Posts Tagged ‘Kyrie Irving’

Thompson’s breakout summer?


VIDEO: Klay Thompson discusses USA’s win over Lithuania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. trounces Lithuania 96-68


VIDEO: U.S. uses big third quarter to rout Lithuania

BARCELONA — Any team with designs on knocking off the U.S. National Team before it gets to Madrid and collects gold here at the FIBA World Cup better be ready for the wave.

That wave would be a star-studded second unit capable of generating as much energy and plenty of production on any given night.

Klay Thompson lit the flame in Thursday’s 96-68 semifinal win over Lithuania, carrying the U.S. early, before a quick 10-0 run after halftime turned a tight game into yet another rout at Palau Saint Jordi.

With James Harden and Stephen Curry struggling with their shots, fouls and defense, Thompson served as the emotional spark the U.S. needed to avoid the upset bug that bit Spain a night earlier in a quarterfinal in Madrid. He had 14 points by halftime, when the U.S. held a 43-35 lead, and was locked in on defense from the moment he hit the floor.

He helped turn what was supposed to be the toughest test of the competition, to date, into a laugher minutes after halftime. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski was the first person up off the U.S. bench at the dead ball that ended that 10-0 run, fist-pumping his team’s energy and effort during yet another break out stretch.

The U.S. has had one in each and every game they’ve played throughout this competition, overwhelming the opposition at one point or another with their athleticism, speed, length and defensive intensity.

“We’re relentless,” Kenneth Faried said. “We’re relentless.”

That’s exactly what they were during that third quarter run, which ran all the way up to 18-2 and eventually knocked out a Lithuanian team that has historically played the U.S. tougher than most, dating back to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

But once the U.S. got rolling, there was no chance this one stayed close. Thompson finished with 16 points. Harden matched his 16, all of them coming during that burst after halftime. Curry added 13 and Kyrie Irving led the U.S. with 18, giving Faried and Anthony Davis a night off, at least in the scoring department.

“It had nothing to do with energy,” Irving said of the U.S. second half blitz. “Whatever is needed, we make the necessary adjustments and then just try and go for the win.”

Sunday’s gold medal game (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Madrid is an opportunity for this team to make history by allowing the U.S. to become  just the third country to repeat as World champions. Brazil (1959 and 1963) and Yugoslavia (1998 and 2002) are the others

That marquee matchup between the host nation team and the team filled with NBA stars was hijacked Wednesday night when France upset Spain 68-52 in the quarterfinals in Madrid. Sunday’s final won’t have that sizzling subplot, but that’s not something the U.S. contingent seems to care much about.

They avoided talking about Spain for weeks, no matter how many different ways people tried to get them to address the topic. Now they’ll get to two days to prepare for either France or Serbia, who square off in the other semifinal Friday night in Madrid.

Faried, U.S. bigs ‘ready for whatever’

(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The big men for Team USA have key to its success in the World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

BARCELONA — Playing the underdog is one thing.

But being disrespected?

That’s something U.S. National Team forward Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets) cannot tolerate. Not at home and certainly not on the other side of the world here in the FIBA World Cup.

Faried took offense to the suggestion that the U.S. big men — he and Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee — will no longer dominate the opposition now that they are down to their final two games of this competition.

“Massively direspectful,” Faried said after practice Wednesday at Palau Saint Jordi when it was suggested that the dominant run for the U.S. bigs was over. “We’ll have to see tomorrow, I guess.”

Lithuania’s frontline, led by Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors), is next up in Thursday’s semifinal. And Brazil and Spain, with their deep frontcourts loaded with NBA big men could await in the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

The battle of bigs Thursday, though, is first up on the priority list. And Lithuania, unlike quarterfinal victim Slovenia Tuesday night, had no answers for Faried, Davis and the crew.

The U.S. dominated the offensive boards (23) and controlled the action as a result of their relentless work on the boards early.

