Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Faried’

Nuggets Down RPMs and Bodies

 

HANG TIME WEST – For one thing, there’s the pace. Brian Shaw has replaced George Karl as coach and halfcourt has replaced fastbreak. Gears have been grinding for a month with the sudden downshift.

For another thing, there’s the Nuggets as a whole. Or rather, there aren’t the Nuggets. Wilson Chandler got a few minutes into the first practice, strained a hamstring, and hasn’t been back since. Kenneth Faried missed half the exhibition schedule because of a hamstring strain and played 15 minutes in the opener. Danilo Gallinari is recovering from a torn knee ligament and probably won’t return for months.

A team that would have been facing a tough enough transition anyway – Karl to Shaw, veteran coach to rookie, Andre Iguodala to Golden State – can’t get what they need most: time together. Shaw has been able to slow down a lot of things, but the calendar isn’t one of them, so there went the chance to use the exhibition schedule to sort through lineups.

“It’s tough,” Shaw said. “But at the same time, that’s why we have 15 players on the roster. We’ll mix and match until the time when we get one of those guys back.”

Chandler will be back much sooner than Gallinari, barring a setback. But, yes, mix and match as the regular season begins, initially with a 90-88 loss at Sacramento on Wednesday while using a three-guard alignment of Ty Lawson, Randy Foye and Andre Miller down the stretch and now into the home opener tonight against the Trail Blazers (9 p.m. ET, League Pass). The same starting lineup – Lawson, Foye, JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Randolph – is expected, but what happens from there is more of a feeling-out process for the Nuggets than most teams.

That includes the pace.

“It’s a lot more half-court offenses,” Lawson said. “Brian Shaw is a mastermind of a lot of half-court offenses, so we’ve been running less this year than we did probably in the past.”

There’s no probably about it.

“I actually like it,” Lawson said. “I feel like I can play the whole game now. With George sometimes, I knew I needed a sub, at the two-minute mark or something like that, to get my wind back. But right now, I feel like I can play the whole game with that type of system. Slow down, run off pick-and-rolls. It’s nice to have the ball come back to me, not have to make the play and then shoot. I can become the playmaker too.”

In the obvious problem, telling Lawson to slow down is the Nuggets taking away what had been one of their advantages. Same with Faried, the athletic power forward who thrives in transition. Opponents will welcome the chance to play at altitude in Denver without having to also face a speed game.

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Faried on trading block | D-Will participates in some drills | Brown clarifies thoughts on Noel | Redick returns to practice | Heat enjoy buzz-free preseason

No. 1: Report: Nuggets interested in dealing ‘Manimal’If you’ve been around the Shootaround since last season, you know how big of a fan we are of Denver’s energetic, dunking-machine-of-a-power forward Kenneth Faried. While there’s nothing concrete, and the Denver-area newspapers have nothing to say on it, Grantland’s Zach Lowe has an item in his NBA preview that says he expects Faried’s name to be shopped about this season:

Call this a semi-educated guess. Multiple sources around the league have reported in the last month that Denver has put out targeted feelers on Faried, gauging his value and demanding very good return. The Nuggets, for their part, deny they’ve put Faried’s name out there at all. Faried is entering the third season of his four-year rookie deal, and given his per-game numbers, he figures to get paid on his next contract. If the Nuggets believe Faried has hit his ceiling, and that his game lacks the all-around polish Brian Shaw has said he wants from his big men, it would make sense for Denver to see what it can get. Let’s be clear: Faried has a lot of value, and no trade is ever “likely”; there are just too many roadblocks to go that far.

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No. 2: D-Will participates in some practice drills — The Nets got a bit of good news on Tuesday as All-Star point guard Deron Williams took part in some 5-on-5 drills for the first time since training camp began. He’s not expected to play in tonight’s game against the Celtics in Boston (7 ET, ESPN) or in the Nets’ preseason finale on Friday against the Heat (7:30 ET, NBA TV), writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com:

“It was good to get back out there,” said Williams, who is still recovering from a sprained right ankle injury he suffered during an offseason workout in Utah. “It was only for like 15-20 minutes, but to do contact, 5-on-5 half-court, you’re not part of the cheerleading squad. So it was definitely good to be out there.”

“I don’t see it (playing Friday) because of how slowly (trainer) Timmy (Walsh) is progressing me,” Williams said. “How do you go from playing 15-20 minutes of practice to going up and down (in a game)?”

Williams plans on participating in Wednesday’s morning shootaround. He thinks it will be a big test for his ankle to see how it responds after doing so much Tuesday.

“I’m just gonna ice (and do) everything I’ve been doing,” he said. “When I leave here it’s usually fine. It was sore the last couple days. I took yesterday off and today it felt better. Like I said, tomorrow’s going to be telling, because this is the most I’ve done. So if it feels great tomorrow, just keep progressing.”

Williams is just starting to get acclimated to playing with new starters Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

“I didn’t feel in sync at all because I haven’t played basketball (full-go),” Williams said. “But it felt good to get out there.”

Williams says it’s a bit troubling that his first game could be the regular-season opener Oct. 30 in Cleveland, but “it’s how it is.”

Nets coach Jason Kidd said Williams looked “rusty,” but Kidd was also encouraged at the same time.

