Posts Tagged ‘Kyrie Irving’

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…)

USA camp – Day 3 notes


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 2

LAS VEGAS – Media time after Day 3 of USA Basketball training camp went a little long, because everybody was watching an extended game of “King of the Hill” between Kevin Durant, Paul George and James Harden.

“King of the Hill” is a three-way game of one-on-one. Player 1 tries to score on Player 2. If he does, Player 2 steps off the floor and Player 3 comes in and to play defense. But if Player 2 gets the stop, he moves to offense and tries to score against Player 3. The game goes on until a player gets five buckets.

That shouldn’t take long, but the trio played the game from several different spots on the floor. (Here’s a vine of a couple of right-elbow possessions.) By the time they were done, they had gone for a good 20 minutes or so, drawing quite a crowd of media, USA teammates, coaches, and other onlookers. And this was after a full practice.

“It was intense,” George said afterward. “At the end of the day, we’re out here to get better. And there’s no better guys for me to go against, for myself to guard than KD and James. And James is quick and low to the ground and KD’s got the length, so it’s good for me, offensively, as well. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to get better and work hard. And I think we took it to another level.”

Yes, that was George giving credit to Harden’s defense. At one point, Harden blocked Durant’s seemingly unblockable shot, getting in some trash talk afterward.


VIDEO: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Paul George play a game of King of the Hill

***

Speaking of Durant and George, they’re the latest USA forward tandem that no other country that can match up with. And by putting them on the same team every day, the U.S. staff is making sure they get time to build some chemistry.

***

Harden and Durant, meanwhile, are two of only five players in camp with Senior National Team experience. But 12 of the other 15 were here last year for a four-day mini-camp.

The U.S. had no competition to play in last summer. By winning the 2012 Olympics, they automatically qualified for this year’s World Cup and had no reason to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought 28 guys to Las Vegas, so they could get to know them and get them integrated into the system.

It was only four days and with so many guys in the gym, none of them got all that much playing time in the scrimmages. But it reduced the learning curve for the whole group and allowed them to hit the ground running on Monday.

“A big thing is their familiarity with me and the coaching staff,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time trying to get to know them. So, it lends for familiarity.”

And it has paid off.

“We have actually gotten more in in the first three days of this camp,” Krzyzewski said, “than we have our previous three camps.”

DeMar DeRozan was one of those guys here last year. (more…)

Blogtable: Tough Team USA call

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Get an up-close look at Kyrie Irving’s Team USA experience thus far

> You’re Mike Krzyzewski. You have some decisions to make. What’s your toughest call? Who do you go with?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I can’t take my eyes off the five point guards: Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and John Wall? How many can you put on the 15-man roster Coach K wants by the time camp ends? Four? Probably not. I’m guessing three. Unless Team USA assistant and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gives Coach K the wink to keep Rose off the team as injury prevention, I believe Rose is a lock. My second lock is Curry because he can swing over to the 2 and shoot the lights out of any zone defense. Now I have a real problem. Irving is a two-time All-Star and a $90-million man. Wall made his All-Star debut in February and is an $80-million man. Lillard is already an All-Star after two seasons and has ice in his veins. I think Irving is going to get the spot, but my choice is Wall. I really like how he’s maturing, both in his physical and mental game. He pushes the tempo, has consistently posted higher assist numbers than Irving and Lillard and shoots the 3 well enough, especially on this squad. So there it is, Wall gets my third and final point-guard spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That point guard group is as elite as it gets. Outside of Steph Curry, whose ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor is crucial in international competition, I don’t know that there any locks for the roster in this group. I can see any combination of three making sense for the final roster. And that means two All-Stars get left behind. Picking two guys from a group that includes Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall seems like an impossible situation, one that Coach K’s peers who will be in Spain would love to be laboring through right now. But this is about the best fits for this particular team and until we see them work through training camp, I don’t think we can jump to any conclusions about who fits best. If I’m picking, Irving and Lillard would seem to make the most sense based on skill-sets and versatility.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Who are the bigs on the roster behind Anthony Davis? There’s a reason why, with the addition of Mason Plumlee on Tuesday, the big position is the most crowded. There are no obvious choices (or any Senior Team experience) beyond Davis and all those guys have their flaws. Assuming Davis plays 30 minutes per game, you need guys who can bring energy in short bursts. So I would take Kenneth Faried and, yes, Plumlee. Those guys can make an impact a few minutes at a time and are more trustworthy than Andre Drummond. And I would seriously consider bringing a fourth big – Paul Millsap, in this case – for the first time since 2006. Millsap gives you the opportunity to put an extra shooter on the floor in certain situations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the loss of Kevin Love is looming large. And with Blake Griffin out as well, I am very interested to see how the backup center spot shakes out. Anthony Davis seems to have established himself as the starter, but behind him do you go with DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond? Or do you look for mobility and speed and try Kenneth Faried? If it’s me, I take Paul Millsap and pray Davis stays out of foul trouble, but if I’m in a pinch hope Kevin Durant or even Millsap can steal you a couple of minutes at the five.

