Posts Tagged ‘Mike Krzyzewski’

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Steve Smith has the story of Lakers rookie Larry Nance, Jr.

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls | How will Rivers use the bench he’s built? | Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics | KG to start for Wolves in Season No. 21

No. 1: Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls — After four straight seasons of ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Chicago Bulls fell to 11th last season. Fred Hoiberg is supposed to change up the offense upon taking over for Tom Thibodeau, but Pau Gasol knows that his team can’t lose focus on the defensive end of the floor, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes

Bulls center Pau Gasol doesn’t know if his role will change next year under new coach Fred Hoiberg and his uptempo offensive system. He doesn’t even know if he’ll start.

But what the NBA veteran does know is the team can’t forget about former coach Tom Thibodeau’s calling card: Defense.

Hoiberg is known for a particular brand of basketball that encourages 3-point shooting and quick decisions, but while the Bulls offense under Thibodeau had too many lulls, they still managed to score 100.8 points per game. Hoiberg hired veteran NBA assistant coach Jim Boylen to help with the defense.

“Well, I think offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” Gasol said on a conference call from South Africa, where he’s taking part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders event, which culminates with the first-ever NBA exhibition in Africa on Aug. 1. “We have a lot of talent offensively, and I think we’ll play with better flow offensively with Fred. We’ll have more freedom to play in transition and explore our abilities as individuals and as a team. As long as we understand that defense wins championships and makes the difference, and make sure we don’t neglect that side, we should be fine.”

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No. 2: How will Rivers sort out the bench he’s built? — Though he had little flexibility going into the summer, Clippers president Doc Rivers restructured his bench, adding Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, among others. The L.A. Times‘ Ben Bolch now wonders how Rivers will make all the pieces work together. He enlisted NBA TV analysts Mike Fratello and Stu Jackson to help him sort through the questions…

Stephenson comes with a history of having blown in LeBron James ear’ during a game. He’s also generated whispers about being a bad teammate, leading to more questions from Fratello.

“How is he going to fit in with the chemistry of this team and how will he handle the star factor of Chris Paul, of Blake Griffin, of Pierce’s experience and his Hall of Fame background?” Fratello asked. “How is he going to fit in with all that and does he bounce back from having a disappointing year last year? Has he grown up, has he matured, is he going to be a contributor?”

Jackson, a former coach and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies who is an analyst for NBA TV, said the presence of Paul, Griffin and Pierce should act as a buffer against bad behavior because they have created a culture of success and expectations.

“Teams that have veteran leadership can absorb almost any player into their culture and their environment,” Jackson said.

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No. 3: Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics — After initially saying that he was done as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team after the 2012 Olympics, Mike Krzyzewski came back for four more years. Now, as the team prepares to gather in Las Vegas for a three-day camp, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo makes it clear, in a Q & A with Yahoo’s Marc Spears, that he’ll need a new coach after next year’s Olympics in Rio.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

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No. 4: KG to start for Wolves in season No. 21Kevin Garnett played in just five games after returning to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February. The Wolves have a crowded frontcourt, with No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica joining Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Re-signed to a two-year deal, Garnett will join Robert Parish and Kevin Willis as the only players in NBA history to play more than 20 seasons, but won’t be coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie year. In a Q & A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders says that KG is a starter.

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

Does that include Towns, or is he a center? A hybrid? Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter. He’s a player. Good teams have guys that can play multiple positions. It makes them harder to guard. Besides, it’s not what position you play. It’s what position you can guard. Some nights, Towns will guard power forwards and KG will guard centers. Some nights, it will be the other way around.

It’s apparently Q & A day in Minnesota, because point guard Ricky Rubio also talked at length with Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver

SI: What excites you about 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns?

RR: “I like guys who can shoot the ball. Having Kevin Love really helped stretch the floor. I think Towns is a better fit [than No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor] because of that. Okafor is more like [Nikola] Pekovic, a strong guy down in the post. Towns is a guy we don’t have.”

SI: How do you see this developing core group of you, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine playing together?

