Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Colangelo’

Thunder happy to have fresh KD


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook talk about coming into the season well-rested

OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant turned 26 on Monday. Not exactly old age, but he’s also no longer the kid leader of the 25-and-under Oklahoma City Thunder fun bunch climbing the rungs of the NBA ladder.

He is on the climb to 30 now and things have become a bit more serious as titles have become more elusive. Human frailty has twice sabotaged potential championship runs in successive seasons and Durant’s upcoming eighth season in the league — and who knows, perhaps his penultimate season in OKC — presents another excellent opportunity to finish first. So with age comes a sharpened perspective, a narrowing of time and thus, a wisdom to make different decisions than one might have made previously.

Durant made one such decision in early August and not everybody appreciated it. After committing to play for Team USA and participating in its July training camp in Las Vegas, Durant exited it conflicted. He wanted to uphold his commitment, but his fatigued body was pushing him the other way and his head was telling him training camps would open two short weeks after the six-week World Cup odyssey with Team USA.

“He had actually texted me before he actually made it public that he was going to take a step back from it,” Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins, a Durant confidant, said Monday. “He asked me what I thought about it. I said it’s what’s best for you. KD did a lot. He carried the load when Russell [Westbrook] was out, he was averaging a lot of minutes, played a lot of time on the court. Going through the season he kept it going to win his MVP and he played at a high level. And we’ve been playing damn near to June every year since I’ve been here. So it’s well-deserved.”

Durant’s decision to leave Team USA three weeks before the start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain came as a surprise to everybody, including chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Durant had made a well-intentioned commitment to play even when many of the NBA’s other superstars had not. The 2010 world championship MVP and 2012 Olympic gold medalist put his employer and Thunder teammates ahead of country this one time. He’s been clear he plans to play for Team USA in Brazil 1n 2016.

Yet when Durant offered a well-reasoned explanation for leaving the team on short notice, some called him a quitter, suggested he was being selfish during a summer in which he reaped millions in endorsement deals and said he unfairly left the team in a lurch. The next day, Rudy Gay happily accepted an invitation to replace Durant and the U.S. cruised undefeated to another gold medal, without even having to face Durant’s Thunder teammate Serge Ibaka and might Spain, thought to be Team USA’s toughest foe.  The Americans won their semifinal and championship games by a combined 65 points.

If only they had KD.

“I think it was more so that I didn’t want to be in full-season mode in August or July,” Durant said during the Thunder’s media day on Monday when asked about his decision not to play. “I just wanted that time to just free my body and my mind of it all and just go out there and workout and work on my game and just enjoy the rest of the summer. Because I know how long the season is, and I just wanted to be fully prepared for that.”

Durant has led the Thunder to at least the Western Conference finals in three of the last four years. No player logged more minutes than he did last season and his workload over the last five seasons is beyond reproach.

“I’d rather have a guy tell the powers-to-be, ‘you know what, I can’t give you my 100 precent effort both mentally and physically,’ because if you don’t you’re not going to help your team,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I have a lot of respect for Kevin stepping up. That was not an easy decision, but he stepped up and said, ‘I wasn’t mentally and physically ready to compete with the 12 guys we had.’ He played a lot of basketball. He’s entitled to have a summer off, right?”

Westbrook also pulled out of Team USA to properly rest a right knee that had been operated on three times in the span of eight months and sidelined him for half of last season. Both players had as restful a summer as they’ve had in years. Ibaka is back at full strength from the calf injury that forced him out of the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. There is a lot of optimism entering camp that OKC is equipped to get back to the NBA Finals.

“I was glad to see him make a decision he felt like he needed to do,” said Nick Collison, Durant’s teammate since his rookie season in Seattle. “He felt that he needed to step away and I was glad he was able to make that decision because I know that was a tough decision. So, yeah, for our team, for us, I think it’s a positive that those guys [Durant and Westbrook] are coming in fresh.”

Blogtable: The U.S. vs. the World

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: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not U.S. players are too dominant on the international stage

