Blogtable

Blogtable: Keeping Klay … now what?

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 points a game for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 ppg for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

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: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Golden State wouldn’t part with Klay Thompson to get Kevin Love. Where does that leave the Warriors? Are they better off or worse off than they were at summer’s start?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If you aren’t improving, you’re getting worse. That seems a fair assessment of the Western Conference in particular, where the Warriors — last year’s preseason darlings for many — won’t crack the top 3 for most prognosticators this fall. The Klay Thompson man-crush of Golden State’s front office escapes me, beyond the basketball basics of needing somebody in a Steph Curry backcourt who can guard people. There’s no assurance Steve Kerr as coach will be an upgrade over Mark Jackson (though Kerr’s staff surely will stir up less drama). Improvement from within? Andrew Bogut stays healthy? Swell. But that’s not enough to vault past the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, or maybe even the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Trail Blazers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt leaves the Warriors toweling down after a spin class, because they haven’t moved an inch. They’re right where last saw them in the spring, stuck in the middle of the deep Western Conference behind the upper crust Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and maybe Grizzlies, naively trying to convince themselves they’re contenders.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Keep preaching about Klay Thompson’s defense and how crucial it is as long as Steph Curry is the team’s point guard, but I would have dealt Thompson (and David Lee, a player I’ve long admired) for Love without losing sleep. Love turns only 26 prior to the season and he’s simply more versatile than Thompson and Lee put together. He does things no other player does. End of story.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnswer C: the same. Shaun Livingston will be a nice pickup if he is healthy enough to play 65-70 games and a full postseason, and the projected return of Festus Ezeli after knee surgery will be a much-needed boost at center if he can offer solid backup minutes. The Thompson/Love decision will obviously be hanging over the Warriors, with how Thompson plays and with how David Lee plays. But it still will not be a surprise if Golden State is solidly in the pack of the second tier in the West with the Trail Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Mavericks. And if there is a worry about an offseason decision, it should be about the coaching change, not the players. Mark Jackson connected with the roster and delivered results. Steve Kerr will be a rookie on the sidelines.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The only thing that has changed the Warriors’ outlook is the moves of other teams (Dallas and Houston in particular) around them in the West hierarchy. Golden State still has the ability to rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. They ranked third defensively last season and still have Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. The key will be for Steve Kerr to make better use of the bench and make them more potent offensively. With all their talent, the potential is there. Given the uncertainty of a new coach, it’s impossible to rank the Warriors ahead of the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers. But they shouldn’t be dismissed as a possible conference finalist either.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors occupy the same place in the Western Conference standings with or without Love: they are still a few pieces away from the true contender status that I thought they were ready for last season. Toss in a new coach and new system, and they could even take a step back in the 2014-15 season. Klay Thompson is not the man responsible for what happens to the Warriors next season, at least not the only man. His Splash Brothers partner Steph Curry will be the catalyst for the Warriors. Thompson, as good as he has been and will continue to be, should not have to pay that bill.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Can I vote for the the same? I don’t get not giving up Thompson for Love. Thompson is a really good player, one of the best off guards in the NBA, but Kevin Love is one of the 10 best players in the NBA, and I think if you have a chance to make that move, you make it. I’m just not really sure where the Warriors can look to improve this season. Defensively they were quietly pretty good last season, and we know offensively that they’re dynamic. Love would have given them a rebounding presence and helped stretch the floor even more. Last season they won 51 games in a difficult Western Conference. Steve Kerr will have his hands full in his first year trying to build upon that.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think they’re the same. The West isn’t changed a lot this summer and there are at least three teams, Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, better than the Warriors. Golden State can count on Steve Kerr’s great basketball mind, even if he’s a coach with no experience, and I’m sure going to the World Cup with Team USA is going to help a lot Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. I think the Warriors are intriguing, but not a Western Conference powerhouse

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: It actually depends on how new coach Steve Kerr will implement his system with the tools that the Warriors have in their disposal. But one of the underrated things that goes unnoticed in the NBA most of the time is — continuity. The Spurs have shown throughout the years that their chemistry will always make them contenders and with Golden State’s talented line-up intact their is no way for them to go but up.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: I believe that they are better off in the West. In my opinion a trade Thompson/Lee for Martin/Love or something near it would have been no big upgrade. Thompson has still plenty of upside in his game and with new coach Steve Kerr on his side, he will develop fast. With Kerr on the sideline the team will play more team-basketball and less isolation. That will help Barnes a lot and Iguodala will improve, too.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The Warriors are going to be exactly as they were when the summer began. Their guards will improve a little (Curry and Thompson) and their big men will probably regress a bit (Bogut and Lee). In the tough West, only a big splash can make a real difference in the standings. Eventually, the Warriors’ fate will be decided by their supporting cast and their intangibles. Will Harrison Barnes bounce back from last year’s dip and finally have his much-awaited breakout year? How is Steve Kerr going to be as a coach? Even in the best-case scenario, I don’t see Golden State finishing any higher than fifth in the West.

