Summer Dreaming: D Player of the Year

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

There are so many different ways to fully embrace the dog days of summer. One is to fire up the grill and start cooking. Another is to keep that blender full of ice.

Here, we’re talking basketball. The season openers are still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead. So here are my Summer Dreaming choices for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year.

Send me your picks.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — If you don’t think he’s a game-changer, then you weren’t paying attention last spring when the Serge Protector missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were able to run a virtual lay-up line through the heart of the OKC defense. When Ibaka returned from a calf injury, all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy for Tony Parker and his friends to get to the basket and the series was quickly tied up 2-2. Ibaka protects the rim, contests jumpers and puts the bite into the Thunder. He’s continuing to blossom as an offensive force, but it’s his defense that is the glue of the Thunder. He led the league in total blocks for the fourth straight time last season and has been voted to the All-Defensive first team three years in a row. It’s finally his turn to get the big hardware.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Was it really fair to bring him into the league carrying comparisons to the legendary Bill Russell? Well, maybe if you watch the highlight video from last season. With coach Monty Williams taking the shackles off his playing time, A.D. showed many of the skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. For all that he was able to do with the ball around the basket, it was the defensive plays that dropped your jaw to the floor. He guarded the paint. He cut off baseline drives. Davis seemed to swoop in from out of nowhere to reject even 3-point attempts from the corner. No place on the court was safe from the ballhawking shot-blocker. Now with rim-protecting center Omer Asik at his back, Davis might really cut loose challenging shots. That’s just scary.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – He practically owned this award, winning it three straight times from 2009-2011 in Orlando, but that was before everything went south with the Magic and he had to overcome back problems and questions about commitment to the game. Howard arrived for his first season in Houston fit and ready to re-establish himself. By the end of 2013-14 there were no more questions about his health and desire to get back to the old form. Howard’s 2.83 blocks per game led the league as he returned to being a stopper anyplace around the basket. He’s got 10 years of NBA experience but is still just 28. There’s no reason that the Rockets can’t count on him to be the defensive anchor in their push to be true contenders in the Western Conference.

Joakim Noah, Bulls — Defense can’t always be measured by numbers and quantified with stats. As the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Noah blocked just 1.4 shots per game. But he had a nose to go after every shot at the rim, was firm in guarding the pick-and-roll and with his sheer energy and physical force was as disruptive as a twister to any opposing offense. He’s hungry, he’s relentless, he’s challenging the ball anywhere on the court, he’s the epitome of the attitude that coach Tom Thibodeau wants and is at the heart of the Bulls defense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season. You can’t ever ignore Noah. He simply won’t let you.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The Clippers’ big man got special attention from the boss in coach Doc Rivers’ first season in L.A. and it paid off tremendously. Rivers expected more from Jordan, demanded more … and usually got it. Jordan’s sixth NBA season produced dramatic improvement as he accepted responsibility to be a core performer. He finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.54) and third in rebounding (12.5). One of the main reasons that point guard Chris Paul can spend so much time jumping passing lanes looking for steals and the Clippers can be so aggressive on the perimeter is because they know they’ve got Jordan watching their backs with those long, lethal arms.

The war of the Rose?


VIDEO: Derrick Rose sits out of Wednesday’s game against the Dominican Republic

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ten games in two years.

That’s the sum total of work Derrick Rose‘s knees have allowed him to put in with the Chicago Bulls of late. Knee injuries and issues have robbed Rose and Bulls fans of two years of the one-time MVP’s prime, time he’ll never get back.

Never!

So if Rose wanted to bail right now on his commitment to USA Basketball for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, no one could blame him. The breathtaking talent is still there. We’ve seen enough of that during this current exhibition run to the competition in Spain, even with Rose sitting out Wednesday’s game against the Dominican Republic. But we’re watching it, holding our collective breath, hoping the basketball higher powers spare Rose and the Bulls any further injury agony.

There is a philosophical debate going on right now in the Windy City. Should Rose continue his road back now with USA across his chest? Or should he bow out gracefully right now and make sure he’s ready to go when the Bulls kick off their championship hunt in two months?

Rose doesn’t owe it to anyone to push his sore knee(s) beyond their comfort zone right now. He owes it to himself to continue to listen to that voice inside of his head that tells him when to push it and when to step back. He did it with his recovery with the Bulls and has no reason to ignore that voice this time around.

As disappointing as it would be for the folks at USA Basketball to lose yet another superstar, they would understand where Rose is coming from given his recent injury history.

