USA camp – Day 3 notes


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 2

LAS VEGAS – Media time after Day 3 of USA Basketball training camp went a little long, because everybody was watching an extended game of “King of the Hill” between Kevin Durant, Paul George and James Harden.

“King of the Hill” is a three-way game of one-on-one. Player 1 tries to score on Player 2. If he does, Player 2 steps off the floor and Player 3 comes in and to play defense. But if Player 2 gets the stop, he moves to offense and tries to score against Player 3. The game goes on until a player gets five buckets.

That shouldn’t take long, but the trio played the game from several different spots on the floor. (Here’s a vine of a couple of right-elbow possessions.) By the time they were done, they had gone for a good 20 minutes or so, drawing quite a crowd of media, USA teammates, coaches, and other onlookers. And this was after a full practice.

“It was intense,” George said afterward. “At the end of the day, we’re out here to get better. And there’s no better guys for me to go against, for myself to guard than KD and James. And James is quick and low to the ground and KD’s got the length, so it’s good for me, offensively, as well. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to get better and work hard. And I think we took it to another level.”

Yes, that was George giving credit to Harden’s defense. At one point, Harden blocked Durant’s seemingly unblockable shot, getting in some trash talk afterward.


VIDEO: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Paul George play a game of King of the Hill

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Speaking of Durant and George, they’re the latest USA forward tandem that no other country that can match up with. And by putting them on the same team every day, the U.S. staff is making sure they get time to build some chemistry.

***

Harden and Durant, meanwhile, are two of only five players in camp with Senior National Team experience. But 12 of the other 15 were here last year for a four-day mini-camp.

The U.S. had no competition to play in last summer. By winning the 2012 Olympics, they automatically qualified for this year’s World Cup and had no reason to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought 28 guys to Las Vegas, so they could get to know them and get them integrated into the system.

It was only four days and with so many guys in the gym, none of them got all that much playing time in the scrimmages. But it reduced the learning curve for the whole group and allowed them to hit the ground running on Monday.

“A big thing is their familiarity with me and the coaching staff,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time trying to get to know them. So, it lends for familiarity.”

And it has paid off.

“We have actually gotten more in in the first three days of this camp,” Krzyzewski said, “than we have our previous three camps.”

DeMar DeRozan was one of those guys here last year.  

U.S. set with another talented tandem at the forward spots


VIDEO: All-Access: Paul George at USA Basketball Practice

LAS VEGAS – For most of the Jerry Colangelo/Mike Krzyzewski era, the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team has played two nominal small forwards together.

On the 2008 Olympic team, the starting forwards were LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. On the 2010 World Championship team, it was Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant. And at the 2012 Olympics, it was Durant and James.

One reason is that the international game requires more shooting on the floor than the NBA game, where you can have offensive success with two traditional bigs. Under FIBA rules, defenses can play zone and pack the paint.

The other reason? Well, the U.S. is really freaking talented at the small forward position.

When you have the two best players in the world on the same team, you’re not going to have them backing each other up.

This year’s edition of the National Team has Durant playing next to Paul George, one of the best two-way players in the league and an MVP candidate through the first half of last season. With those two teamed with Anthony Davis, the U.S. starting frontline is pretty much set in stone.

All you have to do is look at how the 20-man roster has been broken up in training camp this week. Once Kevin Love decided to back out of participating this summer, it became obvious who would start at the three, four and five positions. So, the staff set out on allowing the trio to start building chemistry from the start of camp. Each of the first three days, Davis, Durant and George have been on the same team.

“We’re going to play a lot together,” Durant said Wednesday. “The chemistry is going to come. But if we stick with it, continue to keep learning and playing off each other, we can be great.”

Though it’s becoming clearer with every day that passes that Derrick Rose will be the starting point guard for this team, the minutes distribution in the backcourt is still in the air. So the George-Durant-Davis trio has been teamed with different backcourt tandems each day.