Blogtable: The World Cup carryover

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

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: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Which NBA player in the FIBA Basketball World Cup stands to gain the most, in terms of improving his play and carrying it over to the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAnthony Davis opened eyes, dropped jaws and sent a shiver through New Orleans’ 2014-15 opponents even before the medal round began. If the league had an official preseason all-NBA team, the New Orleans big man would be on it. I get the same vibe watching him now that I got up-close 17 years or so ago as Kevin Garnett grew into his body and his skills. Of his Team USA mates, Kyrie Irving should benefit greatly from this experience, both on the court and mentally handling new expectations and responsibilities. But people will remember this 2014 FIBA World Cup for Davis’ emergence as a monster in full.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Getting the playing time and on-court experience in game situations that really mean something could be just what the doctor and the rehab therapist and the Bulls coaching staff and front office ordered for Derrick Rose. Physical and mental hurdles should be in his rearview mirror by the time he hits training camp.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This might be unanimous: DeMarcus Cousins. However, with him, it’s not so much carrying over improved play, it’s carrying over an eye-opening experience of how professionals work, play, interact and lead.

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves/Spain. Rubio has made improving his shooting a focus of the offseason, with good reason, and the World Cup will be the first progress report. The tournament isn’t a full schedule of NBA-level competition, but the games will matter and therefore a better test than the exhibition slate with the Wolves. A good showing from the perimeter in his native Spain will be a confidence boost and build momentum heading back to Minnesota.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Derrick Rose, of course. Playing 20 minutes a game for the USA is a great way for Rose to knock off the rust, regain his feel for the game, and get his body used to playing full speed basketball again. Somebody said the following in the last week and I’d love to credit them, but I forget who it was: The best way to prepare for basketball is to play basketball. The next three weeks could be huge for Rose, the Bulls, and how successful their 2014-15 season will be. Beyond Rose, the World Cup could help some incoming rookiesBojan Bogdanovic, Dante Exum and Kostas Papanikolaou to name a few — hit the ground running when training camp opens.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great question. I don’t think there is any doubt that Anthony Davis is the player poised for the quantum leap from where he was at the start of the 2014-15 season to where he is now. Davis has a chance to make the transition from All-Star to game-changing superstar with the right kind of results in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Kenneth Faried. He finished his rookie year with a flourish, making first-team All-Rookie. But since then, as the Nuggets have rebuilt, Faried’s star has lost a little of its shine, and last year his name started to bubble up in trade talks. But as a member of USA Basketball, Faried seems to have gotten a little of his swagger back. He went from being a bubble invite to the USA camp to earning a starting spot on the squad. When I asked him on Friday night if he felt like he belonged, he quickly shot back, “Ain’t no ‘feel like.’ I know I belong.”