> What’s your takeaway from the whooping the U.S. put on the rest of the world at the FIBA World Cup? Is the gap widening again? Time for America to call off the dogs, let even younger guys play? Other thoughts?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To heck with global supremacy and to heck with calling off the dogs. I favor a young-player Team USA and FIBA tournament in general so as to not expose franchise stars to undue risk of injury or fatigue. Basketball is a worldwide sport, the NBA is a league of nations, and it doesn’t turn on which country in a given year puts together the winningest roster. The Olympics doesn’t even move my needle on this. I’m a big believer in putting the day job first, and the NBA’s investment all around — for owners, for fans, for players — ought to be the 800-pound priority.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The gap has always been wide and likely will be for many years to come just as the U.S. men’s national soccer team remains miles away from contending for the World Cup despite making obvious gains. As for allowing the younger guys to play, I’ve always taken this side. To me it makes little sense for the NBA’s elite players to risk injury in a tournament that, frankly, holds little meaning in this country. Look, the World Cup championship game went up against Sunday NFL games. I haven’t seen the ratings, but I’m guessing they weren’t pretty. Now, having talked recently to Chandler Parsons and hearing his real disappointment at not making the team, I’m not here to tell anyone they can’t participate if they want to. But outside of the Olympics — and even then I’m not beholden to the drum beat that our best players must compete so the U.S. is guaranteed of winning gold — we should open the field to a much wider pool of players who can proudly represent the U.S.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No calling off. Send the best team possible and see who wins. It’s the world championships or the Olympics, not AYSO. If the United States wins for the next 20 years, then the event has served its purpose to determine the best. If someone else wins, the victory will have much more meaning than if it came against the D-League All-Stars or a mix of college players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It just seems that way. There are a lot of reasons why USA never got challenged. The next four or five best teams were all on the other side of the bracket. Spain would have provided a tougher matchup, but crumbled under the pressure of a close game in the quarterfinals. While Serbia was a good team, it had never played the U.S., so that was the first time most of its players had faced that kind of speed and athleticism. And finally, the gold medal game would have been more competitive had the U.S. not shot ridiculously well from 3-point range on that particular night. There’s still a gap in regard to both top-line talent and depth of talent, and Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have done a better job of making the most of that talent than previous regimes had. But the rest of the world certainly isn’t getting worse.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My biggest takeaway is that this rush to judge the team that USA Basketball sent to Spain was as twisted and relentless as anything I’ve seen in two decades in this business. The narrative about this team that was spun before they even left these shores for Spain was pretty comical. No stars = USAB, and more specifically the NBA, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewskiall getting their commeuppance from the rest of the world was pretty much the way I read it. Foolishness. Complete foolishness. The U.S. team was clearly better and deeper than anyone else in the field, including Spain. (I said it here last week.). Even the haters have to face the reality that the U.S. program is once again the measuring stick. The same built-in advantage certain nations have when the FIFA World Cup rolls around is the same decided edge the (wrongly stereotyped ugly) Americans have now when the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics pop up on the summer schedule. The pool of human resources at USAB’s disposal is as deep as it gets and arguably as deep as it has ever been. And some of these so-called future NBA stars or guys who have dominated internationally and could and would do whatever in the NBA are getting hype they don’t deserve. And it showed when they faced the U.S. “C-Team” that quite frankly trounced the competition in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The more I think about it, the less I understand these international competitions. I get it in soccer, when national teams are assembled every few years for the World Cup, because at least in between in soccer we get the Champion’s League, where we see the world’s best teams all compete against each other. And I think that might be a more interesting concept in basketball than a Basketball World Cup, where the Olympics are still considered the marquee tournament. With that said, just because the US breezed through this tournament without much trouble, using a banged-up roster, it’s probably too soon to say the US is beyond reproach. We never did, for instance, have to play against Spain or France, and we came through the tournament’s easier bracket. If there’s anything we should have learned from recent USA Basketball history, it’s as soon as you start thinking you’re untouchable, watch out.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The crazy thing about this World Cup was that this USA team was arguably second or third string and they still cruised. As someone from outside the U.S., representing a country that would receive a beat down if they faced off, I’m not concerned that they cruised through the tournament! I want to see the best players on the planet playing together. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant playing together at 2012 Olympics was incredible to see. I don’t want to see younger guys play to level up the playing field, I want to see the best team come together.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I wrote about this at large for NBA Brasil. The gap is wide again because the rest of the world is in transition from the end of its first true NBA generation to the next wave. Just two years ago, a U.S. team with LeBron, KD, Melo and Kobe took all they could handle from Lithuania and Spain. Guys that have given trouble to the Americans in the past 10 years, like Ginobili, Jasikevicius, Kleiza, Papaloukas and Spanoulis are either retired from their national teams or took the summer off. Also, USA Basketball has done a remarkable job with its program, which sets it apart from everyone else. The rest of the world will come back: France, Serbia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia all have quality generations developing for the next Olympic cycle. But, as long as USAB keeps doing things right, the US will stay on top of it.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although I had expected the US to win the tournament, I was genuinely surprised that a young team without so many of America’s best talents were able to sweep through their competition with such ease. The gap has widened between the USA and the rest of the world for sure, but that is no need for alarm; basketball is a cycle and as a new generation of young international talents mature mature and improve, the gap will be narrowed again. The rest of the world is simply going through a phase where the old ranks (Ginobili’s Argentina, Gasol’s Spain, etc.) haven’t yet made room for the new. I don’t agree that America should call off the big dogs; on the contrary, I want USA to send their best players to the World Cup (which is ALL basketball) instead of the Olympics (where basketball is just one of dozens of sports). The more the US invests in the World Cup, the more the rest of the world will care about it.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: First of all Team USA was lucky not to face Greece, because everybody remembers that “Big in Japan” Greek team back in 2006. Sorry, I had to underline somehow the fact that we were the last country to beat the NBAers. Now, as for the gap-talk, it’s tough to say. On one hand we saw Team USA cruising through the gold medal. On the other hand there is no argument that this was the most FIBA-geared team the Americans have ever assembled. They didn’t thrive playing NBA game style, but they beat the world playing international basketball.  Team USA was so effective because it took bits and pieces from the entire world. These days when international players have become part of the NBA core and more and more European coaches are sitting on NBA benches, we cannot talk about “the gap widening”. The gap is closing in terms of talent, size, coaching and athleticism, but it’s still wide open when referring to administration, planning and management. We really like watching NBA stars on the floor every other summer, so I believe that nothing have to change.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Well, at first sight, it seems like there is no chance that we will see an international team beat the USA in the near future. And I guess that’s true at second and third sight as well. To me, Team USA simply got underestimated this time. People just saw who did not come to Spain and thought, “Well without all the big stars they might be in trouble.” Unfortunately they forgot that the NBA does not only consist of the LeBrons and Durants of this world. The team Coach K took to Spain was still miles deep and incredibly talented. I mean, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are among the best players on their respective positions. So that was no Team USA Lite even with LeBron, KD, Paul George and Chris Paul missing. But, I guess you have to keep in mind that the draw kind of twisted the facts. Until the final, Slovenia was the toughest opponent Team USA had to face. At least on paper. All the other big nations played in the other half of the bracket. No one knows if the U.S. had beaten Argentina, Brazil or France as convincingly as they beat the Dominican Republic, Finland or Slovenia. I’m not saying they would have lost, but the games might have been closer. And maybe a final against Spain would have come down to the final minutes, although that’s something we’ll never find out. Nevertheless I don’t think the gap is widening. There’s always been a certain gap as soon as the U.S. sent some of their best players. The athletic advantage is huge. But to me it would be the wrong move to stop sending the best players to a world championship or the Olympics. The big tournaments should have the toughest competition possible. And who knows, maybe one day the United States do get beat by a team like Spain.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I think the United States has re-opened the gap and that has been confirmed during this World Cup. I could see them heading into the Olympics with this group from 2014.