“I think it’s great. I think we put a plan in place and he’s following it,” Kidd said. “But the biggest thing is his body is responding. So for him to be able to do 5-on-5 with the first group is always promising. We’ve been waiting, but we have to be patient.”

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No. 3: Brown clarifies statement on rookie Noel — Yesterday, we told you in this space that Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters he didn’t expect top pick Nerlens Noel to play at all in 2013-14. At practice on Tuesday, Brown attempted to clear up what he meant by his statement, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

At Tuesday’s practice, Brown said the decision whether the rookie will play “is going to made by a variety of a lot smarter people that me. Who knows what’s going to happen with Nerlens? We hope he can come back.”

The 6-foot-11 center is still recovering from a torn anterior ligament in his left knee.  He was expected to be sidelined until December while he recovered from the injury, suffered in February during his lone season at Kentucky.

The Sixers acquired the sixth overall pick from New Orleans in a draft-day trade for all-star point guard Jrue Holiday.

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No. 4: Redick hopes to play Friday vs. Kings — The Clippers haven’t gotten much time to see how J.J. Redick will play alongside Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of L.A.’s crew because he’s been out of the lineup. Redick suffered a thigh bruise during the first day of practice and has been slowly working his way back. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi that he’s hoping to get in some game action on Friday against Sacramento:

After being sidelined with a left quad contusion for two weeks, Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick has returned to practice and is expected to play in the preseason game against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

“My assumption is Friday would be a go,” Redick said Tuesday. “There might be some minutes restrictions but there was no residual soreness from yesterday so I should be a go.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said there’s a chance Redick could play in Wednesday’s preseason game against the Utah Jazz if he feels he can but Friday is more likely.

“It depends on how his body reacts,” Rivers said. “We’ll see.”

“It wasn’t serious but significant enough where two weeks of rest was the required time off,” Redick said. “It wasn’t just a thigh bruise. I probably would have been able to play through that.”

He was signed and traded to the Clippers in July in a three-team deal and is projected to start in the backcourt alongside Chris Paul.

Redick’s biggest issue with being sidelined is missing time to get comfortable with his new teammates and players.

“I think the frustrating part is not being part of the process and not getting to take every step with your teammates,” Redick said. “It’s one thing to sit out a couple games during the season, here and there, 30-40 games in. But training camp and the first two months of the season is when you get accustomed to a new situation, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Injuries are a part of it.”

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No. 5: Heat enjoy a rare quiet preseason – Since joining forces three seasons ago, Miami’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have grown used to being the No. 1 story from the preseason to the postseason. However, things have been different for the Heat this preseason as other squads — such as the Knicks, Bulls and Pacers — have garnered more attention. That’s just fine with the Heat’s stars, writes Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

For now, the Miami Heat are enjoying the silence.

Even though it’s just preseason, the Heat are having one of the most distraction-free training camps of the Big Three Era. The outside “noise” coach Erik Spoelstra often talks about is non-existent.

At least for now.

“Most of the things you hear outside are probably anything that LeBron (James) does when it comes to ESPN and what’s coming up next,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “It has been quiet from that sense. There’s other story lines right now but the season is just starting so there’s still a lot of time.”

“Everybody is pumping up all the other teams,” center Chris Bosh said. “I was actually thinking about that this morning, just on the journey that we’ve been on. When you’re trying to defend your title, everybody tells you why you can’t do it and why every body else can. It’s just something else that you fight through.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Good look at what might be facing OKC shooting guard Jeremy Lamb this season … Yao Ming‘s long-ago efforts to help end Chinese citizens’ consumption of shark fin soup is paying off … The Bucks are still trying to figure out what Giannis “The Alphabet” Antetokounmpo’s role is

ICYMI Of The Night: Jazz rookie Justin Holiday gets his welcome to the NBA moment in the preseason, courtesy of the Lakers’ Xavier Henry

JaVale McGee Eager To Rise In Stature

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Google “JaVale McGee” and you know as well as he what’s coming: “JaVale McGee Top 10 Stupid Plays.” A YouTube staple.

The most prominent photo is a close-up of the 7-foot center’s familiar scrunched face in full-on flummoxed mode, head slightly cocked, mouth half agape. It’s practically begging for someone to draw a giant question mark inside a cartoon cloud bubble over his head. Chances are Shaquille O’Neal — McGee being a favorite punch line during TNT’s studio show and its “Shaqtin’ A Fool” segment — beat you to it.

“People around the NBA really think that I’m dumb or stupid,” McGee said. “But people that know me know that I’m actually very intelligent. It doesn’t affect me at all.”

In fact, McGee, who goes by an alter ego called Pierre on his colorful Instagram and Twitter accounts, has big plans. With a new coach and a fresh slate this season in Denver, rising to All-Star-caliber-big-man status, he said, is within his grasp.

“Definitely,” McGee told NBA.com this week. “I feel like I’m extremely athletic, extremely fast, extremely agile for being a 7-foot big man and just need the right people behind me to be able to bring what has to come out to be a dominant center in the league. There’s a lot of things that haven’t even been [brought out] of my game that people haven’t even seen. So I just feel like this is going to be the season.”

McGee ready for increased role

That job belongs to rookie coach Brian Shaw, who replaced the fired George Karl, who inherited McGee in a trade and, judging by playing time (18.1 mpg last season), ultimately viewed McGee more as the goofball in those video clips than a potential game-changer. After McGee logged just 16 minutes in a late December game at Dallas, Karl explained: “I think he’s a really good, important player for us. But in the same sense, I’m going to play the guys who I think can help you win the game.”