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

Top stat lines for USAB players in 2013-14

kdd

 

By Joe Boozell, NBA.com

It’s easy to fret about a USA front line sans Kevin Love and Blake Griffin squaring off against Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka and the Spaniards.

Relax, America. I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be OK. As Team USA assistant coach Tom Thibodeau has said hundreds of times of his Chicago Bulls, “We have more than enough to win with.”

Only this time it really is true. While Team USA is missing some of the NBA’s best, the 2014 roster at training camp in Las Vegas is still stocked with scorers, passers and everything in between. Many players experienced breakout campaigns in 2013-14, while others simply maintained the level of greatness they’ve displayed throughout their careers.

To avoid a list dominated entirely by MVP Kevin Durant, here are the top stat lines (with 10 different players represented and no individual player repeated) from Team USA members in 2013-14.

10. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors – February 1, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 36 points (14-for-29-FG) and 12 assists

VIDEO: DeRozan drops 47 in loss to Portland 

DeRozan is one of the most exciting young scorers in the NBA, using a combination of natural athleticism and an emerging skill set to bend defenses. He went on an absolute rampage in the second half of this game against Portland, scoring 30 of his game-high 36 points in the final 24 minutes. Fourteen of those points came in the third quarter while 16 came in the fourth. DeRozan also added 12 dimes to an already impressive showing and took on the primary ball handling responsibilities from Kyle Lowry for the evening.

9. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz – January 7, 2014 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – 37 points (13-for-17-FG), 11 rebounds and seven assists

VIDEO: Hayward nets a career-high 37

Performances like this apparently gave Jazz and Hornets brass ample reason to throw $63 million at Hayward this summer, as they know the level at which he is capable of playing. The former Butler wunderkind did his best Durant impression on this January night — granted, KD went for 48 points of his own, but the Jazz won the game by 11. The Thunder sliced a 24-point Jazz lead to just five, but Hayward responded by sinking five consecutive jumpers, two of them 3-pointers.

8. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – April 13, 2014 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves – 35 points (13-for-21-FG), 15 rebounds and six assists


VIDEO: Cousins records eighth straight double-double

With Griffin and Love backing out of Team USA festivities, Boogie could play an integral role in Team USA’s fate in Spain. Though he played for the lowly Sacramento Kings, Cousins was no stranger to big statistical outputs — he averaged well over 20 points and 10 rebounds per night. On what would be his last game of 2014, the Kentucky product went out with a thunderous bang, recording his eighth double-double in a row to end the season. The Kings had one more game left on the calendar three days later, but naturally, Cousins wouldn’t be a part of it. He picked up his 16th technical foul against Minnesota which warranted a one game suspension.

7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers – December 17, 2013 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – 36 points (11-for-23-FG, 8-for-12 3PT FGA), 10 assists and eight rebounds

VIDEO: Lillard has a monster game against Cleveland

Lillard has already established himself as having a flair for the dramatic, an awfully impressive thing to say about someone who’s spent just two years as a pro. Not only did the Blazers guard come up just two rebounds short of a triple double, but he also drained the game-winner in a thriller against Cleveland. The eight 3-pointers were a career-high for Lillard, who bested fellow Team USA hopeful Kyrie Irving in a showdown of two of the best young point guards in the NBA. Lillard’s shot came with just 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock.

6. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – November 9, 2013 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 39 points, 12 assists and five rebounds

VIDEO: Irving explodes for 39 and a game-winner

Speaking of Irving, ‘Uncle Drew’ knows a thing or two about late game heroics himself. Sure, this game went to double overtime, and regulation and the first overtime both ended in clanks from Irving. But the third time was the charm, and who are we to be picky about game winning shots? Irving also logged a game high 48 minutes for the Cavs and was a team high plus-13.  He and Michael Carter-Williams combined for a healthy 60 points and 25 assists on the night.