On Monday, it was Rose and James Harden (the best bet for the starting two at the World Cup). On Tuesday, it was Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry. And on Wednesday, it was Rose and Klay Thompson, with John Wall subbing in for Rose after a few minutes.

“We wanted that with different guard tandems,” Krzyzewski said. “So you give them all a chance to play with those two guys, and with Anthony.”

George knows that, playing next to Durant and the guards on this roster, his focus has to be on one end of the floor in particular.

“I [have] got to be a defender,” he said. “We got guys that can make shots, run the floor and make plays. I got to be a defender for us. We got a bunch of defenders here, but I can be the versatile one that can guard 1-4 and be able to make plays when I need to.”

That’s the role that Iguodala played in 2010. Durant carried the U.S. offense, averaging 33 points per game in the final three games, but Iguodala’s defense — like holding Linas Kleiza to four points on 1-for-11 shooting and stripping him clean multiple times in the semifinal — was also critical.

Davis, Durant and George is a freakishly long and athletic frontline. And though they each averaged more than 20 points per game last season, George likes the potential of the trio defensively more than anything.

“What’s great is we can switch everything and not give up much,” he said. “I’m excited with that lineup. We can really cover the floor with our athleticism, our length, our speed.”

The U.S. only has 12 days of practice, one intra-squad scrimmage and four exhibition games before it begins World Cup pool play in Bilbao. So chemistry building from Day 1 is important. But so far, it has come at the expense of versatility building. With Davis, Durant and George always teaming together, they haven’t had the chance to team with other frontcourt pieces.

“The thing we haven’t been able to do,” Krzyzewski said, “is take a look at Paul at the four.”

With two NBA small forwards playing the three and four on this team, you’d think they were interchangeable in the game flow. And as George explained, they are on defense. But there are some distinctions between the two positions in the U.S. offense.

“The four, you’re setting a lot of screens instead of coming off the screens,” Chandler Parsons, a candidate to back up Durant and George, said. “You’re taking the ball out of bounds instead of running the wing. In different sets, you’re in different places. But for the most part, if you’re moving and you continue to get around, it’s all the same stuff.”

At some point, George will get the chance to play the four alongside another one of the U.S. forwards. But for most of the World Cup, he’ll be Durant’s running mate. James may be taking this summer off, but there still no country in the world that can match up with the U.S. forwards.

His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Take a look at Kevin Durant and Team USA as they practice

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Here’s what we’ve learned about Kevin Durant through his first seven seasons in the league: He’s his own man, capable of independent thought and making intelligent, well-reasoned decisions.

He chose to sign a five-year extension in 2010 without demanding an option for an early out. To ensure maximum appeal as a corporate pitchman, he strategically didn’t tattoo areas of his body visible when in uniform. A few years ago a stunned public discovered that Durant’s uniform-covered torso resembles Allen Iverson.

He is the league’s reigning MVP coming off a grueling season in which he logged a league-high 3,121 regular-season minutes followed by a postseason-high 814 minutes (even though his Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games in the Western Conference finals), yet he remained committed to Team USA, currently holding camp in Las Vegas. Remember, this squad will compete in the upcoming world championships in Spain (recast as the FIBA World Cup). This is not an Olympic year or even an Olympic-qualifying year. Durant doesn’t have to be here. He chose to be here.

And he’s a big story in Vegas. Everybody wants to know if, inspired by LeBron James‘ homecoming, he’ll leave the Thunder for his long-suffering hometown Washington Wizards in 2016 when he becomes a free agent.

In the NBA it’s never too early to spin theoretical free-agent story lines. Mostly because NBA front offices are actively planning for the Durant sweepstakes. Teams have to align contracts today to ensure available salary cap in two summers just to be in the chase. The NBA is a star-driven league and Durant (with potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love likely headed to Cleveland in a trade) is the next available fast track to contention.