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: It might be obvious to mention Derrick Rose, given what he’s coming back from, or maybe Klay Thompson, who will be having contract negotiations in the not too distant future but I’ve decided to go out of left field a little bit here. I’m also going specific to my region in selecting Aron Baynes. He has been one of the best-performing Boomers in their nine warm-up matches across Europe heading into the FIBA World Cup. He’s been a double-double machine and is a guaranteed starter for the Aussies. The reason I believe he has a lot to gain is because this is his opportunity to show the world what he can do. He’s a role player on the best team in the NBA and he hasn’t established himself as a rotation NBA player yet. His contract situation is an interesting one because he is a restricted free agent and the Spurs have early Bird rights on him and have tendered a qualifying offer worth $1.1 million. Will he take that and come back for an uncertain extra year or could another team swoop and offer a more lucrative deal? Maybe a good showing at the FIBA World Cup could entice someone.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Andray Blatche of the Philippines. I might get some flak for choosing him but you have to hear me out. Team USA will be covered as a whole, although Derrick Rose will garner more attention because of his long layoff. The various NBA players littered among the other countries are already well established. Meanwhile in the Philippines, if Blatche plays well and somehow leads Gilas Pilipians to the second round, he will develop a cult-like following. Still unsigned, if he exemplifies his leadership and shows his adjustment to playing with a new team in a different system he will be an attractive free agent player after the World Cup.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Kostas Papanikolaou, who else? He is a rookie for the Houston fans and an unfamiliar face for international basketball. Over the past years he has grown a lot and few 24 years-old players have added in their resume two Euroleague titles. During the back-to-back European titles of Olympiakos he played a significant role as starting small forward, with his streaky shooting, his explosiveness to the rim and his defensive mindset. Last year he grew up as a more versatile offensive player in Barcelona and now in his last few days before the NBA chapter of his career comes along, he demonstrated solid leadership during Greece’s friendly games. He was the top scorer playing at the “3” alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and managed to check the “constistency” box next to his scouting report.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although all eyes will be on Anthony Davis — who is sure to be the best player for the USA — and Derrick Rose, who’ll be making a long-awaited return, I think that the real surprise gem of the FIBA World Cup will be … Kenneth Faried! Through all of Team USA’s practice warm-up games so far, Faried has been the x-factor, and the international style of play seems to suit his game perfectly. Without Durant on the USA side, Faried also seems to have secured a starting spot in the American frontcourt. Despite his talent, Faried has hardly had any experience at higher level competitions so far in his young career. Playing alongside some of the best players and for top coaches like Coach K and Thibodeau will sure give Faried the confidence and experience he needs to become a leader for the Nuggets when he returns.

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

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


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


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: Playoff teams falling

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Which of last year’s playoffs teams is in for the biggest dropoff in ’14-‘15? One in each conference, please. And to make it tougher, let’s not include Indiana in this discussion.

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s important to know what constitutes a bigger dropoff: A slide of several spots while staying in the bracket or a fall of a place or two that takes a team out of the postseason entirely. In the East, I think Miami drops a few spots with LeBron gone and has to play from down under in the first round. But Brooklyn, whose weird one-season mojo needs an overhaul now, might slip out of the top eight entirely. In the West, Houston looks ripe for a fall to seventh or eighth after its poor offseason harvest. The Rockets’ best players bring talent but that team needs more heart and better locker-room leadership. Roll up your sleeves, Trevor Ariza.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn. Paul Pierce is gone, Kevin Garnett is wavering and Deron Williams might be through. Welcome back, Lionel Holllins.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIn the East, isn’t the obvious answer Miami? I mean, there’s no LeBron. And Luol Deng, while a solid two-way player, is no LeBron. Really, every other East team in the playoffs last season, with the exception of the aforementioned Pacers, should be on the rise. The West is a tougher call, but let’s go with Houston, which loses perfect-for-its-system small forward Chandler Parsons and a huge chunk of its bench. The pressure is on James Harden and Dwight Howard to be team-first leaders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Western Conference: Houston. I don’t think it will be a big drop off, but Chandler Parsons is a hit for a team that was facing increased scrutiny anyway after losing in the first round despite home-court advantage. Eastern Conference: Miami. If the Pacers are removed from consideration because it’s too obvious an answer with the Paul George injury, the Heat are not far behind for a quick response.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it has to be Miami, for obvious reasons. They should still be a very good team, but without LeBron James and if Dwyane Wade misses another 20-plus games, they’re probably not in the conference’s top four anymore. In the West, Houston will suffer offensively with the departures of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, two of their best playmakers last season. And if either James Harden or Dwight Howard misses 10-plus games, they could be in serious trouble, because neither of those guys has a legit back-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a tough one without Indiana in the mix. In the Eastern Conference, Miami has to be the candidate to take the biggest tumble based solely on the loss of LeBron James and the fact that no one will be slotting them in the top two for the 2014-15 season. That said, I think the Heat will remain among the playoff elite in the East. They just have to get used to life on a floor other than the penthouse. No one in the Western Conference wants to give up an inch, making it much tougher to crack the top eight on that side of the conference divide. The top three — San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers — should remain the same, in whatever order. That leaves the Houston Rockets as the most vulnerable to an attack from teams trying to climb into that top four. The Rockets could conceivably be just as good or better than they were last season and finish lower in the pecking order in 2014-15.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMiami in the East. I really like Luol Deng and feel like he was one of the more underrated free agents this summer, but replacing LeBron and everything he did on both ends of the court is basically impossible. And can Dwyane Wade stay healthy enough to produce for 82 games, or is he only going to be able to play 50ish games again this season? And in the West, well, I don’t know. I feel like those teams are pretty much locked in atop the conference. The one team I think will be most interesting to watch will be Golden State. Mark Jackson brought so many intangibles to that team, and I am curious to see how Steve Kerr uses Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and how he’s able to get that roster to buy into his system.