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

Thompson’s breakout summer?


VIDEO: Klay Thompson discusses USA’s win over Lithuania

MADRID — Stephen Curry  calls it the “USA vibe,” that flow NBA players get into during competition summers with USA Basketball.  

Those are the summers of sacrifice, of committing yourself to a culture unlike the one you are used to in the NBA, where there are journeyman and role players scattered among stars, superstars and global icons throughout locker rooms around the league.

No one has to worry about those distinctions with USA Basketball. Curry and Mason Plumlee are equals here under the watchful of eye of Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, and head coach Mike Kryzyewski.

If they’ve learned anything over the course of the past nine years it’s that a tiered system on the U.S. National Team doesn’t work. It can’t. Especially when guys like Curry’s Splash Brother from Golden State, Klay Thompson, plays the way he has during the FIBA World Cup.

Thompson, you could argue, has been the most consistent and best two-way player on the U.S. roster, not named Kenneth Faried or Anthony Davis. And he’s done it without starting a single game in the lead up to Sunday’s gold medal game.

“I thought Klay’s play in the first half was the biggest reason we were leading at halftime,” Coach K said after Thompson led the U.S. rout of Lithuania in Thursday’s semifinal with 14 points before the break and 16 for the game.

Thompson’s contributions off the U.S. bench, a role he probably hasn’t had to play at any point in his basketball career since before high school, if ever, could pay huge dividends when this tournament is over and he goes back to his role as one of the stars for the Warriors.

“You expose yourself to different stages of basketball,” Curry said of the benefits Thompson will gain from this medal run with the U.S. National Team. “It’s beneficial because you’re being called on to play a different role, to be a scorer off the bench and it’s just different. It adds a little bit of character and charisma to your game. And that should translate to even more success when we get back to Golden State.”

This has definitely been a character building summer for Thompson and other guys used to starting and the spotlight that comes with it in the NBA. He’s perhaps a better defender than anyone imagined. He’s stepped up to the challenge on defense night after night, while serving as the team’s most consistent scoring threat off the bench as well, averaging 12.8 points while shooting 66 percent on his 2-point shots and 41 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

We’ve gotten a glimpse of his game, the entire scope of his game, in ways we don’t normally get to see in the NBA.

“He’s been a lockdown defender for us, no doubt,” James Harden said. “Scoring is never going to be a problem for him. It’s not an issue for this team. So it says something when you see guys working hard on defense and trying to make an impact any way they can.”

That’s the spirit of the program, the one Colangelo and Coach K have tried to foster from the start. And the results have worked beautifully. The U.S, takes a 62-game win streak into Sunday’s gold medal game, having put together a flawless run in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition dating back to 2006.

They also boast a number of breakout stars from every cycle of international competition. This is where new All-Stars, MVPs and scoring champs play their trade every two years, sharpening their skills for the NBA by representing their country and strengthening its basketball tradition.

“The fact is the historical record of the guys who have participated with us shows they go back to their teams and that season immediately following their experience with us they have great results,” Colangelo said.

He cited the 2010 team that won gold at the World Championship in Turkey as the shining example of this experience is all about. That team produced the MVP (Derrick Rose), scoring champ (Kevin Durant) and three new All-Stars, not to mention a NBA champion in Tyson Chandler.

“They all had a great experience in Istanbul and great seasons that followed that journey,” Colangelo said. “We’ve been preaching this gospel, that this is a great experience, you learn to become a better player, in some ways, we think, by exposing them to this culture. They take that back to their teams and their teams are better for it. And the NBA is the ultimate beneficiary of it. So there’s 110 reasons why it’s good for the players to participate.”

