Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Love’

USA Basketball Showcase big for roster hopefuls


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 3

LAS VEGAS – Thursday was a light, no-contact day at USA Basketball training camp. On the fourth day of preparations for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Select Team was gone and the Senior Team just went through drills and shooting.

This was to make sure everybody was fresh for Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, an intra-squad scrimmage that could go a long way in determining who will still be with this team when it reconvenes in Chicago on Aug. 14 and who won’t.

“Tomorrow night,” USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday, “if somebody just knocks somebody out, in terms of performance, that’s big. That is a big factor. So, not to put pressure on anyone, but it’s one thing to practice, it’s another thing to play in games.”

Here are the rosters for the game, with the players’ potential positions for the National Team …

Pos Blue White
PG Derrick Rose Kyrie Irving
PG John Wall
1/2 Stephen Curry Damian Lillard
2/3 DeMar DeRozan Bradley Beal
2/3 Kyle Korver James Harden
2/3 Klay Thompson
3/4 Paul George Kevin Durant
3/4 Gordon Hayward Chandler Parsons
4 Kenneth Faried Paul Millsap
5 Anthony Davis DeMarcus Cousins
5 Mason Plumlee Andre Drummond

We won’t know the details of the roster reduction until Saturday at the earliest. Neither will the players, who’ve been left in the dark about their status all week. Colangelo, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and their staff will meet after the game, discuss and evaluate what they saw.

“This isn’t evaluating one individual and his game,” Krzyzewski said Thursday. “It’s about evaluating a group and how a group will go together. All these guys are outstanding players. It’s just a matter of how we feel they can mesh as a unit.”

The U.S. won’t necessarily cut the roster down to 12 when it departs for the Canary Islands (for four more days of training and an exhibition against Slovenia) on Aug. 23. They took extra bodies abroad in 2010 and could do so again.

“I’m not saying we are going to do that,” Krzyzewski said, “but we don’t have to have the 12 until the day before [the World Cup begins]. We’d rather have it done before, but we’ll see.”

Here’s how I believe the roster stands at this point …

The locks

There are six guys who, barring injury, will absolutely on the team as it opens pool play at the World Cup on Aug. 30. They are (in alphabetical order) …

Stephen Curry – Curry didn’t play big minutes on the 2010 team that won gold in Istanbul, but he’s blown up on the NBA level since. It looks like he’ll be the sixth man, though he could be a starter at either guard position.

Anthony Davis – The starting center and likely one of two guys who will play big minutes (around 30 per game, maybe more in the final). Though he barely played in 2012, his last-minute addition to that roster (due to a Blake Griffin injury) is turning out to be a blessing. That experience will go a long way.

“It’s one of those things,” Krzyzewski said Thursday, “where a really good thing happened even though something bad happened.”

Kevin Durant – Well, duh.

Paul George – The starting small forward alongside Durant. He’ll get the toughest perimeter defensive assignment.

James Harden – Likely the starting shooting guard, who will share playmaking responsibilities with Rose and Curry.

Derrick Rose – Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have been downright giddy about what they’ve seen from Rose this week. He’s looked strong and in control, and his jumper is better than ever. It would be a real surprise if he isn’t the starting point guard against Finland on Aug. 30.

The other point guard

Colangelo told USA Today on Wednesday that it would be hard to keep more than one “pure point” on the roster, and labeled Rose, Kyrie Irving and John Wall as the true points in camp.

So it seems clear that one roster spot will come down to Irving vs. Wall. Irving is the more dynamic one-on-one player, but Wall is the better passer and defender.

Also, while Irving (35.8 percent) was a slightly better 3-point shooter than Wall (35.1 percent) overall last season, Wall was much better on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Wall had a 3-point percentage of 43.1 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 60.8 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, while Irving’s numbers were just 32.1 percent and 46.0 percent. Opponents will pack the paint and hope the U.S. Team is having an off night from the perimeter, so catch-and-shoot skills should be more important than pull-up skills with this team.