Blogtable: The best place for Wiggins

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman



VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins shines at the Summer League in Las Vegas

> You’re Andrew Wiggins. How could it possibly be better for you, short term or long term, to play in Minnesota rather than in Cleveland with LeBron? Explain, please.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Uh, Minnesota is more like Canada, isn’t it? So that should help make Wiggins feel more at home with the Timberwolves. There’s this, too: With the Cavaliers, there would be an immediate tug o’ war between Wiggins’ pace of development and LeBron James’ readiness to win now. He’d be cast as the little brother whose game isn’t quite ready for prime time and there would be rumbles of impatience inside and outside the locker room. In Minneapolis, Wiggins will face none of that. The Wolves will be hitting the reset button with his progress and rookie-contract arc in mind. Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad are raw and unready too, and even Ricky Rubio has work to do. Minnesota’s ambitions are more in line with what Wiggins can produce short-term. Long-term, if he’s as good as he projects, he’ll be fine anywhere.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In an era when even established veteran players are looking for destinations where they can team up with other All-Stars, Wiggins’ talk boggles the mind. I guess I can see the ego part where the No. 1 overall pick in the draft wants to get the “top dog” experience. He certainly won’t get that as the No. 3 or 4 man in Cleveland behind LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  But he also won’t sniff at the playoffs either.  If it’s unconditional love Wiggins is seeking, he should just buy a dog.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Um, well, the summer months are beautiful in Minne … OK, this is going to be a tough sell. In Cleveland, Wiggins would play alongside LeBron and as a bonus he would be mostly free of the lofty expectations typical of a No. 1 overall pick. In other words, he wouldn’t be the focal point of the team. That’s all out the window in Minny, where a team desperate to get back into the playoffs for what seems like forever, will be looking to Wiggins to grow up quickly alongside Ricky Rubio, himself still growing into expectations following his unfortunate ACL injury.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The only way it’s better for me is because I get a lot more chances in Minnesota than I would have in Cleveland, especially right away. I am in the showcase for the Timberwolves, not a complementary piece for the Cavaliers after LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and maybe Dion Waiters are done with the ball. Because of that, though, there is no easy transition into the NBA, with LeBron’s return commanding so much of the spotlight that would normally go to my arrival as the No. 1 pick. And there is no opportunity to play alongside and learn about focus and preparation from James. And just imagine how many more seams I could have found in the defense if opponents had to worry about Irving and LBJ.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Well, he has an excellent chance to get to the playoffs more often than Kevin Love did in his six years in Minnesota, which could earn him some love in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. And he has a better chance of winning Rookie of the Year and putting up good numbers. But nothing beats competing for championships and there would have been no better player for Wiggins to play next to in his formative NBA years than LeBron James, who would have brought out the best in him, even if it was in a supporting role. We all know why that’s not going to happen and it’s hard to argue against the trade for Cleveland. But it’s still a shame that we won’t get to see the Wiggins/LeBron combo.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The one thing about playing in Minnesota for me, Andrew Wiggins, is the expectations for my rookie season are now much more manageable. Playing in Cleveland, alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, would have cast me in that No. 3 role. And there is no guarantee I’d be ready for that immediately. Long term, I’d never have my own identity playing in LeBron’s shadow. Cleveland is his city. That’s never going to change. The only thing I could be there is a part of the ensemble. In Minneapolis the canvass is blank. I can make my own legacy with the Timberwolves. I won’t be playing in June anytime soon, of course. But I also believe in my heart of hearts that you have to start your career in a place where you are valued not only for what you bring from the start but also the potential of what’s to come. That happens for me, Andrew Wiggins, in Minnesota.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re the man, now! If Wiggins stayed in Cleveland, he’d have played behind LeBron and Kyrie for a while, maybe even as long as they were on the same team. But with the T-Wolves, Wiggins has the opportunity to take a lot of shots and play meaningful minutes right off the bat. This is probably a good and bad thing — as a rookie, having the opportunity to be a third option would obviously be easier than having to be focus of defenses night after night and having the chance to develop slowly. But now we’ll find out exactly what we’re working with. Let’s throw Wiggins in the pool and see if he can swim.

