USA Basketball

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

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.

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.”

Rose rests again, may not start Wednesday


VIDEO: USAB at West Point: Derrick Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m really happy where I’m at right now, health-wise and recovering very quickly,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to take my time and get rest, because we have a long schedule ahead of us. I’m just trying to get as much rest as possible.”

There’s still a question of how much he’ll play for the National Team. In World Cup pool play, the U.S. will play five games in six days. That run is just 11 days away, but Colangelo isn’t thinking that far ahead in regard to Rose’s workload.

“Right now, there’s no issue here,” Colangelo said. “If he needs down time, this is a good time for it. He can rest and we kind of move on from there.”

For Coach K, Team USA, day at West Point goes beyond hoops


VIDEO: Coach K talks about Team USA at West Point

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Addressing the crowd in Christl Arena just before Monday’s USA Basketball open practice began, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “I take West Point everywhere I go.”

Krzyzewski attended the United States Military Academy at West Point as a cadet, and was a three-year letterman under coach Bob Knight from 1967-69. After five years of service in the Army and one year as an assistant coach at Indiana under Knight, Krzyzewski returned to West Point as coach, his first head coaching position. In five years at Army, before moving on to Duke in 1980, Krzyzewski accumulated a 73-59 record.

Which explains in part why Krzyzewski was looking forward to Monday as part of the USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team’s preparation for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The practice itself was nothing more than shooting drills and layup lines, with a short scrimmage mixed in. But Krzyzewski felt the lessons learned were less about basketball and more about teaching what it means to represent the United States.

“A day like today is one of our most important days,” Krzyzewski said, “because these guys get a chance of feeling America, feeling what it is to be on the U.S. team. You know, we’ve done that with all of our teams, whether it be Arlington Cemetery, the Statue of Liberty, Wounded Warriors, people coming in from the military to talk. To spend a day here is better than any offensive or defensive drill you could have that bonds a team together. That’s what today was about.”

The team spent the early part of the day touring the campus and doing things like watching cadets run an obstacle course, observing a Combat Water Survival Swim Lab, as well as visiting the West Point Cemetery. Just before the practice, they ate lunch in the mess hall with the cadets.

“They only have like, 20-25 minutes to eat,” said Team USA guard Derrick Rose. “That’s what shocked me. How can you even prepare yourself to eat with 20-25 minutes? That’s what shocked me. And waking up. I think they have to get up at 5:30 or something like that. To me, that would be devastating. But it tells you that they’ve committed their whole life to this, and that’s pretty cool.”

“You walk around this place and you just … feel,” said Krzyzewski. “You feel good about being an American, and you feel a little bit more proud of being a USA Basketball player and coach. And that’s what we wanted our guys to get today. You can talk about it, you can see it, but today we all had a chance to feel it. And that’s why we do these things with the military.”

Despite spending over three decades at Duke, it’s obvious that West Point still plays a huge role in Coach K’s life. He calls West Point “the foundation of who I am.” He still wears his West Point class ring just above his wedding band (“I never take it off”), and he visits the campus at least once a year.

“You go to the best leadership school in the world, and something’s gotta rub off, you know,” Krzyzewski says. “Part of it is organization, understanding of teamwork, not accepting failure — all these things. I got married on graduation day here at West Point. And I lived here for five years when I coached, so it’s been a cool place.”

Even his former Duke players understand Krzyzewski’s special relationship with West Point, as they heard him frequently reference West Point during locker room motivational sessions.

“You know, 30 years at Duke, he’s got some Duke stories,” admitted Team USA center Mason Plumlee, who played for Krzyzewski at Duke from 2009-2013. “But he’ll always reach back to some of his West Point stories — when he was a player, when he was a coach here. The most frequent were the ones where Bob Knight was telling what he could and couldn’t do. Those were always good stories.”

After the open practice, the team headed back to New York City to prepare for exhibitions against the Dominican Republic (Wednesday) and Puerto Rico (Friday). While Monday might have been about team building off the court, with Paul George injured and Kevin Durant gone this group first assembled in Vegas, Krzyzewski says there is plenty of work left to do in the gym.