RR: “We’re pretty young, first of all. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’re athletic, we’re starving, we’re hungry. That’s something that’s going to show in practice and the games. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. A point guard who can pass the ball to athletic wings and big guys who can do a lot of damage in the post. In the case of Towns, he can really shoot the ball and run up and down too. I think it will be fun basketball, exciting.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s been too long since we got an update from the Sixers on Joel EmbiidThe Pelicans still need to get Norris Cole re-signed … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha are both making progress as they recover from season-ending injuries … Perry Jones is happy to have a fresh start in Boston … The Thunder signed 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis after sending him to the D-League for a year … Could the Warriors get Kevin Durant next summer?

Could LeBron James be returning to USA Basketball?

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Two years ago, there were rumblings that LeBron James was finished with his USA Basketball career. As Yahoo’s Marc Spears wrote at the time, USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo didn’t “expect James to play next summer — and doesn’t plan to ask him.” After all, James was coming off a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and understandably probably needed a break.

But perhaps absence made the heart grow fonder? This morning on Sirius XM’s NBA Radio, Colangelo was asked about James future involvement in the USA Basketball program, and Colangelo sounded as though James might not be done with USA Basketball.

“Well, I think LeBron wants to be part of it,” said Colangelo. “You know, when you talk about LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo [Anthony], they were the four young players who were, what, 19 years old, 20 at the best, who were added to the roster when some people dropped out at the last minute. They weren’t quite ready for prime time, if you think back. They just weren’t, and it’s a little bit of a disservice in some ways, but the NBA was looking to promote young, up and coming stars, and I get that. That’s one of the reasons why I was asked to take over the program. I said, ‘Look, I’ll do it, but it has to be complete autonomy, no more committees, no more politics. I’ll pick the coaches, I’ll pick the players if I’m going to be responsible.’ That’s the only way you can really turn the program and make it successful. So, we deal with it as it comes.”

Even without James taking part last summer, USA Basketball won gold at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. Next month, USA Basketball will hold a minicamp in Las Vegas, and Colangelo has said players hoping to be part of the 2016 Summer Olympics team in Rio will have to participate in Vegas. Recent reports say Blake Griffin will return to the USA Basketball program and take part in Vegas, along with several new faces.

James has added two more Finals runs since the summer of 2013, logging major minutes. As a 19-year-old, James was a reserve for the bronze medal-winning USA Basketball team in Athens at the 2004 Olympics. He has since played a much larger role under coach Mike Krzyzewski on the 2008 and 2012 gold medal squads.

Report: Griffin to attend USA Basketball minicamp


VIDEO: Clippers big man Blake Griffin took his game to another level this season in Los Angeles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Blake Griffin will be in attendance at next month’s USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas with an eye towards earning a roster spot on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, according to a report to from Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.

Griffin missed out on opportunities to chase gold medals twice before, having to withdraw due to injuries from the 2012 (torn meniscus left knee) team that won gold at the London Olympics and the team last year (back injury) that rolled to gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Griffin is one of the many NBA stars, including four members of the world champion Golden State Warriors, expected to convene in Las Vegas for the minicamp. Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing  director, has already made it clear that any player interested in a roster spot for Rio must attend the minicamp.

More from Shelburne on some of the other stars expected to turn up in Vegas next week:

A source told ESPN’s Calvin Watkins that Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden will also attend the minicamp. Harden, who played a key role on the World Cup team last season, led the NBA with 2,981 minutes played during the regular season.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, meanwhile, that the newly crowned champion Golden State Warriors expect to have four representatives at the minicamp: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.

Curry and Thompson were key members of the Team USA squad that won the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. Green and Barnes, as ESPN.com reported earlier this month, are recent invitees to the minicamp, which USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo has billed as more of a “reunion” for USAB players, coaches and staffers than a competitive basketball event.

Sources told Stein that Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley has also accepted his recent invitation to attend the camp, with Washington’s Bradley Beal, Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Portland’s Mason Plumlee (who played on the World Cup team last summer) also planning to attend.

The San Antonio Express-News, meanwhile, reported Sunday that newly re-signed star swingman Kawhi Leonard will make himself available for the camp after he bypassed national team invites the past two summers.