“Coach definitely wants all the bigs to get offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and wants every rebound to be ours so they only get one shot,” Davis said. “So that’s what me, Kenneth, DeMarcus, Rudy (Gay), that’s all we try to do; Andre and Mason, just try and get every rebound.”

Valanciunas had grabbed 13 in Lithuania’s quarterfinal win over Turkey, outworking Omer Asik (New Orleans Pelicans) en route to a monstrous rebounding performance.

“He’s, so far, going to be the best low-post presence that we’ve faced,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He gets a piece of the paint in numerous ways. And he’s a great offensive rebounder. Not a good one, but a great one. And I think he’s a tough guy to match up with. Just the opposite when you’re trying to match up on the perimeter when their bigs take you outside. Thes guys take you inside and trying to outrebound them will be a challenge for our team.”

A challenge Faried says he and his U.S. counterparts are more than ready for.

“He’s a good big, and he’s going to be a force down there,” he said of Valanciunas. “But we’re ready for him. We’re ready for whatever.”

Coach K mum on Deng, Ferry

Krzyzewski said that he would rather not comment on the goings on back home involving two of his former players at Duke, Miami Heat forward Luol Deng and Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who are at the center of controversy involving racist comments Ferry uttered on a conference call earlier this summer.

Ferry has been disciplined internally by the Hawks and Deng has already released his statement in response to the firestorm Ferry’s statement caused.

“I’m not up to date or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I am not abreast … I’m just not there, so I don’t want to comment on anything that I don’t know anything about. I don’t know much about it … so I’d rather not comment on it.”

Splash Bros to the rescue

If one Splash Brother struggles, you can count on the other to pick up the slack. Klay Thompson‘s 20-point performance in the win over Slovenia came on the heels of Steph Curry‘s 20-point effort in Saturday’s win over Mexico.

Thompson has stepped up to any and all defensive challenges as well, digging in on opposing perimeter players and showing himself to be a more than capable one-on-one stopper for a U.S. team that didn’t necessarily have a specialist to fill that role, at least on paper.

“Klay has been a consistent high-level performer for us,” Coach K said. “He’s just doing what he does in the NBA, and that’s being an outstanding player. He can hit shots but he can really play defense. We knew that when we started trials that he would be a valuable, valuable … A number of these guys are like having starters in there all the time, but Klay has accepted his role really well.”

U.S. crushes Slovenia, rolls into semifinals


VIDEO: Team USA rolls into semifinals with rout of Slovenia

BARCELONA — Spain has supplanted the U.S. National Team as the trendy pick to win gold here at the FIBA World Cup.

Everybody from TNT’s very own Charles Barkley to members of the teams the U.S. crushes on their way to Thursday’s semifinal have chimed in and sided with the host nation Spaniards.

After the U.S. used one of the their trademark blitzes to run Slovenia off the floor at Palau Saint Jordi 119-76 in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic weighed in with his belief that Spain is indeed the favorite.

That’s fine with the stars on the U.S. team, whose refusal to panic when things are tight early has become a hallmark for this bunch. Starters James Harden and Steph Curry were scoreless at halftime and the lead was just 49-42.

Not a problem. Not when Klay Thompson (20 points) and Derrick Rose (12) are your “backups.”

A swift 18-5 third quarter run later and the U.S. was off to the races, cashing in with its 61st straight win in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international competition, and one step closer to that date with Spain in Sunday’s gold medal game in Madrid.

“I thought we played really hard the whole game and we just couldn’t finish in the first half some of those plays,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and then they stayed with it and then the floodgates opened in the second half.”

The U.S. faces Lithuania, a 73-61 winner of Turkey in Tuesday’s first game, Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.

They’ll do so having played arguably their best game, so far, of the competition. They stroked Finland by 59 points in their opener last week in pool play. But beating Slovenia down was a tougher task.

“It was tough. They are a really good team,” Harden said. “They kind of slowed us down in the first half, dictated the tempo. Coach talked to us at halftime about playing our brand of basketball and how we like to play. And we came out with that intensity.”

