Posts Tagged ‘Pat Riley’

Morning shootaround — May 30




VIDEO: NBA TV analysts discuss Scott Skiles return to Orlando

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Wade could test Heat | Hoiberg on tap | Skiles returns to Orlando | Harden wants help | Irving welcomes rest

No. 1: Wade could force Riley’s hand — What price loyalty? Over the years while team president Pat Riley has shuffled the roster to keep the Heat in the championship mix, franchise player Dwyane Wade has frequently made financial sacrifices to make it all work. He gave up money to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami. He took a shorter deal last summer after James left and the team gave Bosh a big, long-term deal. Now it could be time for Wade to expect his payoff and Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel says it could prove a challenge to Riley:

Amid the uncertainty of the team’s roster situation last June, Wade opted out of the final two years that was left on that contract. Then, once LeBron James elected to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency, Wade re-upped with the Heat on a two-year, $31 million deal that included a $16 million salary for 2015-16 at his option. That contract left more than $10 million on the table from what he otherwise would have collected by not opting out last June.

At the same time, Heat center Chris Bosh, who also is represented by Thomas, secured a maximum free-agent offer from the Houston Rockets, which then led to Bosh agreeing to a five-year, $118 million package with the Heat that began this past season.

Now, with James playing for a championship in Cleveland, it appears Wade might be seeking the type of significant deal he did not secure last summer.

“Several guys opted out of their contract last year,” Thomas said. “Obviously Dwyane wasn’t in a position that Chris was in, in terms of having another team offer a maximum deal. But the reality of this is he’s played his entire career for Miami. He’s done wonderful things in terms of the five titles that they played for, winning three of them.

“He’s had a tremendous career, and we’re just trying to see whether or not there’s room to continue that.”

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No. 2: Bulls ready to make Hoiberg coach — In a city known for plenty of political secrets and more than its share of back room dealing, nobody is surprised that the Bulls have Fred Hoiberg lined up to the be their next head coach, replacing the fired Tom Thibodeau. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times says its only a matter of Hoiberg making things official:

“It’s just when Fred [Hoiberg] says yes to them, not if,’’ the source said. “This is a year in the works.’’

Coaches – both college and at the NBA level – are actually very much dialed into one another, and there weren’t many in either profession that didn’t feel like the Bulls and Hoiberg would be a match “sooner than later.’’

With the NBA Finals between Cleveland and Golden State set to start on Thursday, the Bulls could have the Hoiberg matter signed, sealed and delivered before then.

The only possible hiccup out there seems to be the Minnesota Timberwolves, who also covet Hoiberg. Hoiberg played for the Timberwolves from 2003-05, and then was an assistant general manager for the franchise, seemingly on the fast track to become the general manager. When that never materialized, he went into coaching prior to the 2010 season, and has turned Iowa State into a prominent NCAA program.

According to sources, he’s actually been on the Bulls’ radar since late last year as a Plan B, and as the relationship between now former coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office disintegrated as the year has gone on, he was Plan A with no realistic options following him.

That’s what made the press conference with VP of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman such good theater on Thursday, as the two had to do their best to act like it will be a vast coaching search.

“We’ve got certain criteria that we’re going to be looking for in the next coach,’’ Forman said. “But we’re not going to put ourselves in a box – ‘had to be a head coach, had to be an assistant coach, what level they’ve coached on’ – we’re really going to look for the right fit.

“And I went through some of those things that I’ve talked about. Obviously someone that can lead, but we’ve got to get somebody that can communicate at a high level, that’s got great knowledge of the game, obviously experience is a plus, as far as coaching is concerned. If they’ve been a head coach even more so, but we’re not going to limit our search in any way.’’

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No. 3: Skiles hopes to make more Magic in Orlando — It took Scott Skiles and Magic president Alex Martins some time to make sure they were getting back together for all the right reasons, but the former point guard made his return to Orlando official and now he picks up the rebuilding process, says Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

In reality, however, the Magic first had to overcome a significant obstacle, a hurdle in Skiles’ mind.

“I wanted to make sure I was being hired because they thought I could coach, not because I was someone that was affiliated with the organization in the past,” Skiles said.

That concern, Skiles explained, started to fade away once he and the team’s general manager, Rob Hennigan, held a seven-hour talk in Skiles’ suburban Orlando home in recent weeks.