“We need a lot of practice time, quickly, because we’ve had so many changes in our roster. And the guys are working hard but hopefully the next few days will be good for us.”

Rose gets day off at West Point


VIDEO: USAB at West Point: Derrick Rose

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Monday was a light day for the U.S. National Team. In front of a gym of cadets and guests at the U.S. Military Academy, the team took part in offensive drills, a half-paced scrimmage, and shooting games.

But the easiness of the day didn’t stop the U.S. from taking extra precautions with Derrick Rose, who didn’t participate in any of the action.

When the players were introduced to the crowd, Rose wasn’t wearing his practice gear, and his knees were wrapped in ice. He still got the biggest ovation among the 16 players on the roster. He said afterward that the day off wasn’t about any pain or discomfort with his surgically repaired right knee (or his surgically repaired left knee).

“Everything feels fine,” Rose said. “I just wanted to get a little bit of rest.”

He added that if he knew how casual the two hours in the gym were going to be, “I probably would have practiced.”

The practice came at the end of a tour of the campus in West Point, where the National Team observed how the cadets live and train. Bulls head coach and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said the day off was “more precautionary than anything else.”

“We were on our feet a lot today,” Thibodeau said. “We wanted to be careful with all the players.”

But neither Rose nor Thibodeau would dismiss the notion of further days off. The U.S. has practices on Tuesday and Thursday this week, with games at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and Friday. When the World Cup begins in Bilbao on Aug. 30, they will play five pool-play games in six days.

Rose is slated to be the starting point guard, but the U.S. certainly has the backcourt depth – Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard if he makes the final roster – to make up for his absence should he need a day off against one of the weaker pool play groups at the World Cup. The defending World and Olympic champs might not face a real challenge until the semifinals on Sept. 11.

“If he needs rest,” Thibodeau said, “we’re going to give him rest.”

Faried not your typical FIBA big


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried has made a name for himself with Team USA

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kenneth Faried does not fit the mold.

To play the four or the five for the U.S. National Team in FIBA competition, you typically need to be able to shoot or be really tall. Faried can’t shoot and is just 6-foot-8.

USA in New York this week
The U.S. National Team begins its third phase of World Cup preparation with an open practice on the campus of the U.S. Military Academy (coach Mike Krzyzewski’s alma mater) on Monday. It will also practice at the Brooklyn Nets’ practice facility in East Rutherford, NJ on Tuesday and Thursday, and play exhibition games against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and Friday. After that, the team moves on to the Canary Islands for two more practices and an exhibition against Slovenia.
Date Description Broadcast
Monday Open practice 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Tuesday Practice
Wednesday USA vs. DOM 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Thursday Practice
Friday USA vs. PUR 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Aug. 24-25 Practice
Aug. 26 USA vs. SLO 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Aug. 30-Sept. 14 FIBA World Cup Spain

Even in the NBA, where perimeter shooting is getting more important every year, Faried has his limitations as a power forward. In international play, where zone defenses are allowed and the 3-point line is shorter, a non-shooter can be thought of as a liability. Over the last several years, the U.S. has filled the power forward position with its big (and talented) three men, guys like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

So when this year’s training camp opened in Las Vegas three weeks ago with 19 (and then 20) guys vying for 12 roster spots, Faried looked like a long shot to make the team.

But it didn’t take long for him to make the staff rethink what they looked for in a power forward and what kind of team they were building. In the first few days of practice, Faried made a compelling case for inclusion on the 12-man roster that would compete at the World Cup. And that was before Paul George broke his leg and Durant decided he wasn’t going to play.

No, he didn’t come to camp having grown a few inches or with an improved jumper. Faried’s energy and bounce was just impossible to ignore. He broke the mold for an international power forward by just doing what he does: running, jumping, grabbing lots of rebounds, and finishing around the rim.

That could have earned Faried a role as a “specialist,” someone who can make an impact in short bursts. But now, with George and Durant out of the picture, Faried is a candidate to start for the U.S. In fact, he started the first exhibition game against Brazil on Saturday.