In a real sense, the transitioning Nuggets, who awarded McGee a $44 million extension last year, chose McGee’s potential over Karl’s success. The revamped front office traded Karl’s favorite starting center, Kosta Koufos, and still doesn’t know if McGee will mesh with starting power forward Kenneth Faried (a Karl concern) or if McGee can thrive playing 30-plus minutes a night.

They just know they’ve got 44 million reasons to find out.

“I’m definitely getting that feeling from the coaches that I’m going to be more of an impact and getting more minutes,” said McGee, who enters his sixth NBA season and second full season in Denver after 3 ½ oddball years with Washington. “It’s really up to the coach as to how he wants to use me. It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

McGee, 25, is eager to get started. He returned to Denver earlier this month to begin working with Shaw and the new coaching staff. He said he sees an offense that will station him at the elbow to begin sets and will allow him to work the low post and also stretch the defense with a mid-range jumper he said the league has yet to really lay eyes on, but one, he added, he can drain from 17 feet and in.

Post play still a work in progress

He cedes that many fans might only recognize him for boneheaded plays on blooper reels gone viral, but he’s certain opposing players take a different viewpoint of his capabilities.

“With players, my reputation is of a guy that you don’t want to be caught running around with because there’s a high probability you’re going to get dunked on,” McGee said. “And my reputation is also a guy that you want to move the ball around in the air or else you’re going to get it blocked, basically.”

McGee can throw down a dunk and he almost led the league in blocks in 2010-11. Other areas are less refined. For example, he can be clumsy getting position in the low post, and when he gets the ball, he’s not yet ballerina-like with his footwork. But how many big men today are?

McGee has averaged 8.7 ppg on 54.2 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds over his first five seasons. He averaged a career-high 11.3 ppg and 7.8 rpg in 2011-12 split between Washington and Denver.

He dropped to 9.1 ppg and 4.8 rpg last season as Karl squeezed his minutes. The statistical website Basketball-Reference.com projects a 36-minute-a-night McGee to average 16.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 3.4 bpg. Those numbers would have put him in the top five in each category among centers last season. McGee said his goal is to average a double-double and two or three blocks a game.

“I definitely have post moves. I have a mid-range shot that I really never got to use my whole career in the NBA,” McGee said. “Coach Karl didn’t want his ‘bigs’ shootings at all. [Defenses are] probably going to leave me open for the mid-range, so I definitely got to take that shot.”

‘Just a big kid’ at heart

The shot getting plenty of attention recently is on a 20-second video clip that media outlets homed in on because, well, it’s JaVale being goofy again. The video shows McGee beating a pint-size kid at Pop-a-Shot, celebrating the victory and playfully proclaiming into the camera, “Who said I couldn’t shoot 3s?!”

It’s pretty funny, and harmless. It comes courtesy of McGee himself, posted on Instagram. He posts a lot of clips, all PG-rated, mostly fun-loving and all just very JaVale. Which also feeds into the goofball pipeline, one that can fill his social media pages with teases, jeers and worse, but also one for which McGee makes no apologies.

“I’m just a big kid, basically. I love to have fun,” McGee said. “I love being around positive people and making people smile. I don’t do anything malicious or anything in a negative manner. I’m all about positivity and making people smile is positive.”

When the goofiness and, yes the stupidity – how else to describe much of the YouTube montage? – invades his game, his coaches (he’s had four in five seasons) aren’t smiling. Those plays evidence a confounding selfishness and at times a perplexing obliviousness to game situations. The majority of those incidents happened with the hapless Wizards. A better situation, the belief goes, brings sharper focus. McGee touts his maturity and unselfishness last season by never complaining about playing time and accepting his role on a club that won 57 games.

“I’m definitely more mature than I was my first two or three years, but I actually was very mature last year. I just wasn’t really given the opportunity to really be what I could be,” McGee said. “But I feel like this coach has a lot more confidence in me.”

McGee must keep it by continuing to mature and by working hard to develop the tantalizing talent that often torments his own team. If not, his Google results will never change, his Twitter timeline will still fill with taunts and teases and Shaq will keep poking him on national TV.

“I don’t watch the shows,” McGee said. “Most of the time people will be at me on Twitter and stuff like that, but I just read it and move on and live my life. I tell you that a lot of the people that actually say something, they would pay anything to be in my position, and the fact that they do, that is actually a positive thing because there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

After Shaq splattered him on his “Shaqtin A Fool” segment, McGee reported his Twitter followers spiked.

The Nuggets would simply prefer a “JaVale McGee” Google search that no longer starts with a top 10 list of stupid plays.

Barnes Bulks Up For Small Ball





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Harrison Barnes wore his layer of new muscle in Las Vegas last week like a superhero wears his costume. He tried to act natural, like nothing had changed since the last time we saw him. But it’s hard to hide the obvious, especially when it’s 10 to 15 pounds of new muscle.

Barnes has bulked up considerably since his breakout showing against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals. With the addition of Andre Iguodala this summer, Barnes knows that the time he spent working at power forward in the Warriors’ small ball lineup could be a more common occurrence during the 2013-14 season.

