Plumlee gives USA another big option


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Jerry Colangelo Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touché.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stat lines for USAB players in 2013-14

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By Joe Boozell, NBA.com

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: DeRozan drops 47 in loss to Portland 

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

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

VIDEO: Hayward nets a career-high 37

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

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


VIDEO: Cousins records eighth straight double-double

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

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

VIDEO: Lillard has a monster game against Cleveland

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

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

VIDEO: Irving explodes for 39 and a game-winner

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

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


VIDEO: Curry lights up the Blazers for 47

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

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

VIDEO: Drummond has 26 and 26 against the Bulls

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

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

VIDEO: Harden erupts for 41 against Portland

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

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


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

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

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


VIDEO: Durant pours in 51 versus the Raptors

As mentioned previously, Durant had several gargantuan performances that could be compiled into a list of their own, but this one takes the cake. Durant scored an astonishing 38 of his 51 points in the second half and overtime, good for his fourth career 50 point game. It was also his 39th game scoring 40 points or more in his young career. Durant gave the Thunder the lead for good by drilling a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining in the second overtime, capping the game-high 52 minutes he logged on the night. Durant looks to be the leader of this USA group heading into the FIBA World Cup, and if he can resemble the guy who showed up on a chilly March night in Toronto, the Americans should be salivating at their chances.

 

 

 

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Morning shootaround — July 29


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

***  

NBPA can finally move forward with election of new executive director


VIDEO: Michele Roberts Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

USA camp – Day 1 notes

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

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

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

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

Here are the lineups we saw…

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

Some notes…

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


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

Rose suffers no lack of confidence in return to the floor


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Derrick Rose at Team USA’s practice Monday

LAS VEGAS – For several players at USA Basketball training camp, Monday was about making a first impression on managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski in an attempt to earn a spot on the World Cup roster.

For the few that seemingly have guaranteed spots, it was the first step in getting ready for the tournament that begins on Aug. 30. And for the 12 young players on the Select Team, it was about building equity with USA brass for future consideration.

For Derrick Rose, it was much more than that. It was a big step in his return to the game after his second knee surgery.

By all accounts, Rose is back.

“He looked good,” Damian Lillard said afterward. “Athletic, explosive, strong.”

There were visions of vintage Rose, but he didn’t need to go all that hard or for all that long as the 19 players on the U.S. roster and 12 on the Select Team scrimmaged on the campus of UNLV. With this team, there’s always another great player ready to sub in, and Rose worried more about running the offense than trying to prove to people that he was the Derrick Rose of old.

“He can just fit in,” Bulls coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said. “He doesn’t have the burden of having to score a lot of points or make a lot of plays. Just run the team. I think he’ll find his rhythm here.”

Though knocking the rust off and getting his wind back may be issues, Rose isn’t suffering from any lack of confidence. He didn’t need this day to prove anything to himself either. Though nobody on the outside has seen him play since November, he knows the work he’s put in to get to this point.

“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Rose said. “It’s probably big to everyone else because they probably haven’t seen me. But I dedicated my whole summer for this moment.”

And where he is in regard to getting his game back?

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that. My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

He feels that he’s a different player now, that his injuries allowed him to sculpt his body with Bulls director of sports performance Jen Swanson, and that time has made him a smarter floor general.

“[Time away from the game] was a chance for me to really work on my whole body,” he said, “get my legs strong, get my upper body strong, and just take advantage of it.”

Experience has taught him how stay in control.

“I’m able to control my body a little bit more, being smart with my speed instead of just running wild out there,” he said. “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn that.”

And there are lessons to be learned from last year, when he came back from ACL surgery and was injured again 10 games into the season.

“I wanted to prove everybody wrong at that time,” he said. “I just wanted it too bad. This time around, I just know I got to let the game come to me, go out there and just play. Usually when I play my type of game, something positive comes out of it.”

Something positive could be a trip to The Finals. With LeBron James‘ move back to Cleveland and with some key additions, the Bulls should be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

“I think we have a contender,” Rose said, adding that he’s “riding with whatever decision” the Bulls’ front office might make in regard to trade talks for Kevin Love.

Love or no Love, Rose is the biggest piece of the Bulls’ puzzle. They desperately need him to generate some offense after ranking in the bottom seven of the league on that end of the floor each of the last two seasons.