It helps that the U.S. has Anthony Davis starting and playing the bulk of the minutes at center. Davis has range out to 20 feet and can take on the role of floor-spacing big on offense. With Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry and James Harden also in the starting lineup, the U.S. is in good shape on that end of the floor.

That fifth guy needs to do the dirty work and feed off the others. Faried did just that against Brazil, racking up 11 points, nine rebounds and two assists in a little over 23 minutes of action.

On the USA’s second possession of the game, Faried beat Nene to a rebound and drew a foul on the tip-in. On the next possession, he drove past Nene and fed Davis for an easy dunk. Before he was subbed out just four minutes into the game, he had picked up a couple of offensive boards (tipping in his own miss) and a deflection on defense.

Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons are the other candidates to start at power forward for the U.S. Both got a few minutes with the other four starters on Saturday and one or both could start in New York this week. Faried got the start on Saturday because Brazil has such a big frontline.

But neither Gay nor Parsons is the rebounder or defender that Faried is. And neither made the impact that Faried made on Saturday. Not only did he record a near-double-double, but the U.S. outscored Brazil 65-38 in Faried’s 23-plus minutes. His plus-minus, both overall and on a per-possession basis, was the best on the team.

Defensively, Faried does fit what the U.S. is trying to do, which is force their opponent into turnovers and a fast pace with their speed and athleticism. Faried has the strength to hang with the bigger fours and fives inside, but also the quickness to challenge shots on the perimeter. On Saturday, Brazil scored just 38 points on 48 possessions (79 per 100) with him on the floor.

We shouldn’t try to take too much from just one game. Faried could be a minus-10 against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday. But early indications are that he’s a good fit on that starting unit and that he can make a positive impact in more than short bursts. In what would have been a huge surprise a few weeks ago, he’s a lock to make the final U.S. roster.

Kenneth Faried has broken the mold.


VIDEO: Team USA knocks off Brazil in Chicago

USA Basketball seeking sixth man, among other things, in Chicago

VIDEO: Team USA gets together for posterity

CHICAGO – Team USA doesn’t have Carmelo Anthony this summer in its quest for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It doesn’t have a Carmelo Anthony, either, as in an established NBA scoring champion, a volume scorer – 25.3 ppg in 11 seasons – and a bail-out option who can make something out of nothing, inside or out, to salvage possessions. Kevin Durant was that guy but he withdrew last week. USA Basketball, which faces its first real competition vs. Brazil on Saturday (9 ET, ESPN),  is once again looking for “that guy.”

That complicates the task of finding even a “Carmelo Anthony 2012 Edition,” a.k.a., that potent scorer off the bench who harnesses his ego even as he’s unleashing his skills in game-changing spurts.

Anthony filled that role expertly for the USA Basketball squad that took gold at the London Games. In the process, the New York Knicks scoring star – a polarizing player for what some see as me-first tendencies in his NBA work – wound up generating some of the best media clippings of his career and altering a few critics’ assessments.

“I don’t think he needed to do that. He always had respect from me,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a Team USA assistant who had Anthony in his only NCAA season, 2002-2003. They won the national championship that year.

“Back then, he was content. If he got 10 points and we won, he was fine,” Boeheim said Friday after Team USA’s workout at a West Side sports complex. “I think his main role in the NBA has been to score. I don’t think you should be criticized when a coach asks you to score and you score. That’s what he does.

“He’s a great offensive player. He’s not LeBron James. He can help, he can make passes. But his primary focus and what he does best is score. He did it for us when we needed him. He’s great under pressure.”

That’s one of the reasons coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted Anthony in that sixth-man role two years ago. Then there was that other reason.

“He was willing to do it, that’s No. 1,” said Jerry Colangelo, Team USA’s managing director.

There’s an esprit de corps each time the U.S. national team revs up nowadays, with All-Stars and franchise players generally accepting whatever roles Krzyzewski and his staff ask of them. But it’s not automatic and it certainly didn’t jibe with Anthony’s profile as an NBA dilettante whose teams in Denver and New York were, and needed to be, built around him.