Harden did heat up, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter. Kenneth Faried finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Anthony Davis 13 and 11. The depth the U.S. boasts is like no other team in this competition, not even a seasoned Spanish team.

Rose, in particular, had his teammates fired up.

“You [saw] him,” Harden said of Rose. “He looked amazing. He’s so quick and athletic, the way he followed the holes and finished … he made some amazing passes tonight. He was phenomenal.”

While it certainly helped having Thompson in a groove from the start on both ends, Rose needed a push. With the Coach K mandate that he play with a green light, Rose was as aggressive as he’s been offensively at any point in the tournament.

Rose was just 8-for-37 shooting before Tuesday, so whatever color his light was prior to seeing Slovenia, is anyone’s guess.

“It eased me a little bit,” Rose said. “Gave me a lot of confidence. I’m not lacking in confidence, but when the head coach tells you to go out there and be aggressive it makes you think in another way. Coach gave me that green light and said go out there and play the way I play. Don’t worry about getting other guys involved … I felt good.”

On a team that is suddenly dealing with an underdog status, at least here in Spain, Rose, Thompson and some of these other elite reserves are finding a rhythm at just the right time.

Just in time for Thursday’s semifinals and then on to Madrid, where the underdogs might finally have their say about who should really wear the favorite’s tag.

World Cup stint helps Irving hone leadership skills

Kyrie Irving is learning a lot in Spain (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images).

Kyrie Irving continues to hone his craft in Spain (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images).

BARCELONA — A hard fall late in a September game a year ago would have been just a part of the deal for Kyrie Irving, nothing out of the norm for an NBA player getting ready for the upcoming season.

But this summer has been anything but normal for the Cleveland Cavaliers star. From the moment LeBron James announced he was coming home until the day the Kevin Love trade was finally completed, things have been completely abnormal for Irving.

So he wasn’t surprised at the intense scrutiny that followed that hard fall in the U.S. National Team’s final pool play game last week against the Ukraine. Irving was back on the practice floor Friday and in the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 win over Mexico. But that didn’t stop Cavaliers Nation from worrying.

“We’ve got a few more followers now,” he said, laughing sarcastically as he spoke the truth. “I realize that everything that I do now interests a lot more people, even something like this.”

Irving’s work here, as the starting point guard on a team that boasts a former MVP in Derrick Rose and an All-Star in Steph Curry (who is also in the starting lineup but not as a point guard like he is for the Golden State Warriors) speaks volumes about Irving’s still evolving game.

It speaks the trust U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have in Irving and the belief his teammates have in his abilities and leadership skills. This competition is the ideal place for Irving to hone those leadership skills. He’s directing traffic for a group of stars, All-Stars really, with the world watching.

It’s the same sort of thing he’ll have to do from now on in Cleveland, albeit with the biggest star in the game on his side.

Normal got flipped overnight.

Expectations changed in an instant, the moment LeBron said he was coming home. And that’s what makes this summer crash course in accelerated leadership the perfect preparation for Irving.

“This is awesome for me,” Irving said. “It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had up to this point in my career. This is one of the biggest things I’ve played for at this point in my career, so I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”

There’s never been any question about Irving’s talent. When healthy, he’s proven himself to be among the NBA’s truly elite point guards. A two-time All-Star before he’s ever tasted the intensity of playoff competition, this is his first time competing and running a team on a stage like this. And he admitted that it’s been an eye-opener in many ways.

“We all come from different organizations and we all have different roles on our teams,” Irving said of the leadership style on this U.S. National Team. “So it’s not more or less about picking and choosing when to say something. We all have respect for one another and tell each other the truth and look each other in the eye. That’s how we’ve come together as a group thus far. And that’s why we’re as close as we are after a month and a half together, because we have respect for each other’s games. Obviously, I’m a fan of all these guys games. And it’s a great opportunity to play with all of these other great players.”