The specialists

Colangelo has said that, beyond a core of seven or eight guys, you need specialists. Those specialists could be energy guys, defenders, shooters or big man insurance.

There are two guys that fit the bill better than anyone. And beyond the six locks above, I’d label them as the most likely to make the roster (though that doesn’t mean they’ll have big roles).

Kenneth Faried – He doesn’t seem to fit in international basketball, because he’s 6-8 and can’t shoot. But he has ridiculous energy and bounce, he can finish on the break and he will outwork guys on the glass. Krzyzewski can put Faried into the game for a few minutes at a time, tell him to wreak some havoc and be confident that he will make a positive impact.

Kyle Korver – You know why he’s here. But the league-leader in 3-point percentage won’t hurt you defensively. He’s improved quite a bit on that end of the floor over the years.

These guys have unique skills, and both can be trusted to happily accept a limited role.

The rest of the core

So, if there are six locks and a seven- or eight-man core, who makes up the rest of the core? Colangelo wouldn’t bite at that question, but said they’re pretty set on who it is.

“That’s been pretty consistent,” he said. “It just depends. Is the core group seven or is it eight?”

The best bet to be that seventh or eighth guy is Klay Thompson, a guy who can shoot and play a little D on the wing.

The other big

Oh boy. This tweet from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst really stirred up some stuff Thursday evening …

The DeMarcus Cousins/Mason Plumlee debate is fascinating, and it’s too early to say that any decision has been made regarding the two. In fact, it’s extremely likely that both Cousins and Plumlee (and all the other bigs) will continue with the team to Chicago and New York, so that the staff can see them against other teams.

“This is a camp that is a month long,” Colangelo said, “not five days.”

The stop in Chicago will include an exhibition against Brazil, which has the front line – Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao – that most closely resembles Spain, the team, if any, that the U.S. would plan for when building its roster.

But the U.S. doesn’t necessarily have to match up against the World Cup hosts. In fact, in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympics, the three U.S. bigs – Kevin Love (19), Tyson Chandler (9) and Davis – combined to play just 29 minutes against Spain.

Davis could play that many himself this year. And if the U.S. does face Spain in another gold medal game, the hosts would worry about matching up with the Americans (namely Durant) as much as the opposite. The only difference between 2012 and this year is that the U.S. had bulkier forwards (LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony), who didn’t give up as much size to opposing bigs, while forcing them to try to guard them on the perimeter.

Back to Cousins/Plumlee, and back to Krzyzewski’s quote above about how the team will “mesh as a unit.”

Cousins’ advantages over other bigs are reduced when he’s not a focal point of the offense. And when he’s playing with the likes of Rose, Curry, Harden and Durant, he’s certainly not going to be that. He’s not getting 10 (or even three) post-ups as a back-up center on this team. And he doesn’t have the end-to-end speed to play the style that has been successful for the U.S. over the last several years.

“The style we play lends itself to what Anthony does,” Krzyzewski said, “or even what a Plumlee is doing. A little bit of [Andre] Drummond.

“DeMarcus’ game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he’s trying to make it. But also, as he grows, we have to look and see ‘Is there something we can do to help in bringing something more out of his game?'”

For Colangelo, the Cousins/Plumlee decision is about continuity from the starters to the bench.

“If you want to play a certain style,” he said, “you need the personnel to play that way. Now, some guys don’t really fit that way, but if there’s enough reason to carry someone … we play differently when he’s in the game. You have to make an adjustment.”

Plumlee does what they like. He runs the floor, he’s active and vocal on defense, and he stays in his lane. He’s certainly not perfect – it could be bad news if he has to make decisions with the ball or shoot free throws – but his type is a better fit on this team, especially when you’re talking about a roster spot that will see limited playing time. And yes, Cousins’ temperament is always a factor.

Drummond is definitely still in the picture, so this could be a three-man race for that back-up center spot. And it’s a race that will likely go from Vegas to Chicago to New York.