Yet just two summers ago, with egos as assertive as Durant’s, James’ and Kobe Bryant‘s on board, Anthony agreeably took on the job of super sub. He came off the bench in all eight games and played less than half-time (17.8 mpg), but averaged 16.3 points, trailing only Durant (19.5 ppg in 26.0 mpg) in U.S. scoring.

Back in 2008, in Beijing, Anthony ranked fourth in scoring (11.5) behind Dwyane Wade (16.0), James (15.5) and Bryant (15.0). That year, it was Wade who did the sixth-man thing, outscoring each of the starters while averaging just 18.8 minutes.

And in 2004, Anthony’s first Olympics, he averaged just 2.4 points while appearing in seven of the eight games. The scoring load then was carried by Allen Iverson (13.8 ppg), Tim Duncan (12.9) and Stephon Marbury (10.5).

“These guys will do anything that you need ‘em to do to win,” Krzyzewski said. “Carmelo, for U.S. basketball, was really as good a ‘stretch 4′ as there was in international competition, starting or coming off the bench.”

With Durant tapping out and Paul George getting hurt two weeks ago – after other top candidates such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin opted not to participate – Team USA’s roster has been thinned.

As Colangelo said: “We originally thought we had guys coming off the bench – on paper – who would bring something to the table. Up tempo. A little more quickness. A little more shooting. But because of some injuries, they might end up starting.”

After Friday’s workout, Krzyzewski did not name his starting lineup for the tune-up game against Brazil’s national team Saturday at United Center. That’s part of what this pre-medal round schedule is for, flipping through the various combinations. But four of the five spots seemed heavily penciled in – Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis.

Candidates for the fifth starting spot include Chandler Parsons, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan. Big man DeMarcus Cousins (right knee bruise) will not face Brazil, so going small against that team’s big front line – Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter and Nene – might yield better results in a counter-programming way.

The candidates for sixth man – this squad’s ‘Melo – are in that above group, too, along with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Korver, pending the cutdown next weekend to 12 players. Krzyzewski’s substitution pattern Saturday won’t necessarily reveal anything, because the first game is all about “what if?” lineups. Even the game’s outcome – beyond setting, perhaps, a winning atmosphere – matters less than using the exhibition as a measuring stick.

“We’ll find out some things by trying new things, which will help us,” Krzyzewski said. “The main thing is medal round in Barcelona. We need to keep improving until we get to Barcelona, then it’s one and done. By that time hopefully we’ll be healthy, have whatever is good for our team in and then be ready to go for a World Cup.”

That includes a viable sixth man.

“I really think there are a lot of guys who would be willing to do it,” Korver said. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing. It’s one thing for a guy to be the sixth man on his NBA team, but there have been a bunch of guys [to do that for Team USA]. Every time someone’s done it, it seems that person has gotten a lot of praise and a lot of credit.”

Having a green light to shoot, at the urging of the coaches, at a rate that probably would lead the stellar squad in attempts-per-minute? Yeah, someone might raise his hand for that.

“We’ve got so many guys who can come in and contribute in any aspect of the game,” said Harden, who might pick up some of Durant’s shots in Team USA’s reworked offense. “From Klay Thompson to Kyle Korver to Damian Lillard, so many guys who can be effective at what they do.”

Harden was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 before getting traded to Houston and emerging as an All-Star the past two seasons. He knows a little about managing one’s ego from the bench.

“It’s all about your mindset,” he said Friday. “If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to impact the game, that as soon as you step out there you’re going to make your presence felt, then you’ll be more effective and your team will be better off. We won’t have that problem with this team – I’m sure guys will be ready and super-prepared at all times.”

Super-willing, it sounds like, to accept whatever role. From starter to sub, from sixth man to 12th man, and anything in between if the minutes change from night to night. Colangelo and Krzyzewski have worked wonders selling these guys on the honor of participating. They’re all fully marinated.