So he had no choice but to go to work on his physique. The gains were on display throughout USA Basketball’s mini-camp for the Men’s Senior National Team, and specifically in the Blue-White Showcase (just ask Ryan Anderson).

Warriors coach Mark Jackson will have to sort out his rotation and find creative ways to use Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Barnes and Iguodala in a way that capitalizes on all of their individual talents. That could mean a sixth man role for Barnes or a position switch and perhaps another move, possibly even trading David Lee or Andrew Bogut to create more time for that smaller lineup.

A key piece of the Warriors’ core group, Barnes is prepared for whatever comes his way.

“I’ve really been working hard this summer to get ready for that,” Barnes said. “I’ve really been working on my body. I need to get used to the toll it takes down low, boxing out and rebounding with the bigger guys. [Denver's] Kenneth Faried definitely served as an inspiration and great guy to help prepare me for what it takes to play that position when you are considered to be undersized by people. But it’s like I said, I’ve been preparing for that change all summer.”

Thompson participated in the mini-camp, too. He acknowledged that changes that will come with Iguodala’s addition, and not just offensively.

“He’s going to help make us a stronger unit defensively,” Thompson said. “I think that’s the first thing that jumps out at you when you add him to our mix. We’ll adjust offensively. Coach Jackson can get creative with what he wants to do in that regard. Everybody will just have to wait and see what he comes up with.”

Watching Barnes work throughout the mini-camp and in that Blue-White game should be required viewing before any decisions are made. He played inside and out, ran the floor as well as anyone, guarded on the perimeter and in the paint and held his ground routinely against bigger guys. He scored 18 points in the game without any designed scheme to get him involved, which might be his best trait. He can adapt his game to whatever style of play the Warriors decide to utilize.

“The [USA Basketball] experience is great for me,” Barnes said. “It’s different for sure. But it’s kind of fun at the same time because you don’t have expectations for yourself. I don’t get game reps a lot at the [four], so I got to come out and here and just go on the fly. It was great, though. I’ve only had the chance to rock the USA on my chest one time, and that was in high school. So to come out here and get a chance to play against so many great players was fantastic.”

Barnes said he’ll take a similar approach to Warriors training camp. Instead of worrying about what he’ll have to sacrifice with the arrival of another player who will chew up minutes at small forward, he continue to focus on the positives and what it takes for him to be effective in whatever role he’s asked to fill.

“I don’t think it takes long for us to figure it all out as players,” Barnes said. “The best thing about Andre is he’s a great passer. And he’s got plenty of experience playing small ball. In my mind, our versatility is what’s going to set us apart. The fact that we’ll be able to play multiple guys at multiple spots is what will make us so dangerous, whether it’s me at the four and David Lee at the five or whatever it is we do against certain teams. We’ll have the advantage a lot of nights because we can match up basically with anybody.”

That was certainly the Warriors’ plan.


Irving And Davis Make It Clear They’re The Future Of USA Basketball

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LAS VEGAS – Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis likely had spots on next year’s U.S. National Team roster locked up before Thursday night. And if there was any doubt, the two former No. 1 picks likely removed it after their performance in the USA Basketball Showcase, a 128-106 victory for Irving’s White Team.

Irving got out in transition and sliced through the blue defense to the tune of a game-high 23 points (on just eight shots) and seven assists. He was the best player on the floor and made it clear that he’s not only a future National Team member but a star to watch in the upcoming NBA season.

“It’s a pick-and-roll league,” Damian Lillard said afterward, “and he’s really good at breaking guys down one-on-one. So if he has a pick-and-roll, a lot of times he has a big man in front of him and can take advantage of situations. When he gets that screen and has that big man on an island, he’s going to get around him and he can finish at the rim. When you have that type of handle and you can finish at the rim, that’s deadly.”

“I wanted to separate myself, somehow, from this group,” Irving said, “and show what I can bring to the team for next year.”

Playing alongside some other talented bigs, Davis looked like more of a stretch four on Thursday, showing off his ability to step outside and knock down jump shots. That might not be the role he plays with the National Team going forward, but he led the Blue Team with 22 points and seven rebounds. And after earning a gold medal as the 12th man on last year’s Olympic Team, he looks ready to take on a larger role for USA Basketball.

“As good as he was last year,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, “he’s just stepped it up another couple of levels. And that was exciting to see. He got better throughout the week and put on a heck of a performance tonight.”

This was not a great environment to evaluate anybody’s readiness for international basketball. The two teams played with the international 3-point line and with FIBA officials, but not in a hostile environment or against international defenses. The pace was ridiculously fast (more than 100 possessions each in 48 minutes), with no savvy international guards stopping the U.S. fast breaks with timely fouls. Playing Spain in Madrid for the World Cup gold medal next summer would be an entirely different experience.

So Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo won’t be putting extra emphasis on these 48 minutes when determining who will be in their pool of players for the next three years. In fact, what may be more important is what these young players learn from this week and bring to their NBA teams in the fall.

“This was just another day in the life of our group,” Colangelo said. “We’re going to have a lot of time to evaluate the entire week, the game included. And we’re going to be watching each and every one them during the course of the season, because we have a lot of time on our side before we go forward.”

Still, in addition to Irving and Davis, there were a few players who likely enhanced their stock on Thursday, most of them on the winning White Team. Kenneth Faried and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist used their endless energy to put up solid numbers in minimal minutes. Jrue Holiday filled the boxscore with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. And Mike Conley and Ty Lawson proved to be a cohesive point-guard combo on the White Team’s second unit.