And yes, the up-and-coming Wizards are preparing. Who wouldn’t love to add Durant to the promising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal? Washington’s books are in line for summer ’16, and you might have heard they hired a new player development assistant, David Adkins. Adkins? He was an assistant at Durant’s alma mater Montrose Christian in Maryland, and is said to be close to Durant. The plot thickens.

Fine, but any insinuation that Northeast Ohio’s re-embracing of LeBron tugged Durant’s heartstrings toward D.C. is a reach. The Cavs drafted the locally loved Akron phenom out of high school. He elevated the hometown NBA franchise to a Finals appearance in 2007 and three years later stomped on the hearts of his faithful with the incredibly insensitive “Decision.” Four Finals runs and two championships with the Miami Heat later, LeBron, all grown up, decided it was time to mend fences. Great story.

It’s not Durant’s story. Durant did tell reporters Tuesday that he grew up taking the train to Georgetown games, although he left home to play college ball 1,300 miles away at Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and the next season moved with the franchise to Oklahoma City, a close-knit town he’s professed his love for countless times, and as recently as his MVP speech for the ages.

The Thunder are perennial contenders. Durant holds close relationships with coach Scott Brooks, as well as teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and many others in the organization. Most of all, Durant willingly immersed himself in the community. When he won the MVP, the city declared him “OKC’s MVP.” The governor and state representatives attended the ceremony.

If he were to leave OKC, it’s not a stretch to suggest that community will be more devastated than D.C. will be elated. With Durant, 25, in a Thunder uniform, the championship window is open-ended.

But hey, a lot can happen in two years. The Thunder could win a championship. Or two. Or maybe they don’t and Durant’s patience runs thin, after all he’ll be nine years in by the summer of ’16. Maybe the Durant-Westbrook relationship sours. Maybe Brooks gets fired. Maybe Durant ultimately decides he wants to play for a billionaire owner more responsive to spending when the moment calls.

So maybe Durant does go home, even though the number of stars who have gone home pales to those who never do when given the chance. We’ve seen Durant don Washington NFL gear and — not sure if anybody’s pointed this out — he’s got a Washington Nationals logo tattooed above his belly button. Durant does love his D.C. sports.

So maybe he does go home. Or perhaps, as was speculated when Durant hired Jay-Z to represent him, he goes to the Knicks or Nets. They’ll all be in line (yep, even the Nets will be flush with cap space by then).

Yes, the script that has Durant riding a white horse into Washington, where the Wizards/Bullets haven’t won a title since a decade before Durant was born, is real. It could happen. Durant could also play 20 seasons in OKC.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant told reporters in Vegas. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.”

Durant might as well memorize those lines. He’ll need to cue them up over and over during these next two years.

But what we’ve learned of him over the last seven years is Kevin Durant is his own man.

Blogtable: Tough Team USA call

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Get an up-close look at Kyrie Irving’s Team USA experience thus far