So Monday wasn’t just a big day for Rose, the Bulls, and the National Team. It was a big day for the entire league. And if Rose can continue working with the National Team through the World Cup, there should be no more rust or conditioning issues when training camp comes around.

But making the final roster is not a sure thing.

Rose has some serious competition at the point guard position in camp. Along with Rose, All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Lillard and John Wall are all competing for three or four spots on the roster.

Rose does have a couple of advantages. First, he was the starting point guard on the 2010 team that won the World Championship, and past history means a lot to Colangelo and Krzyzewski.

Second, Thibodeau is on the staff. And he would certainly love to see Rose work off some of his rust before training camp.

The last time Rose played for the National Team, he followed it up by winning the 2010-11 MVP award. On that U.S. team that won gold in Istanbul, he was teammates with Tyson Chandler, who used the summer to get stronger after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Hornets and Bobcats. Chandler went on to be a critical component of the Dallas Mavericks’ run to a championship, citing his time with the U.S. as a key to his comeback season.

Monday may have been a big step in Rose’s comeback. He’s worked hard to get here and he has shown no doubts or reservations about where he’s gong.

“I know how special I am as a player and I know what I still can do.”

Kevin Love’s top 10 stat lines of 2013-14

By Joe Boozell, NBA.com

Kevin Love is a fantasy hoops owner’s dream and an opposing NBA coach’s worst nightmare rolled into one — routinely torching foes with monster performances from a statistical perspective. Love trailed only Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in scoring with 26.1 points per game last year, all while finishing third in the league in rebounding and win shares. That explains why the former UCLA Bruin has been the the focal point of trade rumors all offseason — a stretch power forward as dynamic as Love in today’s NBA three-point frenzy is a more valuable commodity than ever.

Believe it or not, these numbers were not taken from the “Association Mode” of a video game — they happened in real life. Here are Kevin Love’s top 10 stat lines of 2013-14.

10. April 13, 2014 vs. Sacramento Kings – 43 points (12-for-23 FG, 4-for-9 3PT FGA) and 11 rebounds

VIDEO: Kevin Love scores 43 as the Timberwolves fall to Sacramento

A recurring theme with these astounding stat lines is the staggering amount that came in Timberwolves losses, which might explain why Love reportedly wants out of Minnesota. Either way, when a 40-plus point and 10-plus rebound night barely cracks your best performances of the year, you’re doing something right. Love ultimately went toe-to-toe with DeMarcus Cousins in this April bout, with Boogie prevailing and notching 35 points and 16 rips. But it wasn’t due to a lack of effort from Love – the sharpshooting big man scored 30 of his game-high 43 points in the second half for Minnesota.

9. April 2, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies – 24 points (9-for-15 FG), 16 rebounds and 10 assists

VIDEO: Love posts a triple-double versus Memphis

Love’s triple-double was a relatively odd performance by his standards. Sure, his 24 points and 16 rebounds were business as usual. And his 10 assists, while a substantial increase from his season average of 4.4, didn’t exactly defy status quo for the mutli-talented star. But Love is often maligned by critics for his defense – or lack thereof, to put it kindly. On this night against the Grizzlies, however, Memphis southpaw Zach Randolph made just one of his eight shot attempts and finished the game with four points. Love split time guarding Randolph with rookie center Gorgui Dieng, but regardless, it was one of the most complete games Love played in 2013-14.

8. February 25, 2014 vs. Phoenix Suns – 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists

VIDEO: Love falls one assists shy of a triple-double against Phoenix

Love fell one assist short of posting his second triple-double in three games against Phoenix, as the Timberwolves outscored the Suns 35-20 in the fourth quarter to cruise to a 110-101 victory. Minnesota was brutal all year in close games, so Love took matters into his own hands by sinking a huge three-pointer with a minute to go to put the game out of reach for the Suns. Rookie Shabazz Muhammad scored a career-high 20 points for the Timberwolves, who searched all season long to put the right pieces around Love in late game situations.

7. March 23, 2014 vs. Phoenix Suns – 36 points , 14 rebounds and nine assists

VIDEO: Love once again misses a triple-double against Phoenix by an assist

Poor Phoenix. Well, sort of – the Suns ultimately had the last laugh, using a fourth quarter rally to knock off the Timberwolves 127-120. But that wasn’t without a typically brilliant performance from Love, whose 36 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists were all game highs. Once again, No. 42 landed one assist shy of a triple-double, but a crucial turnover in the final seconds of the contest proved to be key in a Suns victory. At the time, Phoenix and Minnesota were both in the hunt for the eighth seed in the loaded Western Conference, which both teams eventually failed to seize.

