Posts Tagged ‘Chandler Parsons’

Cuban’s summer: ‘Could’ve been worse’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

One of the biggest summer acquisitions in Dallas was former Mav Tyson Chandler. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mark Cuban is more than pleased to have Tyson Chandler back in Dallas. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas – With the hour-long line of smiling fans asking to take selfies, requesting autographs and even pitching business ideas as if this was a super-market version of Shark Tank finally dwindling, Mark Cuban leaned back on a shopping cart filled with palm-sized boxes of Simple Sugars facial scrubs, of which he owns a 33 percent stake, and exhaled a relieving, “Ahhhh…”

“It’s been a long day,” Cuban said, his recently replaced left hip reminding him that he’s still only five weeks removed from the operating table.

Dressed in his traditional blue jeans and a T-shirt, this was his final stop of a whirlwind Thursday at four Central Market grocery stores at opposite ends of the expansive Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cuban was promoting four products he’s backed on the television show “Shark Tank” and are now being carried by Central Market.

Cuban claims more people these days recognize him as a shark than as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. But, make no mistake, while Cuban enjoys helping burgeoning entrepreneurs obtain the American Dream, his undying passion remains running the Mavs.

And for the first time since Cuban chomped on a stogie and clutched the Larry O’Brien Trophy three summers ago, a bubbling of excitement surrounds the team. Among those who waited in line to shake Cuban’s hand or give him a hug: a wide-eyed dreamer who asked how to start some kind of mesquite wood business; the student council president of a local high school who pitched a-day-in-school idea; and an affable, gray-haired fellow Cuban said was his acting coach from 20 years ago (Cuban thought acting class would aid his social scene) who handed him a manuscript he wants made into a movie (Cuban owns Magnolia Pictures).

But many, many more asked one simple question: “Are we going to win this year?”

“I hope so!” Cuban responded to each.

Mavs fans had become used to disappointment in the post-title summers as Cuban failed to land a marquee free agent. He didn’t get a big fish this summer either, but a series of moves have ignited serious intrigue, starting with the reacquisition of championship center Tyson Chandler in a deal with the Knicks.

“It was kind of surprising that we got it done, just because with that many pieces and the fact that no one finds out,” Cuban said of the trade in brief moments when the selfie line died down. “I’m glad we got it done. We’re excited. He can kind of quarterback our defense, he makes everybody better defensively and he’ll make Monta [Ellis] better offensively.”

A few weeks later Cuban gambled and won, stealing up-and-coming small forward and restricted free agent Chandler Parsons from division rival Houston with an out-of-this-world offer sheet, a move that could have also blown up in his face. Cuban flew to Orlando, Fla., to hand deliver the contract offer at midnight and then he went out for drinks with Parsons and his parents.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would have 72 hours to match the three-year, $46 million offer. In the meantime, Houston signed Trevor Ariza, also a Mavs target, and the speculation game was churning hard on what Morey would do.

“I was 90 percent,” Cuban said of his confidence that he’d land Parsons. “Because of the way the numbers worked, and they’re a very logical organization, they’re very obvious, like we all are, like a lot of teams are, about their approach to building a team and flexibility.”

Then came a wrench. LeBron James signed with Cleveland, leaving former Heat teammate Chris Bosh in limbo. Reports suggested Bosh was leaning toward signing with Houston, and if he did, the Rockets reportedly would match the Parsons offer.

“I don’t think that [Bosh's decision] mattered all that much, honestly,” Cuban said. “I guess they said they’d go for it if he [Bosh] had gone [to Houston]. That would have put them in a tough spot and they probably would have tried to do a sign-and-trade. And if they did a sign-and-trade then they would have had a hard cap, like you’re seeing with the Clippers, and that would have meant they couldn’t add anybody else at all.”

Ultimately, Bosh took Miami’s max deal and Morey pulled the plug on Parsons. Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.

Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.

“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”

Needless to say Cuban is looking forward to his young acquisition relocating to Dallas in the coming weeks and joining Ellis, Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Brandan Wright plus other more under-the-radar pickups in Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Smith and Richard Jefferson, and then eventually the elder statesman and now the heavily underpaid 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki when he returns later in September.

“I try to keep an even keel,” Cuban said of his excitement level for the season. “I don’t get all excited about winning the summer. That’s almost the kiss of death.”

Still, as summers go, this one was pretty good.

“It could’ve been worse,” Cuban said.