5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors – April 13, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 47 points (16-for-28-FG, 7-for-14 3PT FGA) and four steals


VIDEO: Curry lights up the Blazers for 47

Team USA’s strength is its shooting, speed and quickness, so it’s no coincidence that three consecutive point guards make their way onto this list. Curry’s 47 points were a season high, but it was the third time in 2013-14 that he eclipsed the 40 point mark and the sixth time in his heralded career. Although his defensive chops are sometimes questioned, the Dubs star did his part in slowing down fellow Team USA member Lillard, who scored only 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting for the Blazers.

4. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – April 11, 2014 vs. Chicago Bulls - 26 points (11-for-17-FG), 26 rebounds and three blocks

VIDEO: Drummond has 26 and 26 against the Bulls

Games like this are the reason why Stan Van Gundy was so eager to take over the basketball operations in Motown, as Drummond looks like a young Dwight Howard on numerous occasions. 26 points are to be applauded and 26 rebounds, in the midst of battling against Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, are especially noteworthy. But that count wasn’t even a career-high for Drummond, who pulled down 26 boards against the Knicks earlier in the month. Like Cousins, Drummond’s muscle will be of paramount importance for the success of this USA squad.

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets – March 9, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 41 points (7-for-12 3PT FGA), 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals

VIDEO: Harden erupts for 41 against Portland

What’s with the Trailblazers making three appearances on this list for the wrong reasons? Harden had his ups and downs in the postseason series against Portland, but he had a brilliant night against them in March. He scored 17 of his game-high 41 points in the fourth quarter including a huge 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime. Harden also has been criticized for his lack of interest defensively, but Wesley Matthews, who was crucial in the postseason victory over the Rockets, was held to just 5-for-15 shooting in the game by Harden. Houston won this one in overtime by a score of 118-113.

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


VIDEO: Davis goes for a career-high 40 against Boston

The Brow is just 21 — and if his career keeps trending in such a positive direction, he could become the face of USA basketball for years to come. Davis matched his age in rebounds against Boston in this Pelicans victory while also notching 41 points. Both were good for career highs for Davis, who is the youngest player since Shaquille O’Neal to collect at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game. His previous career high for points was 36, and he also erased his career high for rebounds, 19, all in one fabulous effort.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder – March 21, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors – 51 points (7-for-12 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and seven assists


VIDEO: Durant pours in 51 versus the Raptors

As mentioned previously, Durant had several gargantuan performances that could be compiled into a list of their own, but this one takes the cake. Durant scored an astonishing 38 of his 51 points in the second half and overtime, good for his fourth career 50 point game. It was also his 39th game scoring 40 points or more in his young career. Durant gave the Thunder the lead for good by drilling a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining in the second overtime, capping the game-high 52 minutes he logged on the night. Durant looks to be the leader of this USA group heading into the FIBA World Cup, and if he can resemble the guy who showed up on a chilly March night in Toronto, the Americans should be salivating at their chances.

 

 

 

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the Phoenix media during last season’s exit interviews

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Electric point guard Eric Bledsoe one day might command an NBA max deal. It just doesn’t appear that day is today.

The Phoenix Suns want to pay Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, the same as what the Toronto Raptors paid Kyle Lowry earlier this month ($48 million over four years). It’s a pretty fair deal for a player like Bledsoe, who is entering his fifth season and spent three seasons as Chris Paul‘s backup. Plus, he missed half of last season, his first in Phoenix, with a knee injury.

The fearless, 6-foot-1 Bledsoe — when healthy — formed a dynamic backcourt with Goran Dragic and is seeing much bigger dollar figures for himself: max dollars over five years (reportedly $80 million).

He’s seen fellow point guards Kyrie Irving and John Wall break the bank when eligible for extensions (Bright Side of the Sun does a good job here of comparing Bledsoe to his contemporaries). This summer fellow restricted free agents Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward rode the market to max deals. Of course, they received the necessary help from other teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets, respectively — making aggressive plays for their services (Parsons landed in Dallas for $46 million over three years when Houston declined to match; Hayward stayed with Utah when the Jazz matched the Hornets’ four-year, $63-million offer).