Blogtable: Stars in dire need of help

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Say Kevin Love joins LeBron in Cleveland. Who’s the NBA superstar (or near-superstar) next in line for a wingman? Anyone in mind who would fit well with him?

Carmelo Anthony is back with the Knicks, but still needs some help.(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony is back with the Knicks, but still needs some help.(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Who’s Kobe got now? It’s looking a little barren on that Lakers roster. Then again, Bryant has been blessed in his career with two of the best sidekicks in recent memory (Shaq and Pau Gasol). So it’s not his turn. As tempting as it is to say Derrick Rose or Carmelo Anthony, neither has ever seemed all that determined to find or recruit a partner/peer. So I’m going with Dirk Nowitzki, who hasn’t had a proper wingman since Steve Nash left. Who’d look good next to him? Michael Carter-Williams. Or a rehabbed Paul George. Or a healthy Rose.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Did I miss something or isn’t Carmelo Anthony still looking like a tall cactus standing all alone in that desert at Madison Square Garden? But he chose the bed. Hope all those Benjamins in the mattress can keep him company.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThere’s still that guy Carmelo Anthony, who passed on joining a variety of wing men this summer to re-sign with the Knicks. New York has cap space at its disposal next summer to add big-money free agents. So how about spending on point guard Eric Bledsoe, assuming he signs Phoenix’s qualifying offer and becomes a free agent in ’15, or Rajon Rondo? And why stop there? Melo needs a big man in the middle, too, so how about Greg Monroe (assuming he signs Detroit’s qualifying offer and becomes unrestricted in ’15) or go really big with Marc Gasol?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: We’re getting into the subjective land of deciding who gets the superstar label, and I like where his team is headed anyway, but Anthony Davis could use a scoring threat in New Orleans. He may have one already, but Ryan Anderson needs to show he is healthy in 2014-15. The Omer Asik acquisition is a nice move — no one scores inside on the Pelicans this season. Maybe Eric Gordon finds his old self. But take Anderson out of the conversation for the moment, and no one on the team averaged more than 15.4 ppg last season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Carmelo Anthony seems like the obvious answer here, but I’d really like to see Goran Dragic get an All-Star teammate. Dragic and Channing Frye were the most potent pick-and-roll combination last season, so imagine what he could do with an Anthony Davis, a Dirk Nowitzki or a Blake Griffin (not that any of those guys are going anywhere). The Suns are still set up well to add a star via trade or free agency next season, not only because of their payroll, but also because they have a terrific point guard.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If Carmelo Anthony is ever going to shed his reputation as a great player with the asterisk (killer numbers but no hardware to show for it), he’s going to need a first-class wingman whose games meshes well with his own. Since we’re operating in theory-ville, why not go deep down the rabbit hole? LaMarcus Aldridge and ‘Melo on the same team would be absolutely diabolical. Aldridge can stretch the floor from the post to the wing with his deadly face-up game. And he rebounds well. Melo is a dynamic scorer capable of working inside or out (beyond the 3-point line), stretching the floor in ways that can cause all sorts of problems for opposing teams. The way they both shoot it, you can have them work off of each other, one in the post and the other from outside, and shred teams with their two-man game.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCarmelo Anthony was the first name that came to mind. I guess the closest thing he’s had to wingman since coming to the Knicks has been Amar’e Stoudemire or maybe J.R. Smith? As solid as younger players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert have been, nobody on the Knicks current roster gives me much hope that they will develop into a perennial All-Star. Maybe he gets a running mate in 2015 when guys like Rajon Rondo or LaMarcus Aldridge hit the open market. Unless Phil has some mind tricks up his sleeve for Andrea Bargnani.

Blogtable: Are the Pacers done?

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: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> You’re Larry Bird. Paul George is out. Lance Stephenson is gone. What are your plans for the Pacers? When can you make them a factor again?