6. February 19, 2014 vs. Indiana Pacers – 42 points (14-for-22 FG, 5-for-10 3PT FGA) and 16 rebounds

VIDEO: Nightly Notable – Love goes for 42 in a win against the Pacers

February is the month of love, and bad puns aside, Kevin really was marvelous in the month of the Valentine. The Minnesota big man averaged 34 points and 14.1 rebounds over the eleven game span, and one of his best performances came against the Indiana Pacers. Fellow all star Paul George had a fine night of his own, scoring 35 points and snaring 11 rebounds, but the Timberwolves took it to the reeling Pacers to score a 104-91 win at the Target Center. It was Love’s eighth straight game with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, good for the longest streak since Shaquille O’Neal accomplished the same feat in January of 2005.

5. December 13, 2013 vs. San Antonio Spurs – 42 points (15-for-27 FG, 8-for-9 3PT FGA) and 14 rebounds

VIDEO: Love drains eight three-pointers against the Spurs

If ever there were a reminder that team performances are far more important than individual ones, this was it. Love put on a shooting clinic, draining eight of nine shots from distance and did everything humanly possible to knock off the Western Conference champion Spurs. But San Antonio would have none of it, as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 49 points en route to a 117-110 victory. Though the Timberwolves came up short, Love scored 19 points in the third quarter alone and sank five of his eight three-pointers in the period.

4. February 22, 2014 vs. Utah Jazz – 37 points (11-for-20 FG, 6-for-10 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and 10 assists

VIDEO: Love notches a triple-double in a victory against Utah

The mainstream numbers are eye-popping as usual – 37 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists are nothing to scoff at. But Love was also a game-high plus-23 against the Jazz, proving how important he really is to everything the Timberwolves do. Oh, and he did this all in just 33 minutes of action and with fellow starters Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic sidelined with injuries. In the midst of an incredible month of February, this game was Love’s fourth consecutive outing of scoring at least 30 points. That mark tied a franchise record (which Love would go on to break) set by some guy you may have heard of before: Kevin Garnett.

3. April 14, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors – 40 points (6-for-11 3PT FGA), 14 rebounds and nine assists

VIDEO: Love has an epic battle with Warriors shooting phenom Stephen Curry

Love and Stephen Curry are two of the most explosive offensive players the league has seen in recent memory, and this game was as entertaining of a show as advertised. In a game that saw 150 points scored, Curry and Love combined for 72 of those. Love once again fell a mere assist short of a triple-double, and his Timberwolves lost to the playoff bound Dubs by a final score of 130-120. But Golden State has been in the middle of all Love rumors in the historic 2014 NBA offseason, and judging by this huge performance, it’s fair to say they were enamored with what they saw.

2. February 1, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks – 43 points (12-for-22 FG, 17-for-18 FT) and 19 rebounds

VIDEO: Love drops 43 as the TWolves drop a tough one to the Hawks

Love’s outstanding February started on the first of the month against the Hawks, as he was incredibly efficient in scoring 43 points on just 22 shot attempts. Making 17 of 18 free throw attempts certainly aided the cause in finishing just two points short of his season high. He also scored 21 points in the game’s final stanza, leading an admirable comeback attempt that fell short in a 120-113 loss to Atlanta. Love battled a sore ankle throughout the contest but still managed to muster a spectacular effort.

1. December 22, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 45 points (15-for-23 FG, 13-for-15 FT), 19 rebounds and six assists

VIDEO: Love comes within one board of posting a 40 and 20 night

Two of the top power forwards in the sport went head-to-head on this December night at the Staples Center, and while Love put up the more gaudy numbers, Blake Griffin and the Clippers prevailed by a score of 120-116 in overtime. The 45 points were a season high for Love, and his 19 boards tied a season high. His performance landed him in some pretty good company – he is the fourth player in the last 40 seasons to register at least 45 points, 19 rebounds and six assists in a game. The last person to do it? Hakeem Olajuwan, who posted 46 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists in a game in March of 1996.