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

Bledsoe was counting on another team making him that max offer. In that case, the Suns were thought to be prepared to match. And if they decided otherwise, well, Bledsoe would happily cash his checks in another state.

But as is the case with Detroit big man Greg Monroe, a fellow restricted free agent, an offer sheet has not materialized. And at this late stage where most teams have shopped to their limit, it appears an offer sheet won’t walk through that door.

Bledsoe, 24, has been quiet throughout his free agency, but he did give a brief interview the other day to WVTM during a street-ball hoops event in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

“First off, I’m going to let my agent handle it,” Bledsoe said. “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.”

The Suns aren’t using restricted free agency against Bledsoe. They’re playing by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve made a good offer for a player who has started 78 games in his career, and are now sitting back and letting the market work. So far, no team has forced the Suns to increase their offer.

If no offer sheet comes, Bledsoe’s most likely path is to accept the Suns’ $48 million offer, grow with a team on the rise, play at an All-Star worthy level (as Dragic did last season) and and shoot for a max deal in four years.

Or he can take a riskier approach and accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns extended him at the start of free agency (making him restricted), and go for that max deal next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is playing this just as he should. He has to be mindful of his club’s salary cap situation this year and beyond.

Dragic, a bargain at $7.5 million this season, will surely decline his player option next summer for 2015-16. With another big year like he had last season, Dragic could double his annual salary. McDonough also traded for Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas this summer and will pay him $27 million over the next four seasons.

This obviously isn’t the way Bledsoe envisioned the summer unfolding.

Eventually he will have to make a decision, and it should be an easy one. He should happily accept the Suns’ $48-million offer. From there he can create his own value by evolving into a team leader and helping the Suns become bona fide Western Conference contenders over the next four seasons.

If he does that, then come four years from now, Bledsoe will have the max offer of his choosing.

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

USA camp – Day 1 notes

452860408

Kevin Durant and Team USA started training camp in Las Vegas on Monday.

LAS VEGAS – The big story on Day 1 of USA Basketball training camp was Derrick Rose. By all accounts, Rose looked good. And he certainly believes that he’s got the goods to be one of the best players in the world again.

But Rose was one of 31 players in the gym on Monday, and while he’s trying to get the rust off and get his wind back, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have a team to put together for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins a month from Wednesday.

The media was let in for the final 15 minutes of Day 1 scrimmaging. Five minutes of that was a scrimmage against the Select Team, and the final 10 minutes was an intra-squad scrimmage between two groups of Senior Team guys.

Here are the lineups we saw…

1. Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins
2. John Wall, Curry, Gordon Hayward, Faried and Cousins
3. Rose, James Harden, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
4. Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Durant and Andre Drummond
5. Irving, Bradley Beal, Thompson, Chandler Parsons and Paul Millsap
6. Lillard, Harden, George, Durant and Drummond
7. Wall, Curry, Hayward, Faried and Cousins

Some notes…

  • No. 3 above could certainly be a starting lineup when the U.S. plays its first exhibition game against Brazil on Aug. 16 or when it opens the World Cup against Finland two weeks later. It features four guys with National Team experience and George, who’s the obvious pick to start alongside Durant at the other forward spot (the Andre Iguodala role from 2010).
  • We only saw Curry playing the two, alongside either Irving or Wall. But afterward, he said he doesn’t see himself strictly as a two with this team. “I play both,” he said. “I’m obviously better equipped [than the others] to play the two, but I can push in transition and initiate the offense if I need to. I got to be able to do both and guard both positions as well.”
  • But if Curry is thought of as a two, that certainly changes the point guard competition, which should be the hottest in camp. “The competition is stiff,” Lillard said. “It’s one of those things where if you’re the guy that doesn’t happen to be chosen, you can’t be mad, because everybody here is worthy of being on the team.”
  • Lillard on what could make him stand out: “My ability to adapt. I think I could do a really good job of figuring out what this team needs me to do and do it great. That’s being able to knock down shots. With my time on the floor, I can really defend, if that’s what they need. Make plays. Find that role that they need me to play and play it to the best of my ability.” He added that “you can play defense much harder” when you’re only out there for four or five minutes at a time.
  • In a few lineups, we saw Faried and Cousins playing together. And yes, they controlled the glass.
  • In another, we saw Parsons and Millsap playing the four and five. This is a more standard U.S. lineup (only one true big on the floor), but Drummond pushed Millsap around a little bit.
  • Drummond still looks raw. He missed a couple of short jump hooks pretty badly.
  • It’s weird to imagine Cousins representing the U.S. in a hostile, international environment, but seeing him in this environment, you can see how he could make an impact.
  • He’s a beast, and there aren’t many players in the world that can match up with him, especially if he just plays off others as a roll man and finisher in the paint.
  • Defensively, with FIBA rules, Cousins can hang close to the basket and defend the rim. In the few minutes we saw him on Monday, he blocked or altered at least three shots.
  • Still, there will remain a fear that Cousins will lose his cool with international officiating or decide, in a big moment, to dribble the ball up the floor himself. If he wants to make the team, he has to prove that he can stay disciplined in more ways than one.
  • I tweeted out this roster-construction chart Monday morning. After Day 1, you can probably move Curry to the “2/3″ list.
  • This shouldn’t be any surprise if you’ve watched this team over the last several years, but we saw some half-court trapping on Monday. This team will try to force tempo as much with its defense as it does with its offense.