The success of the Pacers next season will rest largely on Roy Hibbert's shoulders. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

The success of the Pacers next season will rest largely on Roy Hibbert’s shoulders. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The cupboard is too bare, I fear, for the Pacers to be much of a factor this season. The contender that most needed an offensive overhaul has suffered an offensive mugging, losing its starting and shot-creating backcourt. Shawn Marion wouldn’t be any real answer at this stage of his career, C.J. Miles is C.J. Miles, and unless Rodney Stuckey was holding back something brilliant from Pistons fans, he won’t be a savior either. David West is getting long in the tooth and Roy Hibbert remains a 7-foot enigma. On defense and muscle memory, Indiana can grab a lower playoff rung in the East. But that’s about it. Can Reggie Miller suit up again?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You take a page out of an old Western movie and circle the wagons. The Pacers don’t have to look outside their own division to see how the Bulls made no excuses and instead made a commitment to defense and team play the past two season. Hello, Roy Hibbert. It’s your time to step up and shoulder the burden. The challenge is to develop a stronger supporting cast for when George does return in 2015-16 and vaults Indy back into the Eastern Conference contender race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a lot of choices out there other than going out and playing with the hand they’re dealt. Maybe this can be Indiana’s David Robinson-Tim Duncan moment. Is there a Tim Duncan out there?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m screwed. There will be the chance to sign someone with the injury exception, but obviously anyone who can make the kind of impact the Pacers need now is gone. And any trade consideration only weakens me at another position (and there is no sense to give up a lot for a small forward if I believe George is back after one season). I can, however, set the tone, along with Frank Vogel, that this changes nothing in the expectation that everyone reports to work every day expecting to win. I’m good at that no-nonsense thing.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tread water. Seriously. Just tread water in the Eastern Conference and do whatever it takes to try to make the playoffs with a roster that has been greatly reduced since last season. Doubt works as a great motivator. And these Pacers will be doubted by many, so they’ll have all the motivation they need. But Paul George could be out for not only the entire 2014-15 season and beyond, which means the Pacers will spend the next two seasons trying to recover from what has turned out to be a catastrophic summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Obviously, they’re not going to be a “factor” until at least the 2015-16 season. So Bird should listen to offers for his older vets, including David West, who turns 34 this month and could help another team (Phoenix?) more than he could help the Pacers. Indiana was already pretty brutal offensively. It got worse when they lost Lance Stephenson and now we may be looking at the worst offense in the league. Even if they can remain a top-10 defense without their best perimeter defender, the Pacers will be lucky if they hover around .500 this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You play to your strengths. You’ve still got Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola, so you slow the tempo as much as you can and pound the ball inside, over and over and over. One of Hibbert’s issues last season was gumming up the offense by wanting the ball in the post. Well, now you can have it as much as you want! The Pacers won’t contend in the East this season, but they can still defend the rim, and with more shots to go around, I wouldn’t be surprised if George Hill steps up and posts big numbers as well. So for now, you try and get by until Paul George is back out there.

Rubens Borges, NBA Brasil: The Indiana Pacers are in a pickle. They have already lost Lance Stephenson, one of the only shot creators in the 23rd best offense of the 2013-14 season, to the Charlotte Hornets. With Paul George hurt, Indiana loses the best weapon it had. Not only that, but the Pacers saw one of its best, if not the best, defenders in the team go down. Indiana has two options: pull a 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs and go for a high lottery pick or toil away at the season, hoping a weaker East can salvage 2014-15.  Option A: trade David West or Roy Hibbert for picks, young assets and hope they can land a high pick. Option B: hope that the East, weaker than the West but improved, can provide them with a playoff berth. If I were Larry Bird I would go with option A. Retool a bad offense without losing their defensive anchor, George, and come back stronger in 2015-16.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Larry Bird needs to challenge Roy Hibbert. The Indiana big man stumbled dramatically in the 2014 post-season, and with George injured, Hibbert has the opportunity to redeem himself. If Bird can get him to play big for Indiana now, it is a win-win for both. At the same time, Bird has to bring in some manpower and getting Shawn Marion, a proven, versatile forward, with tons of experience, would be a good place to start. As for making them a legitimate factor, Paul George has to return at the earliest.

Blogtable: USA’s backup center

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: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> Now you’re Mike Krzyzewski. You have to pick a backup center for Team USA. DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee or Andre Drummond? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I’m Coach K, I find myself with a last name that gets misspelled and mispronounced more often than “Aschburner.” Wait, what? Oh, I take Cousins. And it doesn’t even have anything to do with the style of international basketball or World Championship glory. I take Cousins because he could benefit the most from the ultimate-team experience, maturing perhaps into a better NBA citizen and teammate. It’s the least Team USA can do for all that lavish talent at its disposal, a give-back — if “Boogie” were to pay attention and embrace the lesson — that would help the player, his team and the league.