Thompson could be one of those players whose next step is the one that launches him into that next level of stardom. He’ll have a new coach, Steve Kerr, and a new system. And that boulder sized chip on his shoulder after surviving a summer filled with trade rumors linked to Kevin Love, who was instead dealt to Cleveland.

Thompson is the one U.S. player who seemed perturbed from the very start that this U.S. team was being doubted and considered an underdog because bigger stars defected, declined to participate or were injured.

“I don’t care who you are, you never want to be counted out or disrespected,” Thompson said. “I never need any extra motivation. I’m always playing my hardest and to win. That will never change.”

Favored U.S. keeps focus on Lithuania


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

BARCELONA — That fine line between confident and cocky, the one the favorites always walk, is being navigated carefully by the U.S. National Team here at the FIBA World Cup. Upsets have a way of forcing reality onto teams, even one filled with NBA stars who believe, no matter the odds, that they won’t come all this way without leaving with gold.

Mike Krzyzewski‘s unyielding respect for the process and the rest of the field makes much more sense now that France has toppled Spain on the other side of the bracket, leaving a golden opportunity in front of the U.S. as the Americans square off with Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the right to advance to the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

“We know what a great team Lithuania is and how well they’ve played the whole tournament,” U.S. guard Steph Curry said during a Thursday morning news conference alongside Coach K. “We obviously knew what happened (to Spain) but it didn’t affect in anything in our preparation. Nobody  really expected it, they beat pretty well in pool play. But that’s the beauty of the tournament. Everybiody gets another chance to get to the medal round and then it’s a one-and-done process. And that makes it even more important for us to come out and focus and take care of our business. Everybody knew about it (France upsetting Spain). But our job is to beeat Lithuania and worry about who we’re going to play in Madrid. That’s the mentality, it was yesterday and it stays the same today.”

During pool play, any mention of Spain drew a polite but curt no comment from Coach K, who  dutifully reminded anyone willing to listen that a place in Madrid had to be earned. Ask about a potential opponent two games away and Coach K wouldn’t let the questioner finish. He’d reiterate that his and his team’s sole focus was on the team they’d face next.

Peppering the players with similar questions resulted in similar responses.

“We’re not focused on Spain or anyone else but … “

It doesn’t seem so strange now, not after seeing Spain crumble under the weight of expectations Wednesday night in Madrid.

In the moments after their quarterfinal win over Slovenia, after TNT’s Charles Barkley picked Spain to win it all and just before Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard and Slovenian catalyst Goran Dragic did the same, Coach K made it clear that his team is not invincible.

“We’re beatable,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That wasn’t posturing. Coach K knows as well as anyone — Pau Gasol and his Spanish National Team teammates included — just how humbling it can be to live that reality.

The failures of the U.S. team in 2006 is fresh in the minds of those involved with USA Basketball at all levels.

“We’re not an arrogant group that thinks we don’t have to come out and play our hardest and our best every night. That’s just not who we are as a team,” James Harden said. “We respect all of the other teams here. We’re not the only group of NBA guys here, we know that. This is a tournament, a competition, and that means it’s wide open and anybody has a chance to win.”

Having a young team, relatively speaking, that doesn’t include the usual complement of superstars that was expected (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, etc.) won’t save the U.S. from expectations now that Spain is out. The Americans go back to the top of the heap as the unquestioned favorite to capture gold.

And that means this team must compartmentalize in short order the new dynamics. Serbia and France both sprung upsets on the other side of the bracket. Who’s to say that either one of them couldn’t do it again?

So those slow starts and energy-deficient stretches this U.S. team has struggled through cannot be a part of the process any longer.

“I think we’ve played well,” Coach K said, defending his team. “I don’t know what everybody has been watching, but you know, our guys have played their butts off. They have great camaraderie. You all, some of you, think that flipping the switch, or whatever, is when we start hitting shots. If any team just had to wait for that, then they are flipping that switch all the time, because you don’t hit shots all the time. What you can do is play hard, play defense and rebound. And you can do those things all the time, and our team has done that all the time. So, then when you start hitting shots, everything looks good when you hit shots.”

Krzyzewski said he’s pleased with his team’s growth and maturity throughout the course of training camp and competition. The U.S. has maintained a sense of calm on the floor when things don’t come quickly. “So far they’ve been great about it, and I think part of it is how we handle things,” he said. “Like the mood we try to create. You want to be serious, but not to an extent where you become tight. They need to be loose.”

That was easier to do before France turned this competition upside down with that 68-52 beating of Spain. The seriousness of it all, the fact that if you don’t play your best in this one-and-done scenario could be the difference between playing to capture back-to-back titles or playing for third place.

There’s no extra motivation needed then.

“To play to get to the gold medal game, that’s the main motivation,” Klay Thompson said. “And [Thursday] is September 11, an infamous day in American history, so we just want to honor our country in that aspect.”

Blogtable: The state of the States

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: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks



VIDEO: A “turrific” Spain team will not be intimidated by the U.S., says Charles Barkley.

