the TV show “Scandal”, calling the team she intends to build “gladiators,” like the group of fixers from the hit ABC drama.

“What we’re talking about here is predating or allowing for a system that will empower these players to run their union,” Roberts said. “They’ve got their union back, and I’m going to make sure that they are empowered to take their union exactly where they want their union to go.”

 

USA camp – Day 1 notes

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Kevin Durant and Team USA started training camp in Las Vegas on Monday.

LAS VEGAS – The big story on Day 1 of USA Basketball training camp was Derrick Rose. By all accounts, Rose looked good. And he certainly believes that he’s got the goods to be one of the best players in the world again.

But Rose was one of 31 players in the gym on Monday, and while he’s trying to get the rust off and get his wind back, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have a team to put together for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins a month from Wednesday.

The media was let in for the final 15 minutes of Day 1 scrimmaging. Five minutes of that was a scrimmage against the Select Team, and the final 10 minutes was an intra-squad scrimmage between two groups of Senior Team guys.

Here are the lineups we saw…

1. Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins
2. John Wall, Curry, Gordon Hayward, Faried and Cousins
3. Rose, James Harden, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
4. Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Durant and Andre Drummond
5. Irving, Bradley Beal, Thompson, Chandler Parsons and Paul Millsap
6. Lillard, Harden, George, Durant and Drummond
7. Wall, Curry, Hayward, Faried and Cousins

Some notes…

  • No. 3 above could certainly be a starting lineup when the U.S. plays its first exhibition game against Brazil on Aug. 16 or when it opens the World Cup against Finland two weeks later. It features four guys with National Team experience and George, who’s the obvious pick to start alongside Durant at the other forward spot (the Andre Iguodala role from 2010).
  • We only saw Curry playing the two, alongside either Irving or Wall. But afterward, he said he doesn’t see himself strictly as a two with this team. “I play both,” he said. “I’m obviously better equipped [than the others] to play the two, but I can push in transition and initiate the offense if I need to. I got to be able to do both and guard both positions as well.”
  • But if Curry is thought of as a two, that certainly changes the point guard competition, which should be the hottest in camp. “The competition is stiff,” Lillard said. “It’s one of those things where if you’re the guy that doesn’t happen to be chosen, you can’t be mad, because everybody here is worthy of being on the team.”
  • Lillard on what could make him stand out: “My ability to adapt. I think I could do a really good job of figuring out what this team needs me to do and do it great. That’s being able to knock down shots. With my time on the floor, I can really defend, if that’s what they need. Make plays. Find that role that they need me to play and play it to the best of my ability.” He added that “you can play defense much harder” when you’re only out there for four or five minutes at a time.
  • In a few lineups, we saw Faried and Cousins playing together. And yes, they controlled the glass.
  • In another, we saw Parsons and Millsap playing the four and five. This is a more standard U.S. lineup (only one true big on the floor), but Drummond pushed Millsap around a little bit.
  • Drummond still looks raw. He missed a couple of short jump hooks pretty badly.
  • It’s weird to imagine Cousins representing the U.S. in a hostile, international environment, but seeing him in this environment, you can see how he could make an impact.
  • He’s a beast, and there aren’t many players in the world that can match up with him, especially if he just plays off others as a roll man and finisher in the paint.
  • Defensively, with FIBA rules, Cousins can hang close to the basket and defend the rim. In the few minutes we saw him on Monday, he blocked or altered at least three shots.
  • Still, there will remain a fear that Cousins will lose his cool with international officiating or decide, in a big moment, to dribble the ball up the floor himself. If he wants to make the team, he has to prove that he can stay disciplined in more ways than one.
  • I tweeted out this roster-construction chart Monday morning. After Day 1, you can probably move Curry to the “2/3″ list.
  • This shouldn’t be any surprise if you’ve watched this team over the last several years, but we saw some half-court trapping on Monday. This team will try to force tempo as much with its defense as it does with its offense.


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Team USA’s opening practice from Las Vegas