The best part in the USA Basketball environment is that everything is earned. Irving was so good in training camp that even if Rose was 100 percent healthy, Irving would still have been the right fit with the first unit.

Either way, he’s learning a lesson in how to handle things from Rose, who has experience in this realm that Irving is just now seeing in the flesh.

“You have players like me, Klay [Thompson] and the rest of the starting five, almost all the players on our team, you have to sacrifice coming off the bench,” Rose said. “With me in the second unit, I believe there is no second unit that can stick with me when I’m on the floor, and that’s vice versa with Kyrie if he was to come off the bench, no one could stick him. That’s what makes us unique.”

How much of this translates to the NBA season and what Irving will be asked to do with LeBron and Love in the mix, remains to be seen. Roles will have to be adjusted. Chemistry will have to be developed. Sacrifices will have to be made.

But if it’s a choice between winning at the highest level and having to sacrifice a few of the comforts he’d grown accustomed to in Cleveland the past few seasons, it’s not even a debate.

“I’m all about winning, winning gold here and winning at the highest level in everything I do,” Irving said. “That’s the ultimate challenge for any of us, to find out if you have what it takes inside to win like that.”

Before he decided to return home to Cleveland, James was already a fan of Irving’s. A well-versed “student of the game” as he likes to call himself, he’d had an eye on the kid going all the way back to Irving’s high school days.

Playing against him while in Miami and alongside him during the All-Star Game, proved what he already knew about Irving.

“Kyrie’s special,” James said after watching Irving earn All-Star MVP honors in February. “It’s just that simple. Very special basketball player, very smart basketball player — his ability to shoot the ball, get into the lane, make shots around the rim. He has the total package. I’ve always known that, always witnessed that ever since he was in high school.”

What they’ll do together, with Love as the third member of the latest Big 3, could be special, too.

All those folks and new followers in Cleveland and around the world are counting on it.


VIDEO: Kyrie on injury, team chemistry

Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

***

No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

***

No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

***

No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

***

No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.

Coach K: Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico … Rose, too!


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving soeaks on his status heading into bracket play

BARCELONA, SPAIN — Kyrie Irving is fine.

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

Still searching for that perfect 40

The best part about great expectations for the guys on the National Team roster is chasing that perfect game, trying to put together that one performance that checks all of the boxes and allows you to leave the floor without any doubts.

That feeling eluded the U.S. during group play, even with a 59-point destruction of Finland last weekend to kick things off.

There’s room to grow, a ceiling for the group that has not been reached yet.

“Yeah, we haven’t played the perfect 40 minutes,” Steph Curry said. “This is a long journey, nine games and we’ve got to find different ways to win. I think we have gotten better every single game with our performance, so that’s something that was a mission going into pool play, knowing if we played our best we should win the pool and set ourselves up for a lot of confidence while we’re here in Barcelona. So, that’s what we’re doing.”

Ayon, Mexico’s center of attention

U.S. big men Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond are all familiar with Mexico’s leading scorer, Gustavo Ayon.. Ayon is one of two Mexican players with NBA experience and has traded plenty of elbows with the U.S. bigs before.

Ayon presents a challenge that Coach K’s last team didn’t have a conventional answer for. The team that won gold in the London Olympics was devoid of what has turned out to be this team’s biggest strength … big men.

“We didn’t have a center,” Krzyzewski said of that star-studded but somewhat unconventional bunch. “You had players who didn’t have positions. What position does Kevin Durant play? LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo? So, you have a different style because you don’t put them in a position. You don’t want to put them in a box by saying you’re the 2 or 3, or whatever. Our team is different. We have really good players, but they’re not that type of player. It doesn’t mean they’re not equally good in some respects, but the versatility of those teams is what set them apart. You’re not going to see that every often.”

U.S. flattens Dominican Republic

VIDEO: Team USA cruises past the Dominican Republic on Wednesday

BILBAO, SPAIN — The U.S. National Team came here with a simple goal in mind. Get in and out of this town without drama and with their unbeaten streak in international competition still in place.