> Charles Barkley is picking Spain at the FIBA World Cup. What if the U.S. doesn’t win gold? What does that say about the state of basketball in the U.S.?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comNo biggie. The whole Dream Team experience 22 years ago was intended, yes, to re-assert U.S. superiority in basketball but also to spread the gospel of the game around the globe. Well, mission accomplished on both fronts: That team shredded the competition but also upped everyone’s game internationally. If Coach K & Co. could just cake-walk over everyone in 2014, the second objective would have been a failure. Let’s not forget, either, Team USA doesn’t have the NBA’s very best participating.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: No time to panic and trade in your passport. It says what we already knew. The basketball world has changed dramatically since the 1992 Dream Team.  The talent gap has shrunk and the “awe factor” of Team USA is gone.  With a Spanish lineup of Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro, to name a few, it means the U.S. needs to put its very best — LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, etc. — to beat a first class Spanish team before a home crowd.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It says a group of Spaniards came together as a team better than this group of Americans, which, frankly, is our B/C team. These Spanish players are talented and many have played together for quite some time. This young American squad can’t say that. If Spain wins, great for them. The U.S. can begin plotting revenge at the 2016 Games when the American team will feature LeBron, KD, CP3, K-Love, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook … must I go on?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It would say Spain is definitely better than the United States’ backup squad. No LeBron James, no Kevin Durant, no Chris Paul, no Paul George, no Blake Griffin, no Kevin Love — there is no referendum on basketball in the U.S. if the Americans do not win the gold, as much as some people will pull a muscle straining to reach the conclusion. Maybe Spain would beat a Team USA at full strength, but we’ll never know. Based on actual events, if — if — the U.S. misses the gold, it will be more of a statement about the commitment of players to the program than the level of talent.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s no big statement about the state of the game in the U.S. Yes, there needs to be more practicing and less traveling at the AAU level. And yes, there needs to be more focus on the fundamentals, teamwork and passing skills that we see from some of these international teams. But the absence of both LeBron James and Kevin Durant makes such a huge difference that if the U.S. loses, it doesn’t mean that it’s not still the best basketball nation in the world.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAbsolutely nothing. As good as the 2014 FIBA World Cup team has been, and they are 40 minutes from playing or gold in Madrid on Sunday, the entire planet knows that the A-Team didn’t make the trip. Spain knows it. Lithuania knows it. Everyone knows that to the be the case. Coach K has made it clear that this team is no invincible. He learned that the hard way in 2006 against Greece. That’s why  I would argue that this team winning gold here would be as impressive a feat as any team under the Colangelo-Kryzyewski USA Basketball banner . No one outside of their own locker room expects them to win here. But let’s be real about this, if Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and a few other top flight NBA stars were here (I’m not even talking about LeBron, CP3, Carmelo and the guys who won gold in London), this discussion wouldn’t be taking place. And while everyone else is concinved the U.S. contingent cannot win here, I disagree. I think they can. All that said, I think the better question is what does it say about basketball in the rest of the world, and Spanish basketball in particular, if this U.S. team defies the odds and does walk away with gold against a better and more seasoned foe on its home soil?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It says we didn’t have our best team on the court. Not to take anything away from Spain or the other teams in the World Cup, but a Team USA with, oh, let’s say some permutation of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan, Russell Westbrook or even Paul George, I think it’s safe to say we would have a more powerful team. Are other countries catching up to the United States? Yes. Have they caught the United States? No. Not yet, at least.

Cousins is U.S. wild card going forward


VIDEO: Before World Cup play, DeMarcus Cousins did major work last season for the Kings

BARCELONA — DeMarcus Cousins might barely play in the U.S. National Team’s quarterfinal matchup against Slovenia here Tuesday at the Palau Saint Jordi.

Circumstances beyond his control will dictate whether the biggest and perhaps best, by NBA standards, big man on the U.S. roster has a chance to show what he can do.

Such is life in the USA Basketball bubble, where All-Stars are asked to be reserves and a dominant big man has to wait his turn against an opponent that will spread the floor with as many as five 3-point shooters in an attempt to agitate the U.S.

One night you are the man. The next, you’re on the bench watching someone else play that role, depending on the matchup.

“It’s definitely a change for me,” Cousins said. “It’s an adjustment. I’m not used to coming off the bench, not used to playing limited minutes. It’s a huge adjustment. But everybody has a different role, and in order for us to get that ultimate goal, that gold medal, we have to play our roles to the best of our abilities.”

The fact that Cousins is even here and a part of this particular team raised eyebrows for some. Like several players on this team, he wasn’t viewed as the ideal fit. The need for fleet-footed bigs with shooting range out to and beyond the 3-point line is a must in FIBA competition.

The skills Cousins brings to the table — a traditional, low-post big man who does best work around the basket and with his back to it often — don’t mesh with the style of the day. But he represents a strategic shift for the U.S. and a serves as a potential wild card as this week goes on. If the U.S. is able to win its way through to this weekend’s medal games in Madrid, a rugged big man with his size and skill could come in handy.

As well as Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, the U.S. starters at center and power forward, respectively, Cousins has proved himself indispensible as the Plan B big man.