Nothing will make up for the time he missed the past two seasons. Not even a gold medal in Spain, which I think can be attained with or without Rose in the fold — especially with James Harden, “the best all-around player in the NBA” in uniform.

Selfishly, I’d love to see Rose on the court in Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid, leading this U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in the World Cup. Without Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George on the roster, the margin for error shrinks considerably. But the strongest team in the field remains whatever combination of players USA Basketball boss Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski choose to take to Spain.

If Rose wasn’t experiencing any soreness and was completely healthy, there would be no need for debate. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, one of Krzyzewski’s assistants this summer, insists Rose is “fine.”  And to some, like Sam Smith of Bulls.com, Rose’s rebirth is a product of his affiliation with USA Basketball and their comprehensive program. There’s a sentiment that he owes it to the program to stick it out this summer.

But he’s already being held out of practices and exhibition games as a precautionary measure. Why risk it? There’s a reason for the nervousness, from some, in Chicago.

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times voices some of those concerns beautifully:

I know this is hard for Rose to take. An elite, driven athlete is never sated just by tons of money. He wants to play. He wants to dominate. That’s what he was put on earth to do.

But for Bulls fans, the wait to see a healthy, resilient Rose has been like dripping water torture.

Patriots though we may be, we have no similar interest in the United States’ dominance in world basketball. We know the globe now plays the game. We’ve seen our Olympic teams beaten by Argentina, Puerto Rico. We’re still the best, overall. So it goes. Every global star either plays in the NBA or is named Nikola Mirotic. Hooray.

But Kevin Durant and other stars are not playing for Team USA. They’re preparing for the NBA season and the preseason practices that begin — for all teams — just five weeks from today.

Rose’s first knee injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — may be totally healed. And his second major injury — a torn medial meniscus in his right knee — has been stitched back together and supposedly is good to go.

But God — or old David Stern — generally built players’ bodies pretty well before surgery. No normal knees get better with surgery. There isn’t a rocket chip doctors can put in there. Yet.

So Rose is damaged goods. Sorry, it’s the truth. Hurts to say it. Just like it hurts to say former MVP.

Arthritis likely will be his new closest friend. That and inflammation and swelling and good old ‘‘soreness.’’ Oh, and fatigue.

All of which are just indicators that he’s not a yearling in a spring field of flowers anymore.

Who cares if he wins with Team USA or loses with them or becomes the team mascot. Does anybody in America care that our beloved Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews won the gold medal for Canada in the 2014 Olympics? Or that his beloved teammate Patrick Kane lost for the U.S.?

No. The Stanley Cup is all.

The Larry O’Brien trophy is all that matters to Rose and Bulls teammates like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and newcomer Pau Gasol, all guys whose vested interests should come before whatever limited role Rose might play in Spain.

If Rose cannot go all out now, why would anyone expect him to do so once the Bulls start training camp?

There is no shame in recognizing that more rest is needed. There would be a level universal understanding, within the basketball community and beyond, if Rose took himself out of the mix.

If he thinks his knees will hold up, that he needs this challenge to prove to himself that he’s all the way back, I’m fine with that. If this hurdle is emotional and not physical, play on sir. Do your thing.

But knowing what we’ve missed for all but 10 games the two seasons, knowing what sort of agony Bulls fans have had to endure without their hometown superstar in uniform, if this hurdle is physical and not emotional, I’d have no problem with Rose bowing out gracefully.


VIDEO: All-Access look at USA Basketball’s recent visit to Chicago

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Tough choices loom for Team USA | Report: Suns willing to trade Bledsoe | Calipari backs Blatt as Cavs coach | Report: Durant weighing massive Under Armour offer

No. 1: Tough choices ahead for Team USA — A 43-point win against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night might have not helped Team USA figure out who will be on the squad once FIBA World Cup play starts in a week or so. Our John Schuhmann was on hand for last night’s exhibition in New York City and gives his outlook on who may (or may not) make the U.S. team’s final roster:

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.


VIDEO: Team USA runs away from the Dominican Republic in an NYC exhibition

***

No. 2: Report: Suns open to trading Bledsoe — Much like Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe, fellow restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns hasn’t gotten the big payday or contract offer he was hoping for this summer. The buzz of late surrounding he and the team is that Bledsoe may take a one-year qualifying offer from the Suns in exchange for a shot at unrestricted free agency next summer. However, according to Jude LaCava of FoxSports AM 910 in Arizona, the Suns may be open to dealing the point guard:

“I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported,” Jude LaCava said on Tuesday, “I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.”

“That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.”