“We’re going to take a long look at our bigs,” Krzyzewski said.

Paul Millsap is likely in competition with Faried for the smaller big man spot. Millsap offers better offensive skills and floor spacing, but in short bursts, it seems clear that Faried can make a more immediate impact. It should also be noted that Faried was on the original roster, while Millsap volunteered to come when Kevin Love dropped out.

The redundancies

In answering a question about Gordon Hayward on Thursday, Colangelo said, “We have a lot of redundancy at certain positions and body types and sizes,” and put Hayward in the same category with Chandler Parsons and DeMar DeRozan.

“This will be very competitive for a number of guys because of the redundancy,” Colangelo said. “You could go one way or another.”

If you go back to those catch-and-shoot numbers, Parsons (41.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes) was much better than DeRozan (34.0 percent) or Hayward (31.8 percent). He’s also a good playmaker, so give him the edge going into Friday night.

The other guards

Damian Lillard is thought of here as a one/two in the mold of Curry. And it’s hard to see them taking two of those. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he definitely won’t be in Chicago or that the staff doesn’t like him, but he seems the most likely to be done after Friday.

Bradley Beal has flown under the radar this week and is probably behind Thompson in the two/three consideration. But nobody should be eliminated from potentially being on the 15-man list before Friday’s Showcase.

The wild card

Colangelo told Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet that it’s not impossible for Love to ultimately be on the World Cup roster. Love withdrew from camp because of trade uncertainty, but again, the roster doesn’t have to be set until Aug. 29.

Cavs No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded on Aug. 23. So, it’s possible that Love could be dealt to Cleveland and then decide to play at the World Cup.

That could obviously send a bad message – that you can skip training camp and still play – to other U.S. players. But if it comes down to a decision between Kevin Love and Mason Plumlee, it may be difficult not to compromise your principles.

Predictions

So here’s a guess of what the roster will look like after it’s reduced this weekend, in the order they were addressed above …

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Anthony Davis
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Paul George
  5. James Harden
  6. Derrick Rose
  7. Kyrie Irving or John Wall
  8. Kyle Korver
  9. Kenneth Faried
  10. Klay Thompson
  11. DeMarcus Cousins
  12. Andre Drummond
  13. Mason Plumlee
  14. Chandler Parsons
  15. Bradley Beal or Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap or Irving/Wall

No. 15 will depend on what the staff thinks it needs and who played well on Friday. And the number of players going to Chicago doesn’t necessarily have to be 15.

T’Wolves need a king’s ransom for Love


VIDEO: Relive the Timberwolves’ top 5 alley-oops from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At this point in the process, if Kevin Love doesn’t end up trotting out for the starting lineup with LeBron James on opening night this season, it’ll be a true shocker.

We’ve crossed that threshold in this summer’s ongoing Love-to-Cleveland saga. The news that the Minnesota Timberwolves are dealing exclusively with the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We’re all agreed that the potential addition of Love pushes the Cavs over the top in the Eastern Conference, at least on paper, when you have a three-man All-Star core of James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.

But what does Love’s departure mean for the Timberwolves? Losing Love doesn’t put them in any more of a precarious position than they are in right now. They didn’t make the playoffs with him and won’t be considered a playoff factor without him in the rugged Western Conference. Not with Ricky Rubio leading a young cast that better include Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, along with their own youngsters (including HT faves Gorgui DiengZach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III) in yet another rebuilding effort.

It took a while, but I’m on board with this deal getting done, and sooner rather than later. LeBron gets what LeBron wants. And if he wants Love on his side, it shall be. (My golden rule on players remains, though. So Love comes with a clarification sticker: If you cannot take your team to the playoffs as the No. 1 option, you’re either a No. 2 or a No. 3 option.)

All that said, Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders would be wise to hold out for a king’s ransom for Love, given what the franchise has gone through since the last time they traded away the face of the franchise. Oh yeah, today is the anniversary of the 2007 trade that saw Kevin Garnett relocate to Boston where he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win a championship and help revive the Celtics.