They are 40 minutes away from making good on that promise after running away from the Dominican Republic 106-71 in Group C play Wednesday night in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

The U.S. wraps up pool play Thursday against Ukraine, and can finish with that 5-0 record that U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski told his players was a must if they are intent on chasing down a second consecutive gold medal in this competition.

“These last two games before this one have really gotten us in mental shape,” Rudy Gay said. Obviously, you come over here with USA on your chest and you think things are going to come easy. But they tested us. Today I think we executed and played defense and played together. So this was a big step for us.”

The 58-game win streak in international competition (dating back to 2006 and including World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and exhibition games) is a matter of pride, something the U.S. team uses as motivation each and every night out.

In a group that could end up with five teams sporting identical 2-3 records in pool play, any extra motivation the U.S. National Team can find is probably a good thing. The challenges will get tougher as they continue on into the round of 16, starting this weekend in Barcelona.

“You know everybody is looking at the tape,” Gay said. “Everybody is looking at the Turkey tape,they are looking at New Zealand and seeing how they can match that and take it to another level. What we have to do is learn from those games. We know we’re going to see that kind of play again. So no matter what happens out there, we have to learn from what we did in the past and come out with some [wins].”

Even with comfortable winning margins, anywhere from 59  points on down but always in double digits, there’s clearly still room for improvement aesthetically.

Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried have been dominant consistently on both ends of the floor, controlling the action against opposing big men at will. But the rest of this group seems to still be a work in progress.

“I’m not even worried about our offense,” Klay Thompson said. “If we just play that kind of pressure on defense, we have too much depth and we’re going to give teams headaches. I know our offense is going to come. We’ve got too many talented scorers. So if we keep making those easy opportunities on defense, the turnovers, we’re going to be a problem for every team we play.”

Still, they aren’t wowing anyone, not by their own recent and lofty standards.

And that includes a Spain team that is impressing every time they hit the floor. There’s nothing they’ve done here that Spain won’t be able to handle, not that Coach K or anyone affiliated with the program is willing to admit they’ve given the host nation’s team so much as a glance.

Then again, that’s not a part of the immediate plan. The goal was to get in and out of Bilbao unblemished, without any hiccups, with room to grow and get better as the competition moves into its second phase.

They’ve already clinched the top spot in Group C, and yet lingering doubts remain.

“You have to remember we’re still a team that’s only been playing together a few weeks now,” Thompson said. “We love playing with each other, we’ve got a lot of depth and we just love proving people wrong, too.

“There are a lot of people out there writing us off, thinking we’re in Spain and we don’t have as much international experience as some of these past and that it’s going to be a problem. But as long as you play hard, we’re too talented not to do well here in this tournament.”

Group C: Turkey 77, Finland 74 (OT)

Cenk Akyol‘s’ corner 3 with 4.2 seconds to play in regulation sent the game to overtime as Turkey rallied to knock off Finland and avoid disaster. Omer Asik was dominant for a second straight game, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds.

Turkey won the game without ever leading in regulation.

The free throw discrepancy was even more staggering, with Turkey sinking 29 of their 45 attempts to Finland’s 6-for-10 showing. Petteri Koponen missed two free throws in the final seconds, either one of which could have made it a four point game, leaving the door open for Akyol’s corner-3 heroics.

Turkey is 2-2 with their game of pool play against the Dominican Republic Thursday. Finland is 1-3 with their final pool play game against New Zealand.

Group C: New Zealand 73, Ukraine 61

It took a few days but New Zealand finally broke through with a win in pool play, knocking off Mike Fratello‘s team with a complete performance just hours after being blown out by the U.S. National Team.

Kirk Penney led the Tall Black with 17 points as they finally made some news here for something other than the Haka.

The Ukraine followed the lead of the U.S. National Team and stood and faced the Tall Black as they went through their pregame ritual. What Finland, the team New Zealand finishes up pool play with Thursday, will do is anyone’s guess.