For the Blue Team, Harrison Barnes showed that he’s got the skills to be a small-ball (or international) four man, while Greg Monroe was solid inside with an ability to play off talented ball-handlers.

All of the above will certainly get serious consideration when Colangelo and Krzyzewski create a new pool of 25-28 players in January. From that pool, teams for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics will be selected, though names can always be added or removed from the list. The pool will be made up of players that participated in this week’s camp, USA Basketball veterans, and a few other players who couldn’t participate this week.

“It’s a very fluid pool,” Colangelo said. “Guys are going to keep developing.”

The experience they gained this week will surely help them do that.

Young Stars Look To Make An Impression At USA Basketball Showcase

 

LAS VEGAS – Summer hoops continues Thursday on NBA TV (9 p.m. ET) with the USA Basketball Showcase, the culmination of a four-day mini-camp that brought 28 young players into the program that has won two straight Olympic gold medals and 50 straight games.

USA Basketball Showcase – Blue Team
No. Player Pos
46 Harrison Barnes SF
36 DeMarcus Cousins C
42 Anthony Davis PF
41 DeMar DeRozan SG
37 Derrick Favors PF
31 Gordon Hayward SG
22 Damian Lillard PG
62 Greg Monroe PF
34 Klay Thompson SG
51 Dion Waiters SG
26 Kemba Walker PG
50 John Wall PG

Twenty-four of the *28 players will take the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday, split into two teams that will be coached by Men’s Senior National Team assistants Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams.

* Not participating: College players Doug McDermott and Marcus Smart, as well as the Bucks’ Larry Sanders (who turned his ankle in a scrimmage on Tuesday) and the Wizards’ Bradley Beal (who is rehabbing a right fibula injury and has only participated in drills).

With only 40 minutes of game action, the average player will see less than 17 minutes of playing time, which might make it tough for some to make a strong impression on USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will be watching courtside.

But Colangelo and Krzyzewski won’t be making any roster selections in the wake of this mini-camp. The next step in the process will be to create a pool of 25-35 players from which to select teams for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain *and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. That won’t happen until next Spring at the earliest and they will be keeping tabs on the entire group during the course of the 2013-14 NBA season.

* If the U.S. wins gold in Spain next summer, they automatically qualify for the Olympics and won’t need to send a team to the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament. If they don’t win gold next summer, they’ll need to field a team in 2015 and finish in the top two at the FIBA Americas tournament to qualify for the Olympics.

USA Basketball Showcase – White Team
No. Player Pos
24 Ryan Anderson PF
20 Mike Conley PG
25 Andre Drummond C
33 Kenneth Faried PF
29 Paul George SF
27 Jrue Holiday PG
23 Kyrie Irving PG
35 DeAndre Jordan C
32 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SF
21 Ty Lawson PG
39 Chandler Parsons SF
28 Tyler Zeller C

That pool of 25-35 will be made up of USA Basketball veterans, players from this group and a few others that weren’t able to participate this week because of injuries. On Wednesday, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love — who each played in 2010 and 2012 — committed to playing next summer in Spain. And there will likely be other vets that join them.

So there are precious few roster spots available for the players at this camp. Many of them — though they’re stars with their NBA squads — will never play for the National Team. It’s a numbers game and Colangelo and Krzyzewski just have too much talent to choose from.

Of the 24 players who will see action on Thursday, three have the inside track to roster spots next summer. Paul George and Kyrie Irving are simply the best players in camp, while Anthony Davis has USA Basketball experience (at last year’s Olympics) and the skill set needed from U.S. bigs.

Seven of the 24, including Irving, are point guards, who could all be competing with Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams for roster spots down the line. Though point guards also play shooting guard in this system, the wings and bigs we see on Thursday certainly have a better shot of making it to Spain or Rio.

This is still a tremendous opportunity for everyone involved, including fans who want to see some high-quality, competitive hoops in the middle of the summer. There’s no better basketball being played in July and even if they aren’t eventually selected for the National Team, these players are making the most of their week in Vegas.

“You just try to take as much advantage of it as you possibly can,” Chandler Parsons said, “learn from it, take it back to your city and try to have a good season next year.”

New Crop Of Bigs Vie For USA Spots

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LAS VEGAS – In the last two Olympics, the starting forwards for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team were Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. In the 2010 World Championship, the starting forwards were Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala.

As the U.S. has gone undefeated in those three major competitions, they’ve started just one traditional big man — Dwight Howard in 2008, Lamar Odom in 2010 and Tyson Chandler in 2012 — and had just two others on their roster. Though the numbers made it clear last year that the presence of one of the bigs on the floor was critical, only two of them were in the rotation.

One of the two was Chandler, who is probably done playing international basketball. The other was Kevin Love, who was also on the roster in 2010 and could be back for next year’s World Cup in Spain.

At this point, more than 13 months before the World Cup tips off, absolutely nothing is set in stone. A couple of bigs that aren’t at this week’s mini-camp — Taj Gibson and David Lee — are still in the mix. So there could be as many as three and as few as one roster spot available for the 10 bigs that are here.