“I think he’s come a long way,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. “I’m really, really happy for him. And I’m really happy for us. The one thing, he came in with a desire to make it. This was big to him. So he already had a leg up in terms of attitude and he wanted this thing. I think he’s paid his dues. He’s worked hard. Had a little setback when he went down. Fortunately it wasn’t something that knocked him out. But right now he’s playing really well. And his size and his ability could be real factor before this is over.”

Cousins was needed in Saturdays win over Mexico, whose Gustavo Ayon worked the U.S. for 25 points and eight rebounds and worked over Davis and Faried in the process but wasn’t able to take physical advantage of Cousins.

U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Cousins for his work and lauded his diligence in making himself a factor on this team.

“We have believed in DeMarcus right from start of training camp,” he said. “All the reports about him not making the team and all that were all … not right. We felt he would be the perfect guy with or in place of Anthony at times, but more in the place of Anthony, and I think it’s just a matter of him continuing to get in better shape, our guys getting accustomed that when he does come into the game he’s different than Anthony and so to look for him. I think they see him more now, and I think his defense has really improved. He tried to take three charges (against Mexico). He played Ayon pretty well without getting help, so they couldn’t get a three off of him. I thought he played. He’d get an A+ from me, let’s just put it that way.”

The strategic shift to incorporate a more traditional big man into the mix was done partly out of necessity and also based on the specific challenges of this particular competition (Spain and the brothers Gasol and Serge Ibaka loom in a potential gold medal showdown).

Having the physical firepower to play any style was a part of the U.S. game plan this time around.

“Since we’ve been together, and I’m going back now to 2005, we didnt have a major presence in the middle,” Colangelo said. “We just didn’t. Dwight Howard was a young Dwight Howard then and Chris Bosh was his back up, a young back up. After that it was different. We didn’t have that real dominant kind of guy in the middle. We went with more of a perimeter game and we were structured that way.

“So this was a little change in strategy. And it just so happens, as things developed. If you were to add Kevin Durant and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, that still would have put us in a situation where we might not have looked to some of the bigger guys in the middle. So circumstances caused us, not forced us, but caused us to see what other options do we have here. And we looked at our bigs and said, ‘let’s go with them.'”

That was music to the ears of Cousins and fellow behemoth Andre Drummond, another surprise addition to the roster.

What sort of impact they have, however, depends on the specific matchups.

“The only thing that is on our mind is to win,” Coach K said. “And winning means that you should have a nine or ten man rotation, so that’s all we are looking for. The game will give you the opportunity to put the right people in, because of matchups, and that is what we are looking for … We are going to match up according to what they do, because the first thing is we have to play defense against them.”

Cousins has shown himself to be a willing defender and rim protector in his minutes here, not to mention a more than capable rebounder and physical force. He’s never had a problem scoring and hasn’t against anyone he’s faced so far.

And yet he readily admits that he’s still finding his way against the big men he’s dealt with the past six games.

“Basically, it’s just me finding my role, getting used to the style of play and learning how to be effective,” he said. “It’s the first time for me, playing this way. For me it’s a process. But I’m coming into my own. I think you can see that from the way I’ve been playing. I’m getting better as we keep playing.”

Secrets to USA’s, Coach K’s success

Mike Krzyzewski (left, with Jim Boeheim) cites his college ties as one reason he has had such success with Team USA. (USA Today images)

Team USA and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (left, with Team USA assistant and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) says his college ties have helped him with NBA players. (USA Today images)

BARCELONA — When a team rings up 61 straight wins during international competition, including the World Cup/World Championship and Olympics (and throwing in exhibitions), there are a number of factors involved.

Having the best and most star-studded roster every time you to take the floor helps. But the U.S. National Team has had more than just raw talent on its side.

During the Jerry Colangelo-Mike Krzyzewski era, the U.S. also has had a precise plan on how to structure the program, from the ground up, and a clear-cut understanding of the nuances that make the international game different from the NBA. The Americans also have had intense international scouting and have nurtured a revamped mindset among the players who make the up the pool upon which the roster is built.

With Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, setting the overall operational tone, Coach K insists there are overlooked aspects of the program which allow him to do things differently than many of his NBA predecessors. For one, Krzyzewski’s extensive experience in a one-and-done tournament format helps, especially with NBA players who are used to best-of playoff series.

But Krzyzewski also points to this: Though he has been courted by NBA teams on several occasions, Coach K will almost certainly never take an NBA job where he would have to try to beat some of these players.

“I don’t coach against my players,” Krzyzewski said after the U.S. practice Monday at Palau Saint Jordi, where the Americans were preparing for Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup against Slovenia (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). “I’m not a pro coach. [Syracuse coach] Jim [Boeheim] and I have the respect of these guys because of doing well in college basketball. But we can develop our own individual relationships with them and then never compete against them. I think that’s been a hidden factor of success in all this stuff.”

Krzyzewski, of course, knows a thing or two about operating under the pressure of constant win-it-all expectations. He knows all about trying to live up to the hype of a team that’s supposed to play perfect all the time.

“I’ve lived with that for 25 years as the Duke coach,” he said. “I’m the most prepared to do that because we’re closely scrutinized like that in college basketball for everything we do. But this is at a much higher level. Actually it helps that I’m coming from that environment. I also think it helps, when we’re in this competition, the one-and-done, what we live all the time, whether it be an ACC tournament or a NCAA tournament, so I’ve been in 150 to 200 one-and-done games. We try to tell our players it’s the seventh game of a series. About half of them have been in a seventh game, so they don’t think it’s a series. We’re not just going to be in Madrid. We have to win to get there.”