Finland has by far the largest and most raucous fan base here, and there has been chatter about the Haka before and after each game the Tall Blacks have played.

“If there’s a Finnish thing I don’t know if there is some Viking action coming back,” said New Zealand forward Casey Frank. We’ve got some berserkers out there. I’m sure we’ll accept it. We’re all for it.”

Maxym Kornieko finished with 15 points and Pooh Jeter 14 for Ukraine (2-2)

Rose sheds rust on his own schedule


VIDEO: U.S. rolls to 3-0 with decisive win over New Zealand

BILBAO, SPAIN — Stop measuring Derrick Rose‘s return with any conventional tools or methods that come to mind. They don’t apply. Not to a player whose every move and facial expression is being read for signs that he either is or is not back to the form that made him the MVP of the NBA early in his career.

Just keep it simple. Trust that he knows his own body and is sure that he is right where he is supposed to be, where he expects to be after playing a grand total of 10 games the past two NBA seasons.

Because anything else, any extra scrutiny or incessant worrying, won’t change things. The fact is Rose has rust to shake off. And he’s doing it on his own schedule. Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone else’s.

That might explain why he’s here in Spain with U.S. National Team on its quest to repeat as champs at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Some people wondered why he’d put himself through this grind, five games in six days in Group C play.

It makes more sense after watching him play through these first three games, the latest being Tuesday’s 98-71 demolition of New Zealand. Rose started the second half, replacing Kyrie Irving in a game that was already over by then.

The trademark burst and explosive moves have come in flashes, in starts and stops. The muscle memory is returning, slowly but surely. But there were no numbers to back up what many of us here saw. Three points on 1-for-6 shooting and just two assists in nearly 17 minutes of action sounds like pedestrian work for a player of Rose’s caliber.

But not to U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who chuckled at the idea of someone questioning why he’d start Rose after halftime.

“I started him because he’s one of the best players in the league,” he said. “And also to see how he would … he needs to get minutes with the guys who are playing more minutes. Because he’s a guy that should play more minutes. And it’s something that I thought about before the game and it worked out that way. I thought Kyrie played really well. And I thought Derrick played really well. But I didn’t use them that much together tonight, because I wanted to see it separately. But he did well. I thought he moved well. And I thought he captured some of that chemistry he had in Vegas with James [Harden].”

That would be the chemistry observers saw there that had folks buzzing about Rose’s return, which would begin here with Rose as the starting point guard on this team. But Coach K and his staff backed off on that and have gone with Irving and Stephen Curry as the starting backcourt, with Rose coming off the bench.

The prospect of three games in three days doesn’t worry Rose, who smiled when asked how he was feeling after the first game.

“I couldn’t make a damn shot,” Rose said, “but I feel good.”

Coach K said the same, that he thinks Rose will hold up just fine after playing his best game, to date, against New Zealand.

“He’s moving very fast, he had that one shot go in and out, and then Kenneth [Faried] put it back in,” Coach K said. “I like the way he moved and fought through defensively. He doesn’t show any signs of favoring anything. I think he played well today.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant on the U.S. National Team staff, agrees.

“He’s working every day,” Thibodeau said. “And the only way you’re going to shake that rust off is by playing and I think that’s very important for him.”

The Bulls have two players in this competition playing at opposite ends of their own personal spectrums. Pau Gasol has been dominant for Spain, looking like easily one of the best big men and players in the entire field.

He, Rose and Joakim Noah will form the nucleus of a team everyone, Thibodeau included, expects to be among the NBA elite for the 2014-15 season and beyond. So much of that depends on not only how quickly they come together as a unit, but also whether or not Rose’s body passes summer school here at the World Cup.

“Great players always figure out how to play with each other,” Thibodeau said. “When you get a great player as talented as Pau and you put Derrick with him and they are going to be terrific together. And then you add in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and we’ve got a lot of talented players. The challenge is how quickly we can come together.