One of those 10 is Anthony Davis, who was the 12th man on last year’s Olympic squad. He was raw then, didn’t make a big impact as a rookie with the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans), and said this week that he’s not guaranteed a roster spot next summer. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had good things to say about Davis on Tuesday.

“He’s had some experience, real early, last year with us,” Colangelo said. “He observed and he learned a lot, just playing with the guys he did. I can see growth and experience and maturity already in him. And you can kind of project him out. He could be a tremendous shot-blocker in the international game.”

We’ll have to wait and see how Davis does in his second season in the league, but his experience, potential and skill set make him the likely frontrunner among this week’s group of bigs. With his athleticism, his ability to protect the rim on defense and finish at the rim on offense, he’s the prototypical USA Basketball big man. With stars in the backcourt and in those forward positions, those are the kinds of skills that are needed from the guys who will play the five spot.

Colangelo doesn’t want to think that specifically just yet. This week is just about seeing what guys bring to the table, and the selection process will wait until next summer.

“It depends on who your nucleus might be,” he said. “It’s way too early to know what our nucleus is. That’s why we have to continue to look at all the bigs. And then when the time comes, when we have to select those who we want to bring into camp next summer, it’ll be based on what kind of complementary players we have.”

It will also be based, in part, on how these guys do with their NBA teams next season. And since most of the group is so young – seven of the 10 are 23 are younger – one or more just might have a breakout year and prove to be better than Lee or Gibson by next July.

“Some of them just have more growing to do,” Colangelo said. “They’re young bigs. And of all the positions in basketball, it takes them longer to get where they can be.”

This is the first exposure to Colangelo’s program for most of this group of bigs. In addition to Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors were here last year as a member of the Select Team that practiced against the Olympic Team. But the rest are new.

The rest = Ryan Anderson, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Larry Sanders and Tyler Zeller.

Maybe one or two of those names might get a trip to Spain next year, because there’s a possibility that Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski take four bigs instead of three to the World Cup. Better safe than sorry, especially if one or two hasn’t played in a major international tournament before. For Krzyzewski, the lack of bigs on last year’s roster — a result of injuries more than anything — was a concern.

“We were actually really vulnerable in London, because Tyson was our only true center,” Krzyzewski told NBA TV before camp opened. “We were vulnerable in the fact that then we had to use LeBron, Carmelo and Kevin Durant as guys who would have to guard the fours and the fives. And since you only get five fouls, we were vulnerable in that one of those guys could get in foul trouble.”

So it’s good that they have a deep group here in camp this week. It’s a little difficult to envision any of the 10 as a starting center on a U.S. National Team, but things could certainly be different a year from now.

Projecting The West Playoff Order



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Adding Dwight Howard to a Los Angeles Lakers team that was one of the top teams in the Western Conference was supposed to vault the Lakers into the championship elite last summer.

It never happened. Howard and Steve Nash failed to move the needle for the Lakers, who had to claw their way to a seventh seed in the playoff chase, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

So please forgive me for not crowning the Houston Rockets prematurely. They’ve got Howard in the fold now, adding the best big man in basketball to an explosive core that includes All-Star James Harden and a solid supporting cast.

Legitimate playoff outfit?

Absolutely.

But contenders … not so fast my friends.

They should be in the mix. And as coach Kevin McHale told NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury, they should be able to “play with anybody.” Playing with the best and beating the best come playoff time, however, are two very different things. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who thought they had arrived last season and were disposed of in the first round of the playoffs.

We’ve already delivered our projections, based on what we know now, for the Eastern Conference playoff-chasers for the 2013-14 season. These are the projections for the Western Conference:

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

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Any suggestions that the Thunder would be better off without Russell Westbrook at the controls were answered in the playoffs. The Inside The NBA crew (above) knows as well as the rest of the NBA-watching masses. OKC was a shell of its regular-season selves without the All-Star point guard, who suffered a knee injury in their first-round series against Houston. Kevin Durant is a behemoth, the second best player in the league behind LeBron James, but no one superstar is going to climb the Western Conference mountain on his own. The Thunder are in a precarious position because all of their competitors seem to be making power moves to catch and surpass them. Without sufficient cap space to deal themselves, they have to rely on a rock-solid core group maintaining their respective positions. That means Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have to show better than they did in the playoffs. Reggie Jackson has to play a more prominent role this season and appears to be ready for that. And Jeremy Lamb has to move into a regular spot in the rotation as well. Rookie Steven Adams, the 12th pick in the Draft, is more of a project right now. But the Thunder don’t need him to be an impact player. Not if everyone stays healthy and Westbrook returns to form.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