As for what keeps him going, grinding like this on both the USA Basketball front and during his regular job at Duke,  Coach K said it’s a combination of things that he learned long ago.

“It’s your watch, it’s your responsibility,” he said. “That’s something I learned at West Point. It’s your job right now. Do it the right way. And eventually someone else will have that job. But while you’re in command, make sure your unit does it the right way. And Jerry has set that example. We’ve tried to learn and we keep learning.”

World geography

A reporter trying to get a rise out of U.S. big man DeMarcus Cousins as the U.S. exited the floor from practice, quizzing the Sacramento Kings star on world geography:

“Do you know where Slovenia is?” the reporter asked.

“Do you know where Alabama is?’ Cousins replied.

Forget the friendly

The U.S. has already seen Slovenia on the court this summer. The Americans beat Slovenia 101-71 in an Aug. 26 exhibition game in Gran Canaria.

Led by Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran, Slovenia will present the U.S. with a style change that will likely cause Coach K to tinker with his rotation to make sure the U.S. can match up with a small-ball lineup.

“The very first thing you have to do is forget the friendly,” Coach K said. “They were holding their guys back and Goran was held down in minutes that game. They’ve gotten better and he’s become even more of a factor as the leader of the team. We’ve gotten better, too. But we just have to focus on the fact that they are an unusual team in that they can put five 3-point shooters on the court.”

Chasing history

This U.S. team is not only trying to win gold on Spain’s home turf, it is also trying to make a little history by becoming just the third nation to repeat as World Champs. Only Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) have accomplished that feat since the event was initiated in 1950.

The U.S. is a four-time champion but never has been able to put together back-to-back titles.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 30


VIDEO:

NEWS OF THE MORNING
World Cup kicks off | Team USA better than 2010? | Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons cut from Team USA | Deron Williams on the mend

No. 1: So much to watch as World Cup is finally here — The best basketball outside the NBA gets under way Saturday with the start of the World Cup in Spain. The host country and the United States, despite LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other All-Stars sitting this one, are the favorites for gold. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann is on the scene:

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.
Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.
There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait for the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

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No. 2: Colangelo: Team USA “by far” better than 2010 — Team USA is the youngest group of players to represent the country since NBA players started playing in international competition in 1992. Despite their youth and some of the U.S.’s top players sitting this one out, Team USA brass is convinced this squad is even better than the 2010 version that won gold. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has the story:

The 12 players representing the United States at the FIBA World Cup that starts this weekend comprise the youngest team fielded by USA Basketball since NBA players were ushered into the international game in 1992.

When it opens Group C play here Saturday night against Finland at the Bizkaia Arena, Team USA ‎will sport an average age of just above 24 years old.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo are nonetheless convinced that the 2014 squad begins the tournament in better shape than the 2010 group that ultimately won that FIBA World Championship in Turkey without a single member from the gold-medal-winning 2008 Olympic team.

“By far,” Colangelo told ESPN.com. “Because we have a couple of Olympic gold medalists on this roster in Anthony Davis and James Harden. We have three players from that team in 2010‎ in Steph Curry, Derrick Rose and Rudy Gay. And they’re not 21 this time. They’re 23 or 24. A little bit older and more mature‎.

“We like our team. We really do.”

Yet Colangelo has acknowledged on multiple occasions this summer that he would ultimately regard a fourth successive championship in a major tournament for the United States to be the “sweetest” success enjoyed ‎by the program since he and Krzyzewski teamed up to resuscitate USA Basketball in the wake of a humbling bronze-medal finish at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

That’s because of the rash of prominent players’ withdrawals that USAB has weathered this summer. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook all removed themselves from the roster before the squad convened for its first training camp in Las Vegas in late July. Kevin Durant then followed suit earlier this month after the horrific compound leg fracture ‎suffered by Paul George in an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 1.

But this team, as Colangelo mentioned, brings a modicum of international experience to the competition even after all those losses. In 2010, Team USA was forced to field a new squad that eventually defeated host Turkey in the final after a team led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony narrowly defeated Spain in the 2008 gold-medal game in Beijing.

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No. 3: Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons won’t play in Spain — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a loud critic of international play. He abhors the risk to teams in the case a player gets injured, among other issues. So he wasn’t disappointed when newly acquired small forward Chandler Parsons, who Cuban will pay $46 million over the next three years, was cut from Team USA. NBA.com’s own Jeff Caplan spoke to Cuban:

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.”

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No. 4: Video surfaces of an encouraging D-Will workout — For the last two seasons Nets point guard and former All-Star Deron Williams has been dogged by ankle problems and critics piling on about his demise. Williams had surgery on both ankles this offseason, and new coach Lionel Hollins says he’s the key to success. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York talked to Hollins about it:

Williams underwent surgery on both of his ankles in the offseason. Now it’s about getting healthy and getting his confidence back. But how?