If Rose is back to normal, there’s nothing stopping the Bulls from battling it out with Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

“He’s not going to change who he is,” Thibodeau said. “His strengths are his strengths. The big thing is for him, is physically he’s good and mentally he’s good. But he’s got to work on his timing. He hasn’t played in two years, basically, so it doesn’t happen overnight. I think he understands that. He’s showing great patience. He’s taken good care of his body. He’s putting everything he has into each and every day. It’ll come. It’ll come.”

Crawford reflects on old, ushers in new

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime talks with Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Rarely does a player get to know his team’s owner (let alone become friends) before the owner actually becomes the owner.

But that is the case with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. His Seattle roots afforded him the opportunity years ago to cultivate a relationship with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This, of course, was long before Ballmer, a 6-foot-5, bounding ball of infectious energy, ever dreamed he’d cough up $2 billion to buy one of the all-time sad-sack organizations in all of sports.

“We’ve done a lot of [charity] events together in Seattle, so I’ve known him before he was actually the owner,” Crawford said. “We were texting throughout the year and emailing each other and staying in contact and continuing to work together with charities around Seattle. It’s exciting. I don’t know how many people have actually known their owner before they actually played for the team they were on. So it’s pretty cool.”

Times they a-changin’ in Clipperland and Crawford is singing Ballmer’s praises and predicting heady days ahead for the franchise. In his final years, disgraced owner Donald Sterling had finally started to loosen his air-tight grip on the purse strings, allowing for All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to sign long-term deals and to bring in coach Doc Rivers. It hardly made up for decades of valuing frugality over winning, but it does set up Ballmer well to elevate the Clippers into perennial contenders.

The 6-foot-6 Crawford, who averaged 18.6 ppg and shot 36.1 percent from deep in his 14th season, has been telling his teammates what they can expect from their new owner.

“I just told them he’s very open-minded, he’s very ambitious and aggressive,” Crawford said. “He’s someone who’s also there to have your back, always positive energy, positive reinforcement. He’s someone obviously that is a huge, huge, huge fan of basketball. He didn’t just buy the team to be profitable; I think he’s doing OK without owning the team. I think it’s more so staying connected and he loves the game, enjoys the game.

“In this league, you only get a certain number of chances to really go after it and when you have those moments you have to take advantage and be aggressive in those times, and I think that is exactly what he’ll do. If we feel like we need to add a piece or we need to add this or that, going over the luxury tax or any other restrictions or trying to be cautious about different things, that’s not him. He’s aggressive and he’s going to go after it.”

Crawford, 34, recently got married and this week he and his bride are honeymooning in Kauai. Then it’s back to Los Angeles to begin working out with teammates as the official countdown to training camp begins. Before flying out over the Pacific, Crawford granted NBA.com a few minutes to reflect on the early days of the Sterling controversy and where the Clippers could be headed under Ballmer.

NBA.com: What did last month’s sale of the team, the ending of the Sterling era, signify to you?

Crawford: Now we can focus on what’s important, and that’s trying to put one of the best teams on the floor, trying to play for one of the best organizations out there and trying to win a championship. Everything else is behind us and we can move forward. I think it’s kind of, in a way, a fresh start for everyone. We’re all excited about moving forward.

NBA.com: We had heard through the court proceedings that Doc Rivers wasn’t sure if he’d return if Sterling remained the owner when the 2014-15 season started. What do you think the players’ response would have been had the sale not gone through?

Crawford: At that point, if the sale didn’t go through, we would have to revisit it and all decide collectively what we were going to do. But I’m sure everything would be on the table at that point.

NBA.com: Was the day the Sterling tapes came out one of those days you’ll never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the news?

Crawford: For sure, it was a monumental time. I’ve said if you want to work on your jumper, you can get some extra shots up, or if you want to be a better ballhandler, you can put some cones down and go through drills, but to actually go through what we went through, there’s no guide or manual for that. You just have to go through it and lean on your faith and fight through it and lean on each other. I think we did a good job of that. We handled it the best we could, especially having Doc as the leader and the voice for us, I think that made our jobs a whole lot easier. Because here we are, we’re worried about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and those guys and we have to deal with that; but it’s something I think that brought us closer together and hopefully we can use that this season and really continue to lean on each other and move forward.