“The first conversation I had with him, I made it very clear that our first priority was to get to know each other on a personal level,” Hennigan said. “The conversation really sort of cascaded from there. I didn’t bring up one time that it was a bonus that he played here or has familiarity with the area and the fan base. That was truly just gravy.”

Throughout a press conference late Friday afternoon, Hennigan and Martins sought to combat the widespread perception that the team hired Skiles because of his past ties to the franchise.

Martins said Hennigan provided him with a list of potential hires shortly after the season ended, and Hennigan started to go through each name one-by-one. When Hennigan arrived at Skiles’ name and started to speak, Martins stopped Hennigan and told him that Hennigan had to arrive at his own conclusions.

Martins added that he spoke with Skiles just twice between the end of the regular season and Friday. The first time lasted just several minutes and was meant to inform Skiles that Hennigan would be in contact. The second time occurred Thursday, when Skiles, Martins and Hennigan traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., to speak with the DeVos family.

“I truly wanted this to be an objective decision about his coaching ability,” Martins said Friday. “I didn’t want my personal past with Scott and my experience with him of having been a player here and our relationship to enter into that. We truly had to find the right coach for this team.”

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No. 4: Harden would welcome playmaker — One look at a worn-away, worn-down, worn-out James Harden at the end of the Western Conference finals was all that was needed to tell you that the MVP candidate could not be expected to carry so much of the load if he is going to carry the Rockets to their goal of winning a championship. At the team’s exit interviews on Friday, Harden confirmed that he would welcome the offseason acquisition of a playmaking point guard so the Rockets can take the next step forward. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has the details:

He said he “definitely” would like to see the Rockets add another playmaker to take some of that responsibility out of his hands.
“That’s one of the conversations me and Daryl are going to have (and) the coaches,” Harden said. “That’s one of the pieces to add, but that’s later conversations. We’ll be all right. We’re very confident in the group we have. This summer we have to work hard and be ready for next year.”

Still, Harden said the Rockets could benefit from keeping more of their core together. Of the 15 players on the Rockets final 2013-14 roster, seven were gone by the start of the next season. Just five players on roster that faced the Trail Blazers were around by the start of this season’s playoffs.

He called keeping the Rockets’ nucleus together “very important” and spoke of the benefits of growing together.

“If we get Pat (Beverley) and D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) back healthy, we’re a really good team, a really deep team,” Harden said.

“We’re pretty good with what we have, maybe add a piece or so. But we made it this far with a couple of our guys injured and banged up. Put those guys together and we’ll be a lot better.”

Harden said he intends to work on his “entire game,” and cited “different aspects of shooting, coming off pin-downs, my ball-handling, not turning the basketball over so much.  Post-up game.”

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No. 5: Break before Finals suits Irving — The rest of basketball world may not be happy with more than a week break before the start of the NBA Finals. But Cavs mending point guard Kyrie Irving says the break before taking on the Warriors is just what the doctor ordered, according to our own Steve Aschburner:

“I’m participating in everything,” Irving said after the Cavaliers’ workout Friday. “We just had a light practice today. The next few days, we’ll definitely ramp it up, I assume. I’m in everything. So I’m ready to go.”

That’s a departure from the previous three rounds. Irving sprained his right foot early in the first round against Boston, which, as he continued to play on it, led to a compensating injury in his left knee. That tendinitis limited him against Chicago and caused him to skip Games 2 and 3 against Atlanta in the East finals.

The three-time All Star, 23, did at least travel with the Cavs to Atlanta to start the series, then took a side trip to Florida with Cleveland team physician Dr. Richard Parker to consult with noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. They came back with a tweaked treatment plan, which Irving credited for helping him play in the Game 4 clincher Tuesday. He scored 16 points in 22 minutes in the 30-point blowout.

Irving’s production hasn’t dropped off entirely, even though he has lacked his signature turbocharged quickness, along with the trust in his body. In 12 games, he has averaged 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and his player-efficiency rating of 20.3 is within his PER range of 20.1 to 21.5 through his first four NBA seasons.

But going through the “will he or won’t he?” uncertainty with the knee (the foot isn’t much of an issue anymore) took a mental toll on Irving. So did the layers of treatment, even as he was trying to properly prepare in case he did play.