“I think it’s safe to say ‘open for business’,” LaCava said. “The decision makers, [managing partner Robert] Sarver and [PBO Lon] Babby and hopefully Ryan McDonough, they are open to that possibility. It’s got to be right. It’s got to be the right return in what they are looking for.

“It’s to the point that if they can accommodate Bledsoe and get something they want in return, trade possibilities are very, very real and they have been discussed.”

***

No. 3: Calipari endorses Blatt as Cavs’ coach — On Monday, news came out that Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn‘t actually all that close to accepting the Cavaliers’ monstrous offseason offer to become their coach. With Calipari out of the picture, the Cavs eventually ended up hiring David Blatt to lead their new LeBron James-led crew. Calipari has nothing but compliments for Cleveland’s new leader, writes Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer:

“David Blatt can really coach,” Calipari told Frank Isola and Malik Rose during an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “He’s a better choice than me to coach that team. I coached against him. I’m not sitting here just saying it. I coached against him in FIBA basketball. I watched him coach Russia, the guy can coach, OK? Those players, all they want is respect. If they respect you as a coach they’re going to play like crazy.”

Calipari, who had one stint as a head coach in the NBA before returning to the collegiate ranks, believes the Cavs will return to prominence.

Dan Gilbert is a great guy who wants it for the right reasons, that’s why Cleveland will win,” Calipari said. “Now you just have to have really good players. Guess what? Cleveland has really good players.”

They could be adding one more in the near future when a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves becomes official, making All-Star forward Kevin Love the newest member of Cleveland’s talented roster.

“It’s going to be scary seeing how good Kyrie (Irving) is when now you gotta defer a little bit with this; how good Love is,” Calipari said. “We haven’t even seen how good those two are going to be. And it’s kinda like when Michael (Jordan) would grab guys and all of a sudden you saw Scottie (Pippen) how good he could be or (Dennis) Rodman. … All of them, all of them. That’s what LeBron will do. It’s crazy what’s going to go on in Cleveland.”

***

No. 4: Report: Durant offered massive endorsement deal by Under Armour — Reigning MVP and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has been a pitchman for Nike joining the NBA. Under that company, his “KD” brand of shoes have become one of the company’s most popular sellers as his on-court play has raised his marketability to newfound levels. Proof of that growth is seen in the endorsement deal Durant has received from Under Armour that could pay him between $265 million and $285 million. ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, who broke the story, has more:

Kevin Durant’s representation Roc Nation Sports informed Nike on Wednesday that he has a deal on the table with Under Armour worth between $265 million and $285 million over 10 years, sources told ESPN.com.

The deal includes Under Armour stock and other incentives, such a community center built in his mother’s name, whose exact worth will not be known for some time.

Nike, which saw its signature business related to the Oklahoma City Thunder forward grow to roughly $175 million at retail last season, will have the right to match, which is a condition of Durant’s current contract with the brand. Durant can still choose Nike if it doesn’t match but can’t legally choose Under Armour if Nike does.

If Under Armour wins the services of Durant, it would be the largest sponsorship deal the company has ever committed to. The average of $26.5 million to $28.5 million means that Under Armour would be devoting nearly 10 percent of its current annual marketing budget on him.

Should Nike pass and Under Armour win the battle for Durant, one has to wonder how much of a role Under Armour will play in Durant’s decision where to play next. After all, in money alone, Durant would be more an employee of Under Armour than he is of the Thunder.

Durant is due $41.2 million over his next two seasons with the team; his Under Armour deal would pay him at least $10 million more over that period.

If Durant’s relationship with Nike ends, it will be interesting to see how it liquidates his latest shoe, the KD7. Colorways are planned and have been sold through to retailers through the end of the year, and sources say Nike has the contractual right to liquidate its current line.

How it even has gotten to this point for Nike is a mystery. The company usually likes locking up its top talent and teams before those players can even go elsewhere. While its deal with Manchester United also came down to a situation where it declined the match Adidas’ bid, it’s more the norm that Nike renews before the competition can get a crack. Six years into James’ seven-year, $87 million contract, Nike and LeBron James agreed to terms on the next deal.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Count Nets center Brook Lopez among the growing legion of players who have slimmed down for next season … Pistons big man Greg Monroe denies ever receiving a five-year, $60 million deal from DetroitKevin Durant says Steph Curry‘s character is difficult to use in NBA 2K … Should Derrick Rose just pull the plug on being a part of Team USA? … Is Rajon Rondo ready for a superstar turn next season? … Wizards reserve forwards Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. are gunning for a bigger role next season

 

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).