> You’re Mike Krzyzewski. You have some decisions to make. What’s your toughest call? Who do you go with?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I can’t take my eyes off the five point guards: Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and John Wall? How many can you put on the 15-man roster Coach K wants by the time camp ends? Four? Probably not. I’m guessing three. Unless Team USA assistant and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gives Coach K the wink to keep Rose off the team as injury prevention, I believe Rose is a lock. My second lock is Curry because he can swing over to the 2 and shoot the lights out of any zone defense. Now I have a real problem. Irving is a two-time All-Star and a $90-million man. Wall made his All-Star debut in February and is an $80-million man. Lillard is already an All-Star after two seasons and has ice in his veins. I think Irving is going to get the spot, but my choice is Wall. I really like how he’s maturing, both in his physical and mental game. He pushes the tempo, has consistently posted higher assist numbers than Irving and Lillard and shoots the 3 well enough, especially on this squad. So there it is, Wall gets my third and final point-guard spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That point guard group is as elite as it gets. Outside of Steph Curry, whose ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor is crucial in international competition, I don’t know that there any locks for the roster in this group. I can see any combination of three making sense for the final roster. And that means two All-Stars get left behind. Picking two guys from a group that includes Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall seems like an impossible situation, one that Coach K’s peers who will be in Spain would love to be laboring through right now. But this is about the best fits for this particular team and until we see them work through training camp, I don’t think we can jump to any conclusions about who fits best. If I’m picking, Irving and Lillard would seem to make the most sense based on skill-sets and versatility.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Who are the bigs on the roster behind Anthony Davis? There’s a reason why, with the addition of Mason Plumlee on Tuesday, the big position is the most crowded. There are no obvious choices (or any Senior Team experience) beyond Davis and all those guys have their flaws. Assuming Davis plays 30 minutes per game, you need guys who can bring energy in short bursts. So I would take Kenneth Faried and, yes, Plumlee. Those guys can make an impact a few minutes at a time and are more trustworthy than Andre Drummond. And I would seriously consider bringing a fourth big – Paul Millsap, in this case – for the first time since 2006. Millsap gives you the opportunity to put an extra shooter on the floor in certain situations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the loss of Kevin Love is looming large. And with Blake Griffin out as well, I am very interested to see how the backup center spot shakes out. Anthony Davis seems to have established himself as the starter, but behind him do you go with DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond? Or do you look for mobility and speed and try Kenneth Faried? If it’s me, I take Paul Millsap and pray Davis stays out of foul trouble, but if I’m in a pinch hope Kevin Durant or even Millsap can steal you a couple of minutes at the five.

Blogtable: New coach who’s the best fit

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Byron Scott talks with Lakers.com after being hired as L.A.’s new coach

> Which of the league’s nine new head coaches best fits his team?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I really like the grittiness of Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn, the mind of Stan Van Gundy in Detroit and I applaud Cleveland for thinking out of the box in hiring David Blatt. But, I’m most intrigued by Phil Jackson’s guy, Steve Kerr in New Yo … er, Golden State. Kerr might be a rookie coach, but he has so many weapons to work with and if that squad can stay healthy, I feel we’re going to see a very free and loose team hustling up and down the floor and putting up a lot of points.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As much as I’d love to give the nod to Byron Scott and that underdog bunch the Lakers have put together this summer, I can’t go there. David Blatt, on the other hand, has the perfect canvas to work with in Cleveland with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and whoever else remains on that roster by the start of training camp. It’s rare that you will get a coach with the experience and accomplishments Blatt has compiled over the years coaching what looks like (and should be) a contender. Everything Blatt says and does will be magnified a zillion times because of LeBron’s presence, but he seems to have the perfect temperament to handle such things. I’m looking forward to seeing what Blatt can get out of Irving and some of the Cavs’ other young talent (provided some of those youngsters are still on the roster in October).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: We don’t know exactly what kind of coach Steve Kerr will be, but if he’s been influenced by both Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, he needs bigs who are multi-skilled. And the Warriors entire frontline  – Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – can pass and make plays. With all their talent, Golden State ranked just 12th offensively last season. It will be interesting to see if a new system can push them into the top five or six on that end of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: First of all, I didn’t even really realize that one-third of the NBA has new head coaches — I guess that wheel is still spinning. To me, the most interesting fit is in Detroit, where Stan Van Gundy takes over. The very public way that things collapsed in Orlando makes it easy to forget just how good Van Gundy was for most of his time there. The Pistons have an odd assortment of pieces, particularly if they bring back Greg Monroe, and last year’s experiment of playing Josh Smith at the three went about as well as any Atlanta Hawks fan could have told you it would go. But Van Gundy has always used a system to fit the pieces available to him, and I’m guessing he’ll do the same in Detroit and make the best out of what he has.

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine future

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.

Morning shootaround — July 30


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant said. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does. I grew up watching the Bullets/Wizards. I grew up taking the train to that arena, all the time, to watch Georgetown, the Bullets, the Washington Mystics. That whole city is a part of me. It’s in my blood. I love going back home, seeing my family and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City too.”

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

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

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USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plumlee gives USA another big option


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Jerry Colangelo Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touché.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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