 

Morning shootaround — July 15


VIDEO: The Starters break down the playoff seeding tweaks

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Silver speaks on several topics | USA Basketball casts wider net | Paul George the power forward? | Is Porzingas perfect for NYC?

No. 1: Silver speaks on several topics Last night in Las Vegas at Summer League, NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference to discuss topics discussed at the Board of Governors meeting. This served as de facto state of the league address, as Silver discussed topics ranging from playoff seeding to future labor relations to intentional fouling rules. As our Steve Aschburner writes, perhaps the most immediate topic addressed was next season’s playoff seedings, where winning a division from now on may carry a little less weight

Winning an NBA division might get a lot less satisfying next season.

It’s not the most prestigious accomplishment as it is, once the postseason revs up and conference championships feeding The Finals render forgettable those modest crowns of the Atlantic, the Central, the Southwest and so on.

But if a recommendation out of the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in Las Vegas gets enacted as soon as this autumn, division titles would lose more than cachet. They wouldn’t carry the guarantee of a Top 4 berth in the Eastern or Western conference playoffs.

Instead, the qualifying teams in the East and West would be seeded 1 through 8 according to regular-season records. That is the likely outcome, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments after the annual summer meeting of the league’s owners.

“It wasn’t voted on yet,” Silver said, “because we wanted all the owners to have an opportunity to go back and discuss that recommendation with their general managers and their coaches, and we’ll vote on it before the beginning of the season. It’s my expectation that that change will be adopted.”

Under the current system, the three division winners in each conference are assured of a Top 4 spot in the seedings, regardless of record. Last season, for example, that put Portland at No. 4 even though the Trailblazers’ 51-31 record ranked sixth-best in the West.

The Blazers didn’t get homecourt advantage in the first round — that went to No. 5 seed Memphis, with the Grizzlies beating Portland in five games. But the format didn’t seem to reward Memphis’ 55-27 performance, it dropped San Antonio to No. 6 despite an identical 55-27 record and it might not even have served the Blazers or their fans.

In winning its first division title in 16 years, Portland clinched the Northwest with two weeks left in the regular season thanks partly to the absence of other threats. Oklahoma City was the only other team in the division to top .500 and the Thunder were hampered by injuries in missing the postseason for the first time in six years.

Silver didn’t offer any specifics beyond the general goal of 1-through-8 seeding. There apparently still is enough sentiment among the owners that the divisions be retained — an Atlantic banner hanging in the rafters or at a practice facility might not mean much to Boston or New York, but it still might matter in Toronto, for instance.

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No. 2: USA Basketball casts wider net The next Olympics are still a year away, but USA Basketball is already looking at some of the NBA’s brightest younger players in looking to assemble the 2016 Olympic team. As ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, expect to see some new faces at Team USA’s mini-camp in August

Sources told ESPN.com that USAB has extended invitations to Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Memphis’ Mike Conley, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, Orlando’s Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo and Utah’s Trey Burke to its Aug. 11-13 camp on the campus of UNLV.

USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo, meanwhile, tells ESPN.com that next month’s camp will actually serve as more of a “reunion” for various players who have worked under Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski in the past two Olympic tournaments and the past two world championship-level events. As opposed to the full-scale practices and the intrasquad scrimmage that Team USA would typically hold in preparation for a major competition, Colangelo said Tuesday that next month’s gathering will instead feature two days of noncontact workouts and “an all-star game of sorts” on Aug. 13 that will feature the various marquee players in attendance who are healthy enough to play.

Yet Colangelo stressed that USA Basketball is making attendance at the three-day event mandatory for invited players if they are interested in securing a spot on the Yanks’ 12-man roster for next summer’s Olympics in Brazil, even if the player is rehabilitating from an injury or otherwise not yet cleared to join in on-court activities.

USAB already knows that Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Indiana’s Paul George and the Cleveland Cavaliers duo of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will not be ready to take part in basketball activities at the camp, because they are recovering from their various serious injuries from the past year. But Colangelo’s view is that “it’s important for everyone to be here as a sign of commitment for ’16.”