“There’s a lot of different things you can do [as a coach],” Lionel Hollins said Friday. “I can’t say right here that I’m going to walk in there and tell Deron Williams this or that, because I don’t even know where he is from that perspective [a confidence perspective] at this moment.

“But I think first of all he has to be healthy and he has to be in great shape and we’re going to try to put him in a situation where he can flourish, which will give him confidence and go from there. I mean confidence comes and goes with all players no matter how good they are. I don’t think there’s ever been a player that’s played and didn’t have a confidence issue at some point maybe in a game, maybe in a season.”

Hollins has said similar things before. Putting Williams in a position where he can flourish is the key. In that respect, it really comes down to health, doesn’t it?

“If you’re injured, you can’t be who you are,” Hollins said. “You can’t make the same moves or be as explosive as you are, and it’s difficult to go out there and go 100 percent. You’re always worried about what’s going to happen if you push off, stop, change direction, all of those things.”

Asked about where Williams is from health standpoint, Hollins responded, “As far as I know, good.”

Williams looked good dribbling in an Instagram video posted by his close friend, Matt Mitnick, on Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden expects 20-year-old Kobe Bryant to return … Ian Mahinmi out two to three months with shoulder injury … Spurs interested in Gustavo AyonMonty Williams sees big improvement in Anthony Davis … Expect the Clippers to make a run at Ray AllenSpurs also barging in on Allen sweepstakes.

Krzyzewski keeps teaching, learning


VIDEO: Mike Krzyzewski shares his view on Team USA as FIBA play nears

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Mike Krzyzewski came back for more.

After originally deciding to end his tenure as the U.S. National Team’s coach, Krzyzewski changed his mind last spring and signed on for another four years. Now, he’s putting a 43-1 record and a 36-game winning streak on the line at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

There’s no arguing with Krzyzewski’s success, either on the college or international level. With four national championships at Duke, two Olympic gold medals and a World Championship gold medal, his legacy is set. He certainly didn’t need to coach this team again.

The goal, of course, is two more golds.

“Obviously, the best moment is when there are 45 seconds to go and you know you can’t get beat,” Krzyzewski told NBA.com last week. “Those are the defining moments.”

But coaching the National Team is a whole lot more than that for Krzyzewski. And it’s the journey, as much as the destination, that brought him back for three more years.

No easy task ahead

The 2014 World Cup is likely to be Krzyzewski’s biggest test with USA Basketball. The U.S. doesn’t have LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant. The two stars Krzyzewski had at the starting forward positions for the first week of training camp – Kevin Durant and Paul George – aren’t with the team anymore.

There are five players on this year’s roster with Senior National Team experience, but four of them had limited roles on the teams they played on in 2010 or 2012. And the fifth is Derrick Rose, who’s working his way back after playing just 10 games over the last two NBA seasons. There also aren’t as many natural ball-sharers on this roster than there have been in years past.

The host of the World Cup – Spain – is the team that came close to knocking the U.S. off in the gold medal games of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, when Krzyzewski did have James, Anthony, Paul and Bryant on the roster. The Spanish team also has more NBA experience (total regular season and playoff games) than the U.S. team does.

Yes, the U.S. always has a talent advantage. No coach in the world feels sorry for Krzyzewski, who seemingly just has to steer the ship in the right direction.

But the talent advantage and the margin for error are reduced in a 40-minute game and in a single-elimination format. And when everyone expects you to win (and most of the arena wants you to lose), the pressure can be overwhelming in the closing moments of a tight game.

So, with just 21 days to prepare for the World Cup, Krzyzewski has to use every opportunity to make the most of his roster. As the U.S. has learned in years past, talent alone doesn’t win these games. There will be moments in the next 18 days when the USA’s talent will need to be supplemented by both chemistry and effort. And there’s nobody better than Krzyzewski to build that chemistry and elicit that effort.

Building relationships


VIDEO: Coach K talks with players during the team’s training camp in Las Vegas

Krzyzewski has never been and never will be an NBA coach. But he certainly knows how to connect with NBA players.

“That’s what he does best,” USA assistant Jim Boeheim said. “He’s a tremendous communicator.”

Krzyzewski knows that communication takes effort. He doesn’t view this as just a summer job. He makes sure to build a bond with his players throughout the year.

“During the NBA season,” Krzyzewski said, “you try to text them a few times or give them a call if you knew there was a special event or something really good happened or something not so good happened, and continue having a relationship. So when you do get together in the summer, it’s not ‘Oh, I remember when we went to summer camp together last year.’ It’s ‘Oh, we touched each other a few times’ to maintain a relationship.”

When he does get his players in the gym, Krzyzewski doesn’t just focus on basketball.

“I try to touch a few guys each day,” he said. “Not these big individual talks, but just goof around with them and just try to get to know them.”

At Duke, Krzyzewski has four months to get to know what makes each guy on his team tick. With the National Team, he has five weeks. But he uses the relationships he has with guys who have played for him to build ones with the new guys. He may be 40 years older than his players, but all those years have helped him develop the requisite leadership skills for this job.

“He just knows subtle ways to talk to you,” Stephen Curry said, “whether it’s cracking jokes or getting on you if he needs to, but not in a disrespectful way at all.” (more…)