DeMarcus Cousins (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

DeMarcus Cousins (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: DeMarcus Cousins. Just on all-around skills and innate talent. Cousins is a superstar waiting to break out and this experience could and should be the challenge that keeps him focused and brings out the best in him. If that happens, he’s got the greatest upside for now and for looking ahead to 2016 in Rio.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m pretty sure Andre Drummond is going to get the nod from my colleagues, but I’m picking DeMarcus Cousins as sort of the feel-good story with the most upside. We all know Cousins has tremendous talent. If Western Conference coaches didn’t view him as an immature malcontent he might have been an All-Star last season. So maybe Team USA, and with another year of age, is what makes it all click-in for Cousins. It certainly can’t hurt (I don’t think). And if it doesn’t happen, Colangelo and Coach K can reset next summer in preparation for Brazil in 2016.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Plumlee. Team USA would have wanted to maximize its athletic advantage anyway, but the shortage of bigs increases the need to play fast. Plumlee is best suited for the end-to-end game. The other two have obvious appeals, though. Cousins’ range and passing ability is a great fit for a big in the international game, and Drummond as a rim protector and physical center would be a nice option for Mike Krzysewski against teams with size (Spain, Brazil). Plus, the lineup around Drummond would make up for his lack of offense. Meanwhile, the question of Cousins and his attitude must be factored in, except that we don’t really know how he has been behind closed doors.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAndre Drummond would be my pick. The U.S. is going to need added size and someone capable of not only protecting the rim but also serving as a bruiser around the basket on offense. Cousins is a more polished offensive performer right now but Drummond gets up and down the floor a little better and doesn’t necessarily need the ball in his hands to make an impact. Coach K needs someone he trusts to fill that role, which is why Plumlee is still in the mix. But when I hear Jerry Colangelo talk about picking the best team and not the best players, it lets me know that anything is possible when it comes to cutting the roster down.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: First of all, I’m waiting until after the next three exhibition games — against Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — so that I can see these guys in some close-to-real FIBA action. And I’d limit Anthony Davis‘ minutes in next Saturday’s game against Brazil, which could tell us a lot about the Cousins-Plumlee debate. If I had to make a decision now though, I’d go with Cousins, who showed enough in last week’s Showcase for me to take talent over fit in this discussion. He still has some work to do to secure that spot and nobody has a bigger spotlight on him in these next couple of weeks, but the talent discrepancy could ultimately be too tough to ignore.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI take none of them. Cousins needs the ball to be effective, Plumlee doesn’t stand out in any one facet, and Drummond is such a terrible free throw shooter that he’s too much of a liability. So I take none of them and instead keep Kyle Korver. Then if Anthony Davis gets into foul trouble, I go super small and put Kevin Durant at the 5 and try to trade 3 for 2s. And considering the USA is in the weaker bracket, you might only need a true backup center in the Finals against Spain and their monster Pau Gasol/Marc Gasol/Serge Ibaka front line. I’m not sure it’s worth using a roster spot on a guy you might not even have to use.

Ole Frerks, NBA Deutschland: This is a difficult choice. Cousins is the best jump-shooter of the trio, which is important for international basketball, but he also lacks lateral quickness in defending the pick and roll, which is equally essential. Drummond is a more frightening presence at the rim and a beast on the boards, but his poor free throw shooting could hurt the team in late-game situations. Plumlee has the same problem and also lacks experience. Personally, I’d go with Boogie and hope he hustles enough on defense. He has the best skillset for international basketball and should profit from the other guys like Durant or Rose, who should be able to teach him a thing or two about how to carry himself as the highest level.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I understand Mason Plumlee probably fits better with Team USA’s fast-paced style, but I would go for DeMarcus Cousins. There is no substitute for talent and Cousins has shown that with the right environment, he can make a huge impact. Cousins finished fourth in Player Impact Estimate (PIE) rankings for 2013-14, just behind the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love. Also, Cousins still hasn’t hit his ceiling in the league. There is a huge upswing that can be leveraged for the future by giving Cousins the experience of playing with Team USA now.