“When we started coaching NBA players,” Boeheim said, “everybody said, ‘Well, they won’t do this and they won’t do this.’ We found out they would do ‘this’ and they would do ‘this.’ They would come off the bench. They would play defense. They would sacrifice. Dwyane Wade came to us the first year [2008] and said, ‘I’ll come off the bench.’ Kobe Bryant came to us and said, ‘I’ll take the toughest guy defensively.’ Chris Paul came off the bench.

“These are great players. They do what they can to help us win and that’s why we’ve been successful. These guys have sacrificed, they’ve worked hard, they play defense and, really, I’ve never had a better experience in basketball than working with NBA players.”

Durant decision a huge blow for USA


VIDEO: NBA TV news: Durant Withdraws

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The U.S. National Team’s hopes for winning the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup took a huge blow on Thursday, as Kevin Durant withdrew from the team for the remainder of the summer.

Durant, who carried the U.S. to the World Championship gold medal in 2010 by averaging 33 points (and playing all but six minutes) over the last three games, would have been the best player in Spain and the focal point of the U.S. offense.

But he wasn’t ready to take on that toll again, with NBA training camps opening just two weeks after the gold medal game.

“I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience,” Durant said in a statement. “After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint. I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Combined with the injury to Paul George, the U.S. is now without the two guys it expected to start at the forward spots. And it will have to make do with a roster where most of the scoring will come from the backcourt.

Some random thoughts…

  • The U.S. still has a lot of offensive firepower with Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. But there’s just no replacing Durant’s combination of size and shot-making.
  • The U.S. still has a relatively clear road to the gold medal game. Not only will Spain be on the opposite side of the bracket (after group play is completed), but so will Argentina, Brazil and France. Lithuania could be the biggest challenge out of the USA’s side.
  • But only the winner of the World Cup (along with Brazil) qualifies for the 2016 Olympics. If the U.S. doesn’t win, it would have to qualify via the FIBA Americas tournament, to which it hasn’t sent a team since 2007.
  • So this is also bad news for the Canadian National Team, general manager Steve Nash, coach Jay Triano, and their group of young NBA players, which could include Andrew Wiggins next summer. Only two teams from the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament will qualify for the Olympics, and if the U.S. is competing for one of those two spots, Canada’s chances are cut in half.
  • As has been noted many times in this space, the U.S. typically plays two NBA small forwards together at the three and four. Both Durant and George, like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in the past, would have been able to play the four. But now Chandler Parsons is the only three left on the roster with much size.
  • That could mean that we’ll see more of Kenneth Faried than originally planned. Faried has broken the mold of what the U.S. looks for in a power forward, providing a combination of energy and athleticism that’s been impossible to ignore. But he appeared to be an energy guy who plays a few minutes at a time. Now, he may be a bigger part of the rotation (and possibly a starter). If he’s playing next to Davis, who has range out toward the FIBA 3-point line, the U.S. can still space the floor pretty well.
  • If the U.S. is going to take only one of DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee for the back-up center spot (with Davis and Faried as the other bigs), there would be only one more player cut from the current 15-man roster. That final spot would likely come down to Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan, who obviously bring two different skill sets. Durant’s withdrawal may have guaranteed Gordon Hayward a spot on the roster.
  • Cousins may now look like the best option of that center group, because he can obviously provide the most offense.

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

Player Team POS Height Age NBA Exp. National team exp.
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 24 4
Stephen Curry GSW PG-SG 6-3 26 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP C 6-10 21 2 2012
DeMar DeRozan TOR SG-SF 6-7 25 5
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 21 2
Kenneth Faried DEN PF 6-8 24 3
James Harden HOU SG-SF 6-5 25 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA SG-SF 6-8 24 4
Kyrie Irving CLE PG 6-3 22 3
Kyle Korver ATL SG-SF 6-7 33 11
Damian Lillard POR PG-SG 6-3 24 2
Chandler Parsons DAL SF-PF 6-9 25 3
Mason Plumlee BKN C 6-11 24 1
Derrick Rose CHI PG 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW SG-SF 6-7 24 3