NBA.com: The news broke in the middle of the first-round playoff series against Golden State. The Clippers managed to win in seven games, but how difficult was it to focus on playing the games?

Crawford: It was a nightmare because you got to think there’s 15 personalities [on the team], and the coaching staff and then your family’s opinion, they all weigh in, and everybody has an opinion and before you know it, it wasn’t just about basketball and things of that nature and just our team anymore. In 24 hours the whole world had an opinion about it. You’re trying to take naps and stuff and get your rest, and you can’t even get some sleep because you feel like, ‘how can I play for someone like this?’ There were so many different emotions. I think getting to lean on each other, having Doc at the helm to kind of be our voice so we could concentrate the best we could was probably the best decision we made.

NBA.com: Did your emotions run the gamut from day to day?

Crawford: Yeah, I’m human. You’re angry, you’re disappointed, you’re sad, you’re confused. There’s just so many different emotions. And then when you let people inside that world, inside that circle, you start thinking even more. I think we just leaned on each other. We tried to block everything else, the rest of the world and lean on each other, the 15 guys in that locker room and our coaching staff and we did what we felt was right.

NBA.com: All that is in the rearview mirror now. There’s been some turnover, players lost and added. Do you like how the roster has evolved?

Crawford: We have a year under Doc’s system, another year he knows us. Obviously losing [Jared] Dudley, he was a guy who started half the season, he spread the floor, he guarded tougher guys, so you always hate to lose guys. We also lost [Darren] Collison, we lost [Danny] Granger, we lost Ryan Hollins. But in return you gain Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, C.J. Wilcox. And another year of having the core guys together, hopefully health is on our side. Last year I missed a little over a month, Chris [Paul] missed a little over a month, J.J. [Redick] missed a couple months. If we can keep those guys together, Doc knows us, we know him, we know what to expect, he knows what to expect from us, and to keep trucking I think sometimes you need a little bit of luck in those situations and we’ll be ready to go.

NBA.com: There’s very little room for error in the Western Conference. How do you see the race developing this season?

Crawford: I think last year only two teams record-wise in the East would have even of made the playoffs in the West and that was Miami and Indiana, so it’s the wild West, that’s for sure. I think you had the ninth-place team approaching almost 50 wins in the West, that’s tough. It’s really open. We all understand San Antonio is the top dog, they’ve been that way, they’ve been a staple pretty much the last decade and a half. We all understand that and they’re going to be there in the end just like always, they find ways. With us, OKC, Golden State is a good team, Phoenix is on the rise, there’s so many good teams. Denver will probably be healthy this year. It will be a dogfight. Memphis will be there. It will be a dogfight, that’s for sure. We just know if we focus on what we need to do, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

NBA.com: What did you think of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and Kevin Love joining him? And any other story lines pique your interest?

Crawford: I think it’s really cool he gets the chance to go home and end it the way it started. He means more to Cleveland than just a superstar athlete, so for him to have the opportunity to go back in his prime and go back and do good things on and off the court, I think that’s great, I’m happy for him. Kyrie [Irving], Dion Waiters, [Anderson] Varejao is still there; especially in the East that’s a team that can win a lot of games. Then you throw in Chicago, if they stay healthy. Miami is re-tooling a little bit and I think D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] is going to play like he has something to prove. [Chris] Bosh, you’ll probably see more of him like he was with the Raptors, more of a focal point, so I think it’s going to be fun. Just seeing Kobe back, I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan, so seeing him back healthy, I think he’s good for sports, period, not just the NBA because everybody wants to see the Kobe show.

There’s so many different stories this season and I think that’s really, really cool. I just want everybody to be healthy because it evens the playing field. It makes the game more exciting and I think it’s good for the league and good for the fans.