VIDEO: Managing Director Jerry Colangelo talks USA basketball

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No. 3: Paul George the power forward? After seeing the Golden State Warriors rely on a small lineup in their run through the NBA Finals, NBA teams around the league are considering their own smaller lineups. The Indiana Pacers expect a healthy return from Paul George, who has already publicly registered his disinterest in playing major minutes at power forward. But as Pacers president Larry Bird said at a press conference yesterday, George doesn’t make those decisions for the Pacers …

Larry Bird’s sales pitch was good enough to get two free agents to sign with the Pacers.

He’s still trying to convince Paul George that playing power forward will be a good move, too.

After announcing the signings of three players Tuesday, Indiana’s president of basketball operations made his most extensive and direct comments yet about playing the 6-foot-9, 220-pound swingman at a new spot.

“I’m not going to get into a battle about where Paul George will play,” Bird said. “He’s a basketball player and we can put him anywhere out there.”

Bird believes George will be freed to do more offensively and be healthier if he’s not chasing players around the court.

But the debate has raged all summer.

While critics contend the two-time All-Star could get overwhelmed by bigger, stronger opponents inside, Bird believes the two-time all-NBA defensive player will hold up just fine and will actually be a more productive player.

The flurry of offseason moves has left no doubt that George will get some time as a stretch four. The question is how much time?

Before heading to Florida to watch the Pacers’ summer league team play, coach Frank Vogel told reporters he had not determined how much time George would log at power forward. On Saturday at a local basketball camp, George said that while he’s willing to play anywhere, he didn’t anticipate playing 30 minutes per game at that spot.

Bird made one thing clear Tuesday.

“He don’t make the decisions around here. But I did it, and I loved it after I did it,” Bird said, drawing laughter.

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No. 4: Is Porzingas perfect for NYC? When the Knicks selected Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingas fourth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, boos rained down from the crowd in Brooklyn, mostly from Knicks fans unfamiliar with his name and his game. But in just a few Las Vegas Summer League appearances, as NBA.com’s Shaun Powell writes, Porzingas is showing he may be a perfect fit for New York City

When asked how he handled his nerves in his debut, Porzingis said quickly: “I told myself to chill out.”

His English is amazingly sharp and he carries himself well. Basically, he gets it, even at a very young age. of course, there’s still the big question: Can he play?

Well, that won’t be known in summer league, which should be taken for what it’s worth. Still, after four days in Vegas, he hasn’t backed down. He’s built like a Twizzler but isn’t afraid to mix it up. He goes in traffic with the ball and also after the ball for rebounds. He has challenged players at the rim and is showing a knack for blocking shots. Again, Summer League is all about learning if the player has the basics to survive in the NBA, and Porzingis is showing that.

The main drawback for Porzingis is his lack of strength. He’ll get easily boxed out for rebounds when the real games begin. And his dribble game is merely adequate.

The Knicks were smitten by his height, his athletic ability and his jumper, and so far have no reason to be disappointed. Porzingis has the shooting range to stretch defenses. He can be very useful in the pick-and-pop (assuming his body can withstand the pick part) and can be dangerous behind the 3-point line. And he gets to the free-throw line. Again, this is Summer League, and Porzingis is a work in progress. but the more you watch, the more you get the feeling that Phil Jackson didn’t draft the next Andrea Bargnani.

“He’s really interesting to watch and his growth is going to be interesting to see,” said Jackson. “It looks like he can hold his own out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall thinks he should be making more money than Reggie Jackson … The Lakers are making moves to strengthen their analytics department … The Thunder traded Perry Jones III to Boston … Catching up with former Knicks lottery pick Frederic Weis

Rehabbing Paul George looks to Rio


VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vogel talks on Paul George’s injury, team’s future

Nobody knows better the extra hours of work and dedication that go into pursuing the Olympic goal. Nobody understands more than Paul George the risk that goes into such a decision.

But nearly a year after gruesomely snapping his right leg during a warmup game in Las Vegas and missing almost all of the 2014-15 season, the Pacers star says he wants to be back with Team USA for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

George also says he has the full support of original Dream Team member Larry Bird, Pacers president of basketball operations, and the entire franchise, according to ESPN.com.