It’s been that long, and more, since the Timberwolves were involved in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference (they haven’t made the postseason since 2004). They traded Garnett to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks (one of which was acquired in a trade with Minnesota a year prior). The deal marked the largest NBA trade ever for one player, and in hindsight it still wasn’t enough.

Jefferson, an All-Star caliber big man and franchise building block now in Charlotte, wasn’t ready to step into Garnett’s shoes back then. For all of his spectacular skills, Love hasn’t been up to that task either. Timberwolves fans have had to suffer through numerous restarts and regime changes since Garnett’s departure and none of them have worked.

Anyone who tells you they are convinced Wiggins, Bennett and that future first-round pick Saunders will get from the Cavs for Love will spark the revival the Twin Cities have been waiting on is delusional. It won’t happen anytime soon, and certainly not in time to take the sting off of seeing Love compete for a championship as soon as his first season away from Minnesota.

And if Love is the transcendent talent so many believe him to be, his presence alongside LeBron and Kyrie should result in the Cavs being the cream of the Eastern Conference crop immediately (above or at least alongside Indiana and Chicago).

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, will have to endure yet another round (or two … or three) of blueprints for what has turned out to be a seemingly never-ending franchise rebuild.

This isn’t news to Saunders, whose roots in the organization (and Minnesota overall) run deep. He knows better than anyone the pressure the Wolves will be under until Love is dealt … and then again after Love is gone. One dreadful, non-playoff season blends into another and before you know it, a decade (or more) has passed without the postseason.

And that’s why Saunders should squeeze every ounce of whatever he can from the Cavs in this deal. Make them pay for the right to add Love. A king’s ransom isn’t too much to ask for now.


VIDEO: Check out the Timberwolves’ top 10 plays from last season

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Day 2 of Team USA’s practice

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love talks narrowed to Cavs | George: Pacers should have won title | Rose draws rave reviews in Vegas | Scott could have coached Lakers earlier

No. 1: Report: Wolves working solely with Cavs on Love deal – The Denver Nuggets. The Boston Celtics. The Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Cavaliers. At various points this offseason, those four teams — and perhaps others — have been involved in talks to acquire Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love. That list has apparently been narrowed to just Cleveland as a seemingly inevitable pairing of Love with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving grows closer. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, who first reported this bit of news, have more:

The Minnesota Timberwolves were engaged in serious Kevin Love trade talks with no teams other than the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, adding to the growing belief around the NBA that Love teaming up with LeBron James is inevitable, according to sources briefed on the situation.

After ESPN.com reported last week that the Cavaliers remain the front-runners to acquire Love in a trade co-headlined by No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, sources this week have described the Cavs as the only team in contention for Love. Sources say the Chicago Bulls have become increasingly pessimistic about their chances of trumping Cleveland’s offer, while the Golden State Warriors remained unwilling to bend on their longstanding refusal to surrender Klay Thompson in a deal for Love.

Wiggins is not eligible to be dealt until Aug. 23 after signing his rookie contract last week, but numerous league insiders — some of whom are gathered in Las Vegas for this week’s Team USA training camp — have begun to describe a Love-to-Cleveland trade as a “when” transaction as opposed to an “if.”

The expectation remains that the Wolves will emerge from this saga with no less than Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick from the Cavs in exchange for Love before August is out.

ESPN.com reported last week that the Bulls had re-emerged as a serious suitor for Love, despite the fact they had a few more trade assets to offer Minnesota before last month’s NBA draft. But sources said this week that Chicago essentially has conceded to the Cavs, knowing it can’t furnish a player with both Wiggins’ superstar potential and his favorable rookie-scale contract.

The Wolves also signed veteran guard Mo Williams this week, making fellow vet J.J. Barea — who sources say Minnesota is determined to offload as part of a Love deal — more available. It’s believed the Wolves hope to convince Cleveland to take Barea as part of a Love trade or find a third team to absorb Barea’s expiring contract.