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When training camp begins, the Spurs will probably still be answering questions about the championship they let slip away. Two 30-second intervals during Games 6 and 7 of The Finals got away from them and cost Tim Duncan title No. 5 and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili title No. 4. And make no mistake, that trio, and Duncan in particular, is the key to the Spurs getting back to that stage again. If Duncan can crank out another fountain-of-youth, All-NBA-type performance like he did this season, the Spurs have a shot to rule the Western Conference again. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green emerged during the playoffs as more than just young prospects. Leonard could be a legitimate All-Star candidate himself if he picks up where he left off in The Finals. The Spurs always find a way to mine the Draft and free agency for young talent to incorporate into their system. But they won’t need as much assistance with both Ginobili and Tiago Splitter sticking around in free agency. Keeping their biggest stars healthy and rested, something coach Gregg Popovich paid for dearly last season, is of the utmost importance. As long as they do that, a top-four spot in the playoff chase should be a given.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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With all apologies to Howard and even Chris Paul, the biggest fish of the free-agent summer of 2013 was coach Doc Rivers — not one of the players projected to be the big prize. The fact that Rivers was under contract for three more years in Boston when the summer began makes what the Clippers did even more remarkable. Not only do the Clippers get one of the best coaches in the game, they got a senior vice president of basketball operations who paid immediate dividends by keeping Paul in free agency and helped them add J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in trades. They had to move backup Eric Bledsoe and veteran swingman Caron Butler to make it happen, but they replaced him with Darren Collison. And they still have the key component from that explosive bench crew in Jamal Crawford, whose role could increase dramatically without Butler, Chauncey Billups or retired veteran Grant Hill in the mix. The one glaring issue they have is their frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They weren’t up to the challenge against the Grizzlies and it cost the Clippers in a first-round defeat. Are they willing to accept the challenge Doc will pose to them? He won’t allow them to be outworked on defense and will demand they show the toughness that has eluded them in the past.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

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Welcome to paradise Jeremy Lin. Now you can officially put Linsanity behind you and play the role of facilitator. The real superstars are on the roster now, as both Harden and Howard will be the opposition’s focus every night. Lin, Patrick Beverly and Chandler Parsons have clearly defined roles on this team before they ever hit the floor together in an official capacity. Howard makes life easier on all of the Rockets’ specialists and role players, not to mention his fellow starters. Guys like Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Greg Smith and even Omer Asik, should he stick around and back off his trade demand, will find out just how different life can be with a healthy, happy and motivated Howard operating in the middle. Despite two straight down seasons (by his own lofty standards), he still led the league in rebounding and looked like he had shaken off the ill effects of his back surgery. McHale has to pull this all together quickly to ensure these young Rockets don’t get swallowed up by the expectations sure to come with their newfound celebrity.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Adding Andre Iguodala essentially at the expense of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, two key veterans who gave the Warriors superior bench production and quality locker room leadership, might not seem like a steep price to pay for some. But when you already have Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes on the roster … let’s just say that is a luxury most teams wouldn’t indulge this early in the process of trying to build a contender. The Warriors showed us some serious flashes of being a big-time player in the Western Conference for years to come with the work they did in the playoffs. They had the Spurs plenty nervous in the conference semifinals. But their shortcomings came back to bite them in the end. And they didn’t solve those issues in the Draft or free agency. Andrew Bogut and David Lee will have loads of work to do this season, provided they both make it to training camp. Both of their names surfaced in trade rumors leading up to the Draft and through the first week of free agency. Lee is an All-Star and, when healthy, an absolute force. But Bogut, due to injuries, has only shown glimpses of what he’s capable of. And at this stage of his career, a $14 million spot starter is certainly not a luxury the Warriors can afford.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

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How important was Lionel Hollins to the Grizzlies during their run to the Western Conference finals? We’re going to find out this season. Because for all of the promise Dave Joerger brings to the position, there is no denying the impact Hollins made on Zach Randolph and reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. And even Hollins couldn’t get them in a comfortable groove against the Spurs. The Thunder proved that nothing is guaranteed from one season to the next, not with injuries and the race for the top spot being as competitive as it has ever been in the rugged Western Conference. Bringing this group — Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, too — back intact might not be sufficient for returning to the Larry O’Brien final four tournament. The Grizzlies didn’t have the flexibility to tinker with the roster in free agency. The one change they could have made that could shake things up was to replace Hollins. By doing so with a guy who is familiar with this roster gives them some advantage that a completely fresh face would not have recognized. It won’t take long to see if Joerger has a handle on those intangibles. And if he does, the Grizzlies will climb this list.

DENVER NUGGETS

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The Nuggets will survive a tumultuous offseason that struck three significant blows to a team that seemed to be on the rise before yet another first-round playoff exit. The NBA’s Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri, bolted for Toronto. The league’s Coach of the Year, George Karl, was relieved of his duties. And Iguodala is set to be signed and traded after agreeing to terms on that deal with the Warriors. That would normally be enough to knock a top team all the way back down to the lottery. The best move they’ve made so far this summer was hiring Brian Shaw to replace Karl. He’ll bring a steady hand to what was a shaky situation. The Nuggets will have an active and talented frontocurt rotation to work with in Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Darrell Arthur and free-agent pickup J.J. Hickson. Wilson Chandler will step in for Danilo Gallinari, who continues his recovery from knee surgery, and Evan Fournier, Corey Brewer and Randy Foye will provide depth on the wing. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller combined to form one of the league’s best 1-2 punches at point guard and they should be allowed plenty of freedom to operate in the system Shaw will employ. The Nuggets will continue to play at a tempo that suits their talent and home environment. They shouldn’t lose anything defensively either. Shaw isn’t the wild card that some of these other new coaches (Jason Kidd, Brad Stevens) could be in other situations. So don’t expect the Nuggets to crumble just because they’ve lost a few familiar faces.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

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No team endured more maddening injury issues this season than the Timberwolves. A healthy Kevin Love, however, changes their playoff outlook dramatically for the 2013-14 season. With their talent and dept, a legitimate run for the final playoff spot is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Ricky Rubio should be full healthy this season and the Timberwolves retained Chase Budinger, added Kevin Martin and have to do whatever it takes to keep restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic in the fold. Sure, it’s been a professional sports eternity since the Timberwolves last breathed playoff air (Kevin Garnett was still wearing the uniform in 2004). But coach Rick Adelman finally has the horses to make some serious noise. The franchise’s new head man, Flip Saunders, was the coach of that 2004 team that made the Western Conference finals, so he knows exactly what it takes for a Minnesota crew to cash in on its promise. It starts with Love and Rubio, their two biggest stars, staying healthy and playing up to their immense potential, both individually and as a dynamic duo.