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Team USA’s opening practice from Las Vegas

Rose suffers no lack of confidence in return to the floor


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Derrick Rose at Team USA’s practice Monday

LAS VEGAS – For several players at USA Basketball training camp, Monday was about making a first impression on managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski in an attempt to earn a spot on the World Cup roster.

For the few that seemingly have guaranteed spots, it was the first step in getting ready for the tournament that begins on Aug. 30. And for the 12 young players on the Select Team, it was about building equity with USA brass for future consideration.

For Derrick Rose, it was much more than that. It was a big step in his return to the game after his second knee surgery.

By all accounts, Rose is back.

“He looked good,” Damian Lillard said afterward. “Athletic, explosive, strong.”

There were visions of vintage Rose, but he didn’t need to go all that hard or for all that long as the 19 players on the U.S. roster and 12 on the Select Team scrimmaged on the campus of UNLV. With this team, there’s always another great player ready to sub in, and Rose worried more about running the offense than trying to prove to people that he was the Derrick Rose of old.

“He can just fit in,” Bulls coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said. “He doesn’t have the burden of having to score a lot of points or make a lot of plays. Just run the team. I think he’ll find his rhythm here.”

Though knocking the rust off and getting his wind back may be issues, Rose isn’t suffering from any lack of confidence. He didn’t need this day to prove anything to himself either. Though nobody on the outside has seen him play since November, he knows the work he’s put in to get to this point.

“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Rose said. “It’s probably big to everyone else because they probably haven’t seen me. But I dedicated my whole summer for this moment.”

And where he is in regard to getting his game back?

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that. My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

He feels that he’s a different player now, that his injuries allowed him to sculpt his body with Bulls director of sports performance Jen Swanson, and that time has made him a smarter floor general.

“[Time away from the game] was a chance for me to really work on my whole body,” he said, “get my legs strong, get my upper body strong, and just take advantage of it.”

Experience has taught him how stay in control.

“I’m able to control my body a little bit more, being smart with my speed instead of just running wild out there,” he said. “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn that.”

And there are lessons to be learned from last year, when he came back from ACL surgery and was injured again 10 games into the season.

“I wanted to prove everybody wrong at that time,” he said. “I just wanted it too bad. This time around, I just know I got to let the game come to me, go out there and just play. Usually when I play my type of game, something positive comes out of it.”

Something positive could be a trip to The Finals. With LeBron James‘ move back to Cleveland and with some key additions, the Bulls should be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

“I think we have a contender,” Rose said, adding that he’s “riding with whatever decision” the Bulls’ front office might make in regard to trade talks for Kevin Love.

Love or no Love, Rose is the biggest piece of the Bulls’ puzzle. They desperately need him to generate some offense after ranking in the bottom seven of the league on that end of the floor each of the last two seasons.

So Monday wasn’t just a big day for Rose, the Bulls, and the National Team. It was a big day for the entire league. And if Rose can continue working with the National Team through the World Cup, there should be no more rust or conditioning issues when training camp comes around.

But making the final roster is not a sure thing.

Rose has some serious competition at the point guard position in camp. Along with Rose, All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Lillard and John Wall are all competing for three or four spots on the roster.

Rose does have a couple of advantages. First, he was the starting point guard on the 2010 team that won the World Championship, and past history means a lot to Colangelo and Krzyzewski.