“You know, being hurt sucks. Especially in a time like that,” Irving said. “So it was just a learning experience, to say the least. But it was a test of my will. I was very resilient in what I was doing. Hopefully going forward I don’t have any relapse.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Klay Thompson could miss at least several days of practice before The Finals after diagnosis of a concussion….Dwight Howard will miss the 2015-16 season opener after getting upgraded to a flagrant foul in the Western Conference finals closer…Warriors Bogut says Dwight Howard crosses the line with physical play…Alvin Gentry is the first candidate to get a second interview with the Pelicans…Wes Matthews leaves the door open in Portland….Thabo Sefolosha says New York police have damaged his reputation

Morning Shootaround — May 24


VIDEO: Saturday night was Stephen Curry’s night in Houston

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is the real MVP | LeBron is the B.O.A.T. | Korver, Hawks all but done? | Wounded Rockets stunned by loss | Skiles the frontrunner for the Magic job

No. 1: Steph Curry is the real MVP — The debate is over. Stephen Curry is the “real MVP.” If that is not clear after three games of the Curry-James Harden duel in the Western Conference finals, you need a new pair of glasses. Curry’s brilliance was on full display in the Warriors’ Game 3 win in Houston Saturday night. And good luck finding a comparable talent, a topic our very own Fran Blinebury explored in the aftermath of the Warriors’ huge win:

The record book now says that after hitting 7-for-9 from long range to ignite his 40-point, seven-assist, five-rebound, two-steal bonfire and an embarrassing 115-80 beatdown of the Rockets, Curry is now the most prolific 3-point shooter in the history of the playoffs, passing the legendary likes of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.

Your eyes that pop wide open, your ears that can hear the wind getting sucked right out of the arena and any sense of innate rhythm that runs from your head to your feet say you don’t need any list of numbers to tell you he’s a completely different breed of cat.

“I think it’s the ball-handling that leads to the shot,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “People ask me all the time who I would compare him with. I played with Mark Price years ago. Mark had a skill set that was really fun to watch, great ball handler, quick pull-up on a dime. Steve Nash, although Steve really preferred to make the pass and he was a reluctant shooter, could still shoot off the dribble.

“But I don’t think we’ve seen anybody this quick, [with] ability to create space and then pull up and six, seven feet beyond the line, with this kind of fearlessness and confidence. He’s really something.”

That was perhaps one thing a few of the swells in the high-priced front row seats were saying midway through the third quarter when Curry grabbed the rebound off a missed layup by Klay Thompson, ran to the left corner, turned to drill one more trey, stared at the crowd, then removed his mouthpiece to return verbal fire.

“That’s the fun with playoff basketball on the road,” Curry said. “You’ve got hecklers and guys up close that paid of a lot of money for those seats that want to get their money’s worth. It’s fun. You know, those are just genuine reactions.

“I think the one in the corner, a guy said — it was a four-letter word I can’t repeat. But that’s the one I turned around and just said, ‘Sit down.’ Just having fun with him, go about my business, get back on defense. If they want to talk, hopefully they can take some back in my fashion.”

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Reversal of fortune for Heat down stretch


VIDEO: Wade gets a tough shot to drop in a losing effort

So this is what the post-LeBron James verdict looks like for the Heat: A losing record in a powderpuff conference, Dwyane Wade‘s brain trying to overcompensate for his body, a costly loss Saturday at home to Toronto and another day or two before their absence from the playoffs becomes official.

Yes, this is a rather steep drop from four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two championships and lots of bubbly being uncorked at LIV, the South Beach playpen for a franchise that owned the NBA since 2010. There will be no celebrating the 2014-15 season, one in which the Heat hoped for the best but was served with a worst-case scenario come true.

An injury to Chris Bosh and the LeBron defection will cause Miami to become the first NBA Finalist to miss the playoffs since the 2004-05 Lakers, and this will also be the first Erik Spoelstra-coached team to hit the golf course early. Well, you could understand. No team could survive the loss of two-thirds of a Big Three and expect to live happily thereafter. Although Wade was brilliant at times, especially after healing from a nagging hamstring issue, the Heat couldn’t overcome all the losses or a chance to avoid a losing season.

A critic could nit-pick and say Miami shouldn’t made a stronger stand in the East, where the Celtics (!) could make the playoffs. Remember, not only did Miami have Wade, but Bosh made the All-Star team before a blood clot was found on his lung and ended his season. Plus, Miami stumbled upon the discovery of the year in center Hassan Whiteside and also traded for Goran Dragic at the deadline.