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers

Serge Ibaka Now In Tourist Season

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TREVISO, Italy – He has mostly spent the offseason as a tourist, spending the majority of the last three weeks in Europe while trying to forget whatever that was that passed for the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs. Serge Ibaka has traveled a lot of roads, just not yet the road back.

Escaping reality? Ibaka has made it a point not even to watch the rest of the postseason on TV.

“It’s too difficult for me,” he said.

One year later, after starting for the Thunder in the Finals against Miami, one Russell Westbrook knee injury later, after the health concern that altered an entire conference, Ibaka was in northern Italy on Sunday for an appearance at the adidas Eurocamp, not playing the Heat in Game 2 in a championship-series rematch. Memphis, not Oklahoma City, went to the next round and San Antonio, not Oklahoma City, won the Western Conference crown, and so Ibaka went away. Left the country, the continent and, in the real trip, left the sport.

“I haven’t really stayed connected with basketball,” he said.

Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder takes a jump shot as he coaches players during adidas EUROCAMP.

Ibaka knows his approach cannot last forever and that he eventually has to return to the reality that, yes, the Thunder, a team that rightly considered itself a serious championship threat, a team that felt the experience of getting to the 2012 Finals had steeled it for a return to June, actually did lose in the second round.

Only now, Ibaka explained during a break in the camp, is he finally ready to get back to basketball.

“It changes the guys a lot because it makes us more hungry,” he said. “Everybody will be spending the summer working to come back strong for next season. It’s something we learn from our mistake and then try to get better. I can give you the example of myself. I can’t wait to get back and start working out. I’m going to be ready to help the team next year to another level.

“We learned. Of course. We learned something.”

Learned something?

“We just learned to be ready to play with any circumstance that can come,” Ibaka said. “We need to be ready. I don’t want to get an excuse about we lost some guys on our team. For next year, I think we’ll be ready. It will be really fun to see us play.”

For real head-spinning, though, all Ibaka had to do was look across the room. Kenneth Faried was also in attendance to speak with players, many of whom are hoping to get picked in the June 27 draft, the same Kenneth Faried who since the regular season ended in Denver with such high hopes for the future lost in the playoffs in the first round, lost general manager Masai Ujiri to the Raptors and then lost coach George Karl.

“I really have no comment for that,” Faried said. “It’s basketball. Stuff happens. It’s a business.”

Asked if he has talked to Karl, a coach he credits for helping in his early NBA development, Faried said, “No, I haven’t talked to anybody. I’m just kind of keeping to myself. I’ll just wait until I get back to Denver to hear everything.” He added he is not concerned about the sudden turnover around the Nuggets.

Nuggets Considering Lineup Changes

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DENVER – Coach George Karl, noting his team did not play with the necessary energy in Game 2, strongly indicated Wednesday the Nuggets will make one lineup change and possibly two when the series with the Warriors resumes Friday in Oakland.

Karl is “definitely thinking” about putting Kenneth Faried, who came off the bench Tuesday in his return from a sprained ankle, back in the opening lineup. It is a especially predictable move with the two days off before Game 3 giving Faried additional time to regain his stamina.

But the Nuggets are also weighing the possibility of benching center Kosta Koufos after his Game 2 of two rebounds, two fouls and zero points in 14 minutes.

Asked after Wednesday’s practice at the Pepsi Center how strongly he was considering the change at center in addition to the expected move with Faried at power forward, Karl said, “Probably enough to bet on it in Vegas.”

The Nuggets have several options to replace Koufos. They could promote JaVale McGee – Karl likes him with the second unit – or reach deeper into the bench for Timofey Mozgov. Or they could put Faried at center and hope his relentless energy compensates for giving up four inches to Golden State’s Andrew Bogut and keep Wilson Chandler at power forward.

No matter what, Karl wants to see increased energy in the wake of the 131-117 loss that tied the best-of-seven series at 1-1 with the next two games at Oracle Arena.

“What I told the team, I thought we played a regular-season game in a playoff intensity,” he said. “I think we’ll learn. We’ll learn that desperate teams are dangerous and desperate teams that shoot the hell out of the ball are really dangerous. I think we’re OK. I think we’re fine. I never thought this was going to be anything except a close series. Every game we’ve played has basically been a fourth-quarter (outcome) or a very small differential. The process depends on the momentum of the series. It changes back and forth. Now it’s our turn to change the momentum back when we go to Golden State.”

So why didn’t the Nuggets bring the proper energy?

“It’s not the proper energy,” Karl said. “I think we played hard. We just didn’t play playoff hard. There’s a difference. Desperation, urgent teams, it happens all the time. Chicago outworked Brooklyn the other night. I think we’ll learn our lesson and it won’t happen again.”