“Larry, of all people, knows how important it is to play and represent your country. So he’s got my back on that one, and it’s a personal goal,” George said. “Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski knows I’m on board.”

George, however, said he won’t be in attendance at Team USA’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, according to the Indianapolis Star.
He was speaking from the Kroger Unplug and Play Paul George Basketball ProCamp at Avon High School on Indianapolis’ west side, where he was helping to teach 250 youngsters the finer points of the game.

He said he can’t wait to put the injury behind him.

“I feel great,” George said. “I still notice some things that are not Paul George characteristic yet, but I feel good and the good thing is we’re still in mid-summer. By training camp, I’ll be ready to go.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 195) Featuring Chamique Holdsclaw

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — From the inside, the world according to basketball star and cultural icon Chamique Holdsclaw has always looked far different from it did to the adoring public.  From her days as a high school phenom in her native New York to her time playing for legendary coach Pat Summitt at Tennessee to her WNBA career (which includes six stints as a WNBA All-Star), Holdsclaw delivered on the court. But few people knew or understood that Holdsclaw was dealing with mental health issues the entire time.

She’s dealing with those issues now in a very public way, working as an advocate for the movement and by sharing her unbelievable story with the masses. She does so on Episode 195 of The Hang Time Podcast andin the form of a documentary of her life titled “Mind/Game”. Narrated by Oscar nominated actress Glenn Close, “Mind/Game” follows Holdsclaw on her journey to discover her true identity and purpose in this next phase of her life. “Mind/Game” premieres April 17 at the Nashville Film Festival.

In addition to talking about the obstacles she’s faced, Holdsclaw also discusses her formative years in Queens playing alongside and with the likes of Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace), Lamar Odom, Erick Barkley and many other familiar names to basketball fans. While her Tennessee Lady Vols did not make the Final Four, her men’s team, the Duke Blue Devils, are still alive. And she explains why Mike Krzyzewski and his crew remain her favorite men’s team.

She shares all that and much more on Episode 195 of The Hang Time Podcast … featuring Chamique Holdsclaw …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the “OG” and best sound designer/engineer in the business, Bearded Clint “Clintron” Hawkins.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Chamique Holdsclaw’s return from a two-year hiatus was a seminal moment in the life and career of an icon of the women’s game

George ‘in’ for USA Basketball camp


VIDEO: USA Basketball wins the gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup

For USA Basketball, preparation for the 2016 Olympics has already begun.

As a result of its gold medal victory in last year’s World Cup of Basketball, the U.S. has qualified for the Rio games and won’t be participating in this summer’s FIBA Americas tournament, where two more Olympic bids will be earned. But the U.S. will bring together staff and players in Las Vegas for a four-day mini-camp in August. Potential Olympians were notified of the camp last fall, and the USA Basketball staff has been in communication with them throughout the season.

There are currently 34 players on the National Team roster. The list includes an initial 28-man pool that was announced last January, as well as six players — DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Paul Millsap, Chandler Parsons, Mason Plumlee and John Wall — that were added last summer.

It includes MVP candidates Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, as well as reigning MVP Kevin Durant and Paul George, who broke his leg playing in a USA Basketball exhibition last summer.

This summer’s mini-camp will include another exhibition game at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, where George snapped his right leg against the bottom of the basket stanchion last Aug. 1. The stanchions at Thomas & Mack have since been replaced by ones that are further from the court.

Though George has been practicing with the Indiana Pacers for three weeks, he has yet to decide if he’ll play this season. But he told NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Wednesday that his summer plans won’t change whether or not he plays between now and the end of the Pacers’ season. And when asked about the mini-camp, he was clear that he intends to be there.

“I’m in,” George said. “Of course.”

“The day it happened,” George added, referencing his injury, “right after, I told them I looked forward to continuing on with USA basketball.”  (more…)

Thunder happy to have fresh KD


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only they had KD.

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

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

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

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

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

Blogtable: The U.S. vs. the World

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID — Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA. (more…)