U.S. takes extra big on final roster


VIDEO: GameTime: USA Basketball Final Roster

NEW YORK – Just a few hours after a 112-86 victory over Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden on Friday and six days before it needed to, the U.S. National Team finalized its roster for the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

In a bit of a surprise, two players – DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond – who didn’t play on Friday made the final roster. Drummond is the fourth center on the team, while DeRozan made the cut over Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver. He offers more playmaking and explosive scoring ability than the other two.

In addition to Korver and Parsons, Damian Lillard and Gordon Hayward did not make the 12-man roster.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had previously indicated that they might take more than 12 when the team flew to the Canary Islands on Saturday afternoon, because some of the final decisions were proving to be difficult. But Krzyzewski made it clear after Friday’s game that they decided not to take any extras, for two reasons.

First, because it’s “really difficult,” according to Krzyzewski, for a player to travel abroad and eventually get sent home early. Second, with just one exhibition game remaining (Tuesday against Slovenia), it’s time for this team to finalize its rotation and everybody’s roles.

“Now that we’re down to 12,” Krzyzewski said, “we can get a little bit more precise with things.”

DeRozan and Drummond join guards Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose; wings James Harden and Klay Thompson; forwards Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay; and bigs DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Mason Plumlee.

The starting lineup – Irving, Curry, Harden, Faried and Davis – seems to be set, with Irving having replaced Rose for the two exhibition games this week.

Rose is going to Spain, though. If Irving is the starter, Rose will be one of the first players off the bench, along with Thompson (backing up Curry and Harden) and Gay (backing up Faried).

There was no need to see how Rose felt after his second exhibition game. He got four days of rest after last Saturday’s win over Brazil, but Krzyzewski has clearly seen and heard enough.

“I feel very confident about Derrick,” Krzyzewski said. “I think Derrick feels very confident.”

It remains to be seen how many of the USA’s nine potential games Rose will play at the World Cup. It’s safe to assume that it’s less than nine, especially with the five pool-play games in the first six days.

“If he needs a day off,” Chicago Bulls head coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said of Rose on Friday, “he’ll get a day off.”

And Krzyzewski is fine with that. As the U.S. tries to win its fourth straight gold medal in international competition, it will also be trying to get Rose back into top basketball shape.

“These guys want to play with him,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of getting back is to be around a group of peers, who want you to be really good.

“That’s what we’ve seen over the years. That’s where the brotherhood develops. That’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the last nine years. We think that can happen again and hopefully, that will help Derrick as he gets ready to keep participating in this, but also for the NBA season. I think it’s a huge, huge help for him.”

So the U.S. will have just one full-time point guard – Irving – on the roster, with Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and the staff clearly wanted extra depth up front, with Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee backing up Davis, who could see some time at power forward.

The need for three backup centers is a bit puzzling, especially since Davis will likely rank first or second on the team in minutes played. Two of three back-ups will certainly have limited roles.

But the U.S. may have its sights set on the frontline of Spain, which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The hosts are the clear favorites to reach the gold medal game from the other side of the bracket, though they’ll have a tougher road than the Americans.

The U.S. got a tough 20 minutes on Friday, as Puerto Rico took a five-point lead in the first quarter and hung within two until Thompson beat the halftime buzzer with a pull-up 3-pointer. Veteran guards Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea were able to take advantage of the USA’s aggressiveness on the perimeter to push Puerto Rico to 47 points on just 40 first-half possessions.

The U.S. tightened up its rotation and its defense in the second half, using a 14-2 run to take control.

“We tried to do too much trapping [in the first half], and they’re just too good,” Krzyzewski said. “Second half, I thought we played really, really well.”

Still, the U.S. will need Tuesday’s exhibition game against Slovenia (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and all five pool play games in Bilbao to sharpen up for single-elimination action in Barcelona and Madrid. With the roster set, the focus can go from choosing a team to winning another gold.

“There’s still,” Krzyzewski said, “a lot to do.”

Rose’s timeline affects roster decisions


VIDEO: Take an all-access look at Derrick Rose’s visit to Chicago with Team USA

NEW YORK – Derrick Rose aims to play in the U.S. National Team’s exhibition against Puerto Rico on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2). After four days off, he took part in Thursday’s practice and said he could have played Wednesday against the Dominican Republic.

“But there is no point when you can get a little more rest,” Rose said. “That is all I tried to do.”

Rose is doing the right thing for him, the Chicago Bulls, and for the chances of him playing his best basketball come April, May and June. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It’s also good for Rose that he’s here with USA Basketball, with his NBA coach — Tom Thibodeau — alongside him. His time with the National Team is an opportunity to knock off some rust, get his body used to playing again, and build his basketball endurance.