The Warriors conceivably could still give Cleveland something to worry about if they suddenly put Thompson on the table while the Cavs are waiting for Wiggins to become trade eligible, but sources say Taylor prefers a package headlined by Wiggins to a Thompson-led haul for Love.

*** (more…)

His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By Joe Boozell, NBA.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: Love posts a triple-double versus Memphis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: Love drains eight three-pointers against the Spurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Love’s knuckle pushups, twist of fate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: News on Kevin Love

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Love‘s passive-aggressive ploy to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves and get to “a place that I can win,” will happen, although likely not until at least Aug. 23 when the Cleveland Cavaliers can, under NBA rules, trade their newly signed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins can’t be traded for 30 days after signing his contract, which he did Thursday. It instantly put a halt on a Minnesota-Cleveland trade (at least in terms of making one official before then). It also compelled Love, a three-time All-Star, to pull out of Team USA — on grounds of injury risk and scuttling a potential trade — which is now gathered in Las Vegas and will compete in the World Cup in Spain.

Other than missing out on the trip abroad, this does feel like a fortuitous Summer of Love in the making. LeBron James‘ surprise return to Cleveland opened the door for Love to walk in as a supporting star rather than a leading man somewhere else. Nobody imagined a LeBron-Love coupling before James’ announcement on July 11, and what could be more attractive to Love, who had already, it seemed, mentally checked out of Minnesota?

While attending a video game conference in Los Angeles on June 11, Love, who played at UCLA and has long been thought to want to play for the Lakers, was asked about joining the purple and gold. Above all, he said, he wants to go to where he can win. In the same interview with Fox Sports, Love was asked the Wolves’ chances for making the playoffs next season. His answer, whether conscious of his wording or not, clued everybody into his state of mind: “If they’re healthy,” Love said, “they can do a lot of damage.”

The omission of “we’re and “we” was easily interpretable as Love viewing himself as a free agent and not a player under contract next season with the Wolves for $15.7 million. Imagine the firestorm had Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard committed such a gaffe.

And what of Love suggesting the Wolves, if healthy of course, “can do a lot of damage?” If it’s true without him, what’s their potential with him? Seems exactly the situation Mr. Double-Double desires.

Since that interview, Love has gone silent. His representatives, citing a scheduling conflict, pulled him out of a July 13 celebrity softball game prior to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The likelier conflict had more to do with a questioning Minneapolis-St. Paul media and a predictably hostile hometown greeting.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess, starting with the franchise’s bungling of Love’s contract extension in January 2012. Owner Glen Taylor and former general manager David Kahn refused to give Love the maximum five years he wanted and offered four, adding a player option after Year 3. Management’s unwillingness to commit angered and offended Love.

Love, meanwhile, has gone diva. Some fans sympathize with his dealing of years of organizational dysfunction. Mostly, the Minnesota fans have soured on him and his tactics. If current team president and coach Flip Saunders somehow doesn’t do a deal prior to the start of the season, there’ll be some awkward moments at Target Center.

History will show that Love’s botched contract to his now distancing from the franchise are only the bookends in a string of unfortunate events that truly sabotaged an era centered around Love and point guard Ricky Rubio before it could begin in earnest.

The year 2012 will go down as a debilitating one. Six weeks after Love’s contentious contract, Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee. He played just 41 games in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, a promising rookie start in which he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists. He wouldn’t return until Dec. 15 of the 2012-13 season, but the injury, admittedly, rattled Rubio and severely curtailed his progress.

The death knell for the anticipated 2012-13 season, however, occurred well before Rubio’s return. In October, Love broke his right hand while away from the team’s facility. How did it happen? The team announced he broke it doing knuckle pushups at home. As odd as it may seem for a basketball player to include knuckle pushups as part of his workout routine, Love claimed he had always done them.