Yet: Miami got too much inconsistency from Luol Deng and Dragic has been a mild disappointment. Here’s all you need to know: Miami leaned on Michael Beasley down the stretch. Seriously.

And now, the question becomes: How long will this non-playoff stretch last for the Heat? Assuming they get good health form their key players, the easy answer to that is: Not for long. They’ll have Wade, Bosh and Dragic (if he re-signs as expected) next season, and if Whiteside doesn’t suddenly turn into a pumpkin, then they’ll have a double-double center as well. In the East, that’s a team worth 44 wins.

It would be dangerous to underestimate Pat Riley and Micky Arison, especially with the free agent class of 2016 coming soon. LeBron isn’t walking in that door again, but eventually, someone else will.

Anthony Mason, an underdog who became an alpha dog


VIDEO: In Memoriam: Anthony Mason

NEW YORK – Anthony Mason, a fringe basketball prospect who made himself into an NBA All-Star through his indomitable will and unyielding strength, died this morning at the age of 48. Mason reportedly suffered a massive heart attack a few weeks ago, and had been trying to battle back ever since.

New York Knicks v Sacramento Kings

Anthony Mason was a key member of the Knicks team that reached the 1994 NBA Finals.

If the news of Mason’s death feels particularly shocking, perhaps it’s because we just weren’t used to seeing Mason lose many battles. A stout, 6-foot-7 forward, Mason played collegiately at the small Tennessee State University, before launching a peripatetic basketball existence. In search of a hoops home, Mason went from Turkey to Colorado, from stints in the NBA to the CBA to the USBL, before finally catching on with Pat Riley’s rough and tumble Knicks in 1991.

In a city defined by its superstars, as a Knick, Mason shined as bright as any of them. His ornate haircuts made him distinctive, but his hard-nosed play made him indispensable. His averages in New York weren’t eye-popping — 9.9 ppg and 7.7 rpg — but Mason provided airtight defense and a post presence, bullying players even when he gave up inches or pounds.

In 1994, the Knicks advanced to the Finals, losing in seven games to the Houston Rockets. The next season, Mason was named Sixth Man of the Year and, with his value at a high and the Knicks looking for a minor rebuild, Mason was traded to Charlotte in a package centered around Larry Johnson.

In three full seasons as a Hornet, Mason developed into a more well-rounded player, averaging a double-double (13.4 ppg and 10 rpg) in his time in the Queen City. He then was reunited in Miami with Riley, and played one season with the Heat, carrying the team while Alonzo Mourning dealt with kidney issues. It was as a member of the Heat that in 2001, at the age of 34, Mason made his only All-Star team, averaging a career-high 16.1 points.

After two more seasons in Milwaukee, Mason retired and returned home to Tennessee, though he made occasional appearances at Knicks games over the years, always to thunderous applause. Perhaps nowhere is an underdog embraced the way they are in New York City, a city built on the hopes and dreams of millions of citizens who feel if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

And nobody defined the underdog quite like Anthony Mason.

Heat’s Bosh out for season with blood clots

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Chris Bosh’s season is over, the Miami Heat announced this afternoon. The Heat star will miss the remainder of this season while being treated for blood clots on his lungs.

The treatment for such a condition requires at least a six-month period of limited physical activity, meaning Bosh could very well be on the mend deep into the summer. The news of his condition comes days after Portland Trail Blazers legend Jerome Kersey died suddenly of a blood clot in his lung at 52.

Bosh, who is receiving care under the guidance of the Heat team physicians at a Baptist Health System Hospital, is “currently resting comfortably.” The Heat statement insists that Bosh is doing fine and his prognosis is “good.”

A 10-time All-Star, Bosh averaged 21.1 points and 7 rebounds for a Heat team that was revamped Thursday, the day he was admitted to the hospital with chest discomfort, when Heat boss Pat Riley engineered a trade deadline deal to bring Goran Dragic to Miami to join forces with Bosh and fellow All-Star Dwyane Wade.

The Heat, 22-30 and seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, will have to battle to stay in the playoff picture without the player who served as one of their anchors this season, their first in four years without LeBron James.