The U.S. has always done whatever it takes not to push its players too hard. There’s a reason this team only plays four exhibition games, while some other national teams play more than 10.

Hang Time general manager Sekou Smith wrote Thursday about Rose’s decision. But really, Rose’s decision is easy. He should stick with this team as long they have a uniform for him and play as much as he thinks he can.

The real decision lies more with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the rest of their staff (which includes Thibodeau). They need to figure out how well Rose’s timeline, in terms of rest and recovery, aligns with theirs, in terms of playing nine games in 16 days once the FIBA World Cup begins on Aug. 30.

(more…)

In West, who slides out and sneaks in?


VIDEO: What are the Spurs’ chances of repeating next season?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In our Wednesday Blogtable, the NBA.com staff agreed — with the lone exception of esteemed colleague Aldo Avinante in the Philippines office — that the Los Angeles Lakers, even with the return of a bullish Kobe Bryant, will not make the playoffs.

This seemed like a pretty easy call. Carlos Boozer and Swaggy P. just don’t scream Showtime. Meanwhile, the Western Conference threatens to be more ferocious this season than last.

But what if the question had asked if the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs? Or if the New Orleans Pelicans with ascending star Anthony Davis can break through? Or if a Ricky Rubio-Andrew Wiggins combo can end the Minnesota Timberwolves’ long postseason drought? Or if the don’t-sleep-on-the-Denver-Nuggets, with Danilo GallinariJaVale McGee (don’t laugh) and others coming back from injury, plus the return of near-All-Star Arron Afflalo, can climb the ladder? Sorry Kings fans, but I’m leaving out the (maturing?) DeMarcus Cousins and Co. in this discussion.

Would any of these teams have lessened the majority of naysayers?

Perhaps not.

For one team to sneak in, one must slide out.

The regular season in the West might only be good for a reshuffling of last season’s top eight. An argument can be made that among those eight only Houston came out of the summer weakened, and even then some contend that swapping of Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza will aid the Rockets’ lacking perimeter defense and thus make it a better overall outfit.

The Spurs return their championship squad in full to attack the task of repeating for the first time in the everlasting Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. Oklahoma City will welcome a full season of a fully healthy Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are pumped to play for an energetic new owner. The talented Trail Blazers added veteran depth.

At positions six through eight, Golden State is free of last season’s distractions, the Grizzlies cleaned out the front office and solidified coach Dave Joerger. The Mavericks stole offensive flamethrower Parsons from Houston and added defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

So which of those teams possibly falls out? (more…)

Faried not your typical FIBA big


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Faried has broken the mold.


VIDEO: Team USA knocks off Brazil in Chicago

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

Team USA resumes with drama, questions


VIDEO: Recapping TEAM USA’s first scrimmage

CHICAGO – Cliffhangers are supposed to come later, when Team USA is up a few or down a few points late in a tense 2014 FIBA World Cup game over in Spain. Or when the final roster cutdowns have to be made, shrinking the current list of 16 players to 12.

Instead, uncertainty and nail-biting already abound as the U.S. men’s team resumes its workout and tune-up schedule this week. The roster, the risks, the style of play and the eventual matchups that Team USA will pose – and face – going forward in the tournament all hang heavy as questions still in search of answers.

Among them:

No George, no Durant – When last we left the assemblage of basketball talent, coach Mike Krzyzewski and poobah Jerry Colangelo at the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, most everyone’s eyes were glazed over and their minds were elsewhere after the gruesome right-leg fractures suffered by Paul George, the Indiana Pacers’ star wing player, deep into the public intra-squad scrimmage. Six days later, Kevin Durant – the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player and Team USA’s most potent scorer – withdrew from participation, citing extreme physical and mental fatigue. Durant, a four-time NBA scoring champion, led the U.S. squad to a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics with 19.5 ppg and carried the 2010 World Championship team by averaging 22.8 while no teammate averaged more than 9.8. George, after playing two years ago for the Select Team, figured to step up as a scorer this summer to help Durant.

Risk debate rekindled – Derrick Rose‘s strong showing in Las Vegas two weeks ago has whet appetites of Chicago Bulls fans, who are eager to see or at least hear about his continuing progress at practice Thursday and Friday and in the exhibition game against Brazil Saturday night at United Center. But seeing George wheeled off on a stretcher to face surgery and a year of rehab, with Rose on the scene, hit close to home for many of them. Last November, Rose – who was coming back from left-knee ACL surgery that cost him the entire 2012-13 season – tore meniscus cartilage in his right in his 10th game for Chicago. But at least that was for Chicago. George’s injury sparked anew the debate over NBA involvement in the international competition and the health/financial risks shouldered by the league’s owners and their players. Dallas’ Mark Cuban again spoke (and Tweeted) out, while Durant’s ill-timed withdrawal seemed to some like an obvious case of a valuable property seeking cover. And yet, the show goes on, continuing to New York next week for exhibitions against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden.