Second, Thibodeau is on the staff. And he would certainly love to see Rose work off some of his rust before training camp.

The last time Rose played for the National Team, he followed it up by winning the 2010-11 MVP award. On that U.S. team that won gold in Istanbul, he was teammates with Tyson Chandler, who used the summer to get stronger after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Hornets and Bobcats. Chandler went on to be a critical component of the Dallas Mavericks’ run to a championship, citing his time with the U.S. as a key to his comeback season.

Monday may have been a big step in Rose’s comeback. He’s worked hard to get here and he has shown no doubts or reservations about where he’s gong.

“I know how special I am as a player and I know what I still can do.”

U.S. Team gets started on Monday


VIDEO: GameTime: News And Notes

LAS VEGAS – The road to Spain for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team begins Monday on the campus of UNLV. Nineteen players have gathered for four days of practices and an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

  • NBA TV will air Real Training Camp Live on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET.

At the end of the week, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo aims to cut the list down to 15. After that, the group will take 12 days off before reconvening on Aug. 14. They will play three exhibition games in Chicago and New York before heading abroad, cutting the roster down to 12 along the way.

USA Basketball summer schedule
Dates Description Location
July 28-Aug. 1 Training camp Las Vegas
Aug. 1 USAB Showcase Las Vegas
Aug. 14-16 Training camp Chicago
Aug. 16 USA vs. Brazil Chicago
Aug. 18-22 Training camp New York
Aug. 20 USA vs. Dom. Rep. New York
Aug. 22 USA vs. Puerto Rico New York
Aug. 24-26 Training camp Gran Canaria
Aug. 26 USA vs. Slovenia Gran Canaria
Aug. 30-Sept. 14 FIBA World Cup Spain
Aug. 30 USA vs. Finland Bilbao
Aug. 31 USA vs. Turkey Bilbao
Sept. 2 USA vs. New Zealand Bilbao
Sept. 3 USA vs. Dom. Rep. Bilbao
Sept. 4 USA vs. Ukraine Bilbao
Sept. 6 or 7 Round of 16 Barcelona
Sept. 9 Quarterfinal Barcelona
Sept. 11 Semifinal Barcelona
Sept. 14 Gold medal game Madrid

There’s a lot more to do than just forming a final roster. Only five of the 18 players have National Team experience, either for the 2010 team that won the World Championship in Turkey or the 2012 team that won Olympic gold in London. Most of the others were in a mini-camp last year, but there’s still a lot of adjusting and chemistry building to do.

The U.S. has won the last three major competitions and has a 36-game winning streak, but there have been some close calls along the way. In a single-elimination, 40-minute-game format, anything can happen.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will rely on what has been a successful formula over the last eight years. It’s built on aggressive defense, speed, shooting and, of course, star power.

Like he did in 2010 (averaging 22.8 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 65 percent), Kevin Durant will provide the star power. There’s no one in the world that can match up with the reigning MVP, who is even more dangerous when shooting from a shorter 3-point distance.

But Durant will need help on both ends of the floor for the U.S. to win the World Cup, automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics, and avoid having to play next summer. There are some locks for the roster (those who played in 2010 or 2012), but there will also be some interesting competitions for the remaining spots.

The U.S. also has had a pretty consistent template for its roster for the last three international competitions. It typically carries just three true big men, with both forward spots being manned by players that are nominal small forwards in the NBA, a group that includes Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and LeBron James.

Once again, point guard will be a position of strength, especially if Derrick Rose is close to 100 percent after recovering from knee surgery. Rose hasn’t played competitively since last November, so he’ll be the big story on Monday and a great reason to watch Real Training Camp on Tuesday.

As the starting point guard of the 2010 team, Rose should have the edge on the others in camp, meaning that All-Stars Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall could be competing for one or two roster spots, depending on whether USA brass sees Stephen Curry as point or shooting guard.

While the talent is strong in the backcourt, late decisions by Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to sit out the summer have left the U.S. thin up front. DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried and last-minute addition Paul Millsap should be competing for two roster spots behind 2012 returnee Anthony Davis.

Spain’s frontline of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka could be waiting in the gold medal game on Sept. 14. But the hosts will have a tougher road to the World Cup final than the U.S., with Argentina, Brazil, France and Serbia all on their side of the bracket.

That’s more than a month away, though. For the U.S., the first step takes place on Monday.