He missed three weeks of the season, less time than anticipated. But in his 18th game back, Love broke the hand again. The Wolves were only 9-9 with him, but Rubio had just come back and there was optimism. Now Love’s season and the Wolves’ playoff hopes were done.

Team dynamics became more complicated when then-coach Rick Adelman left a team besieged by injury for stretches starting in January 2013 to tend to his wife, who was seeking medical answers related to unexplained seizures. Adelman contemplated retirement after the season, but returned. Minnesota continually lost close games and numerous times failed frustratingly to scratch above .500.

We’ll never know what might have been if Love had gotten a five-year deal, or if he had never taken up knuckle pushups, or if Rubio had never torn his ACL.

And now Love seems determined not to explore what still could be in Minnesota.

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers visits China

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott | USAB roster vulnerable without Love? | Turner and Celtics find perfect fit in each other | Finding Gregg Popovich in the summer

No. 1: Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott: — It absolutely took forever for the Los Angeles Lakers to find what they feel is the best fit for their new coach. And there’s good reason for it. Had things played out differently in free agency, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony might have had a say (along with Kobe Bryant, of course) in who replaced Mike D’Antoni. That’s not saying it would not have been Byron Scott. But there is no guarantee. Ultimately, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com points out, the Lakers got the right man for the job:

It was no secret that if they ended up pulling off a coup and landing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or both, they wanted to entice the superstars to come by letting them have a say in who would coach them.

All the while, however, they kept Scott in the loop, bringing him back for a second interview June 10 prior to free agency and then again for a third talk July 16 after the Anthony/James dream had died and L.A. instead filled up its roster with the likes of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis.

Which brings us to the second question that needs to be asked: Why Byron?

It wasn’t just about his ties to the Showtime era, but that surely helped. It wasn’t just that he was around the team all last season as an analyst for the Lakers’ television station, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and had an intimate knowledge of what went down, but that helped too.

The Lakers franchise also wanted to establish a clear defensive identity after being atrocious on that end of the court last season, and Scott’s credentials include a strong defensive-minded reputation.

But really, the Scott hire comes down to one man: Kobe Bryant. L.A. invested close to $50 million in Bryant over the next two seasons when he’ll be 36 and a 19-year veteran and 37 and a 20-year veteran.

Despite all that’s gone wrong in Laker Land since Phil Jackson retired in 2011, Bryant still remains as a box office draw and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Whichever coach the Lakers decided on would have to mesh well personalitywise with Bryant first and foremost and, beyond that, play a system that would help Bryant continue to be productive even as Father Time is taking his toll.

It was no accident that Bryant publicly endorsed Scott for the job during his youth basketball camp in Santa Barbara, California, earlier this month.

“He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league,” Bryant said. “So I had to do things like get his doughnuts and run errands for him and things like that. We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years. So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I’ve always been a fan of his.”

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Top 10 stat lines of 2013-14

By Jon Hartzell, for NBA.com

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Look near the benches after an NBA game, and you’ll see the floor littered with stat sheets. These white pieces of paper usually show pretty unremarkable lines and instead are used to assess the team as a whole. But on some nights, individual stat lines stand out from the rest and allow us to see who is truly outstanding.

Here are the top 10 stat lines of the 2013-14 regular season:

10. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors


VIDEO: Terrence Ross drops 51 points in a loss to the Clippers

January 25, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA) and nine rebounds

No one expected Terrence Ross to score 51 points. No one expected him to score 40. Or 30. Going in to this game against the Clippers, the second-year guard’s career high was 26 points. He shattered this mark, connecting on 10 of 17 3-pointers, which is the second-most 3-pointers made in a 50-point game in NBA history (Stephen Curry - 11, 2013). Unfortunately for the sold-out Toronto crowd, the Raptors lost to the Clippers 126-118 despite the career night from Ross.

9. Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets


VIDEO: Denver’s Timofey Mozgov nabs a 20-20 game against the Warriors

April 10, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors – 23 points (10-for-15 FG), 29 rebounds and three assists

Speaking of the unexpected … how about Timofey Mozgov? Prior to this game, Mozgov collected more than 15 rebounds just twice during his four-year career and scored more than 20 points only five times. He did both on this Thursday night to became just the third player to collect 23-plus points and rebounds and shoot 60 percent or better since 1985-86, joining distinguished big men Dikembe Mutombo and Charles Oakley. Mozgov’s career-night led the short-handed Nuggets to a 100-99 victory at Oracle Arena.

8. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant erupts for 51 points against the Raptors

March 21, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors – 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 7-for-12 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and seven assists

Kevin Durant‘s fourth-career 50-point game came during a double-overtime thriller in Toronto. Durant rallied the Thunder (who lost Russell Westbrook to injury during the third quarter) and hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in double-OT. This stat line marked his 34th straight game with 25 or more points and placed him in company with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only players to collect 50-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and seven-plus assists in a game since 1985-86 (Jordan, of course, did it twice). Durant scored 38 of those 51 points in the second half of OKC’s 119-118 win.

7. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: A red-hot Kevin Love drops in 45 points against the Clippers

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

High-point, high-rebound games are nothing new for Kevin Love. The rebound machine has notched a game with 30 or more points and 15 or more rebounds 27 times in his career. This game is unique, though. His 45 points are the second-most he’s ever scored and he did it while shooting 65.2 percent. When you add in the 19 rebounds and six assists, this stat line becomes remarkable. Love is just the fourth player in the past 40 seasons to record 45-plus points, 19-plus rebounds and six-plus assists in a game and the first since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1996.  However, the Timberwolves lost 120-116 in L.A.

6. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: Corey Brewer has 51 points as the Wolves hold off the Rockets

April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets – 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FGA) and six steals

Kevin Love wasn’t the only player in Minnesota putting up monster stat lines. Corey Brewer joined the party near the end of the season with an exceptional all-around game that saw him collect 51 points and six steals. Brewer certainly benefited from the lackluster defense of James Harden to score his 51 points. But no player in the NBA is bad enough on defense to allow 50-plus points simply because of their deficiencies. Scoring outbursts like that require impressive offensive displays, no matter the defender, and Brewer provided one. He joins Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry as the only players to gather 50-plus points and six-plus steals in a game since steals became an official statistic in 1973-74. The Timberwolves defeated the Rockets 112-110.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant crosses the 30-point plateau for the 10th straight game

January 25, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 32 points (12-for-17 FG, 7-for-7 FT), 14 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals

The lone triple-double on this list was a special one for Durant. He was the first player since 1985-86 to collect 30-plus points, 14-plus rebounds, 10-plus assists and two-plus steals while shooting 70 percent or better. He did it against the hapless Sixers, yes. But this game marked Durant’s return from a shoulder injury and extended his streak of 30 or more points to 10 games. He continued this run for six more days before it was snapped against Brooklyn at 12 games. This streak is the fourth longest run of 30 or more points in NBA history and the longest since Tracy McGrady powered through 14 games in 2003. (Wilt Chamberlain‘s 65-game streak appears to be safe.) The Thunder defeated the Sixers 103-91.

4. LeBron James, Miami Heat


VIDEO: LeBron James torches the Bobcats (and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) for 61 points

March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA), seven rebounds, four assists

LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world, arguably played the best game of his career on an early-March night in Miami against Charlotte. And he wore a mask. James collected 61 points against a defensively strong Bobcats (now Hornets) squad to set a career and Heat-franchise scoring record. He set career highs for points in a quarter (25) and FGs in a game (22) and tied his career-high for 3-pointers (8).  His field goal percentage (66.7) was the highest in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal scored 60 points on 68.6 percent shooting in 2000. Think Miami will miss this guy? The Heat defeated the Bobcats 124-107.