Going small – It’s not only Durant’s scoring prowess that might be missed. His length will be absent, too, just like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. That could be an issue if Team USA winds up facing Spain and the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, with the championship at stake. Heck, it could be a problem Saturday against Brazil – that squad’s big men all are proven NBA hard cases: Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao. Sacramento forward Rudy Gay (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) has been added to the roster for now and could find himself having to play bigger than he’s accustomed to, as could Dallas’ Chandler Parsons (6-9, 200). Team USA’s size, at the moment, starts with Anthony Davis, then drops off from there with DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried (with one of them expected to be cut).

Unkind cuts elsewhere – There are four point guards among the current 16 – Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard – but it’s no lock that any of them gets cut because Curry, Lillard and even Rose could slot over to for minutes at shooting guard. The wings include DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson, along with Gay and Parsons. So there will be guessing games aplenty about both the final cuts and the likely starting lineup, stirred up as soon as Thursday by the combinations of players used in the end-of-practice scrimmages.

Durant has paid his Team USA dues

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Durant withdraws from Team USA participation

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

And as Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry pointed out, Durant has pushed his body to the limit over the last five seasons — both for the Thunder and Team USA.

Durant came away from the Vegas training camp and looked ahead to the commitment that followed. Team USA continues training in Chicago on Aug. 14-16, moves on to New York on Aug. 18-22 for workouts and exhibition games and a few days later heads to the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, to complete its preparations and exhibition schedule. It begins World Cup play on Aug. 30 in Bilbao, Spain. The gold-medal game is Sept. 14 in Madrid. NBA training camps open two weeks later.

Did Durant’s decision come as a surprise to Team USA? Yes. Was his timing tough? Sure. But the American pool is deep even with many of its top dogs — and particularly at the forward positions — having withdrawn. Team USA’s candidates at the wing include Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, Gordon Hayward and newest addition Rudy Gay. There’s not an MVP among them, in fact, not even an All-Star save for 2014 East reserve DeRozan.

But that’s OK. That’s what opportunity is all about. Gold isn’t a cinch, but why should it be? Team USA remains well-equipped to play on the final day in Madrid, and Durant, who has worn his country’s colors with honor, has earned the right to take a step back, regardless of when he came to that decision.

So everybody get a grip, and enjoy the games.

Durant decision a huge blow for USA


VIDEO: NBA TV news: Durant Withdraws

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

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

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

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

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

Some random thoughts…

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

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

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

USA roster reduced to 16

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On Tuesday, USA Basketball officially announced a reduced roster for its next phase of training, which begins Aug. 14 in Chicago. But Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski had the scoop first, reporting Monday night that Bradley Beal, Paul Millsap and John Wall won’t be on the 16-man list.

The departure of Wall – who was a late addition to the roster – leaves four point guards: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose. Curry and Rose are locks to make the final 12-man roster and Irving (more like Rose) should be the favorite to be the third point guard over Lillard (more like Curry).

Millsap was also a late addition to the roster. In fact, after hearing about the decisions of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to withdraw, he and his agent volunteered the day before the first pre-camp meeting. With Millsap out, Kenneth Faried, whose energy and bounce have been impossible to ignore, is the only “small big” left on the roster.

Beal’s departure, along with Paul George‘s injury, leaves the U.S. five wings behind Kevin Durant and James Harden, with Durant likely to start at power forward. Four of those five will make the roster, with a spot likely to come down to a decision between DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 16 points Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, and Gordon Hayward, who finished with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in just 15 minutes.

The most interesting roster decision remains at the back-up center spot. And it will come down to a question of talent vs. fit. DeMarcus Cousins, who recorded a double-double on Friday, has the talent. Mason Plumlee (10 points, four rebounds and four fouls) is the better fit for the U.S. Team’s successful, fast-paced style. Andre Drummond, who had some ugly offensive moments in the Showcase, is still in the picture.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski could go with all offense in his starting lineup, placing Curry and Harden between Rose, Durant and Anthony Davis. But if he wants more defense, he could call on Klay Thompson to start at the three.

Krzyzewski has some time to see what he likes. The U.S. will play four exhibition games before the FIBA Basketball World Cup begins, starting with a matchup against Brazil on Aug. 16 in Chicago.

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

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