VIDEO: Dwyane Wade talks about the Heat’s new look with Goran Dragic

Morning shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers try to hold it together | Popovich, Rose stick up for Thibodeau | Riley not itching to make deals | Report: Wizards interested in Allen, too

No. 1: Blazers trying to hold it together now — Without a doubt, there have been better weeks this season for the Portland Trail Blazers than the one they’re in right now. Yesterday came news that All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge will miss 6-8 weeks following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. Then came last night’s game against the Boston Celtics (which Portland lost, 90-89), sending the Blazers to their fifth loss in six games. Within that game, starting small forward Nicolas Batum injured his wrist and did not return. All of this has Portland circling its wagons, writes Sean Meagher of The Oregonian:

The Portland Trail Blazers will be without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge for the next 6-8 weeks as the three-time All-Star will havesurgery on a torn ligament in his left hand.

The Blazers, who have lost five of their last six games following Thursday’s 90-89 loss to the Boston Celtics, refuse to feel sorry for themselves despite a rash of injuries (which included Nicolas Batum re-aggravating a sore wrist) over the last month.

“I don’t want to get into not having LaMarcus and I don’t want to get into having Nic out there,” head coach Terry Stotts said after the game. “Everybody knows what Nic can bring and what LA brings, so we have to figure out different ways of scoring and sometimes different ways of playing.”

“We’ve got to hold down the fort,” added guard Wesley Matthews. “We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to find ways to win and continue to play basketball the right way.”


VIDEO: Terry Stotts talks about the Blazers’ myriad of injuries

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Rockets likely lead contenders for recently waived Josh Smith


VIDEO: Where might Josh Smith wind up next?

The only way Josh Smith could be more of a target is if he had a glow-in-the-dark bullseye painted on his back.

After all, when the Pistons waived him Monday, he was on pace to become the first NBA player to shoot less than 40 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line while taking at least 12 shots per game.

However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a line of prospective employers from coast-to-coast as soon as the 11-year veteran hits the free-agent market when he clears waivers on Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the leading candidates:

Rockets — Probably tops on the list. Houston general manager Daryl Morey went after Smith in the summer of 2013, but could not close a sign-and-trade with Atlanta to get a deal done. With Terrence Jones sidelined, the Rockets still have the need for him at the four as a rebounder and long defender and Smith’s penchant for those wild 3-pointers might get lost in Houston’s long distance barrage. Smith could easily envision himself playing for a true title contender this season if he joins a lineup with his good buddy Dwight Howard and NBA leading scorer James Harden. Howard and Smith became close when they played on the same AAU team. Howard was also best man in Smith’s wedding. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets would offer their $2.077 million bi-annual exception. Likely preferred destination.

Mavericks — That in-state Texas rivalry between Dallas and Houston that has already seen Chandler Parsons head north over the summer and then the Mavs win out last week in the Rajon Rondo Derby is only likely to get hotter. With Brandan Wright sent to Boston in the Rondo swap, the Mavs definitely have a need for a big body up front to come off the bench. There’s another personal connection here. Smith and Rondo played on the same Oak Hill Academy high school team. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News caught up with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: “My opinion on Josh Smith? He’s a player whose ability I respect a lot,” Carlisle said. “And he’s had enough big games against us. He’s the kind of guy who can put a team on his back and beat you. He’s done it to us a lot of times. So I don’t know details of what happened there. But he’ll be picked up soon, I know that.” The all-in-for-this-season-Mavs should never be counted out.

Grizzlies — While two straight losses still have Memphis sitting as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the grit and grind Grizzlies are always looking for ways to juice up their offense and get easy baskets. Smith’s size could fit in on an already bruising front line with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and when motivated to run the floor, he can finish and take some of the pressure off to toil through the shot clock for buckets.

Heat — The season-ending injury to Josh McRoberts has Miami crying out for help on the front line and in terms of raw talent, packages like Smith don’t often drop down your chimney at this time of the year. The Heat don’t have that “you’re joining a title contender cachet” as the top three pursuers in the West. But the thought is that Smith could join a lineup that really needs him and he’d be asked to play in a system suited to his skill set and not necessarily one where a squeeze would be needed to make him fit. Miami hopes to get a $2.65 million disabled-player cap exception with McRoberts headed for knee surgery. The Heat would figure they could keep the wild side of Smith’s game under wraps with the influence of team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and the on-