3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony nets 62 points in a romp of the Bobcats

January 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA) and 13 rebounds

This is what happens when Carmelo Anthony is efficient. The talented scorer set a career-high, New York Knicks-high and Madison Square Garden-high with 62 points on an incredible 65.7 percent overall and 100 percent from the free-throw line. Anthony had 56 points after three quarters and added 13 rebounds just for kicks to join Jordan, Shaq, David Robinson and Karl Malone as the only players to collect 60-plus points and 13-plus rebounds since 1985-86. He also scored the most points without a turnover since turnovers were first recorded in 1977-78. Oh, and New York won 125-96.

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans


VIDEO: Anthony Davis puts up a 40-point, 21-rebound performance against the Celtics

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

Look at that stat line and remember, Anthony Davis is just 21. Granted, this game went into overtime, so Davis played a full 48 minutes. But Davis became the youngest player since O’Neal to record a 40-point, 20-rebound game and the fourth-youngest in history to accomplish the feat. Add in his 12-for-12 shooting from the free-throw line and three blocks and you have a stat line that has rarely been seen in NBA history. For good measure, the Pelicans won 121-120.

1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers


VIDEO: Chris Paul dominates the Warriors with an epic performance

October 31, 2013 vs. Golden State Warriors – 42 points (12-for-20 FG, 16-for-17 FT), 15 assists and six steals

Apparently, no one told Chris Paul to save his best for last. The All-Star point guard erupted for this historic stat line on Halloween, during the Clippers’ second game of the season. He’s the first player to record at least 40 points, 15 assists and 5 steals in a game since steals were first recorded in 1973-74 and joins James and Iverson as the only players to collect 40 points and 15 assists in the past 20 seasons. This remarkable night for a remarkable player should go down as the best stat line of the 2013-14 season. (And, the Clippers won, 126-115.)

USA loses Love to trade uncertainty


VIDEO: Where might Kevin Love fit best next in the NBA?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kevin Love‘s desire to find a new team will have an effect on the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

USA Basketball announced Saturday morning that Love won’t be participating for the National Team this summer, because of “his current status.” It’s safe to assume that Love expects to be traded in the near future and doesn’t want to risk injury.

His decision leaves the USA with 18 players in training camp, which is set to begin Monday in Las Vegas. Among them are only four true big men: DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Kenneth Faried. Blake Griffin withdrew on Friday.

The U.S. carried just three true bigs on its gold-medal-winning rosters in 2008, ’10 and ’12. And they rarely had more than one on the floor at any time, with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant usually playing power forward. So, from a number-of-bodies standpoint, they’re still OK. But Love gave them an ability to put five 3-point shooters on the floor at one time. Davis’ mid-range game has improved quite a bit, but he isn’t the perimeter threat Love is.

The frontline will also be a concern for a potential gold-medal-game matchup with Spain. Barring a last-minute injury, the World Cup hosts will have NBA bigs Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Victor Claver on their roster.

Davis, who was the 12th man on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, now seems like a lock to be the starting center and, along with Durant, a team leader in minutes. Frontline depth is clearly an issue, as Drummond, Faried and Cousins all have no senior-level international experience. Unless Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler come to the rescue, any last-minute additions to the roster would be similarly inexperienced.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said last week that he hopes to cut the roster down to “about 15″ players after next week’s camp in Las Vegas. If he feels like he needs to bring another big for exhibition games in Chicago and New York, he could dip into the Select Team roster, which includes Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee and Cody Zeller.

The situation is reminiscent of 2010, when, before the first day of training camp was over, three bigs were crossed off the list. Robin Lopez decided to continue rehabbing a back injury, the Knicks wouldn’t allow Amar’e Stoudemire (who had no insurance on his new contract) to participate, and David Lee was lost to a finger injury. Brook Lopez (recovering from mono) was later knocked out, and the U.S. went to Turkey with Chandler, Love and Lamar Odom as its bigs.

That year, the U.S. relied on defense, Durant, speed and shooting to win the World Championship. The formula should be the same this time around, but the last category took a hit on Saturday and the margin for error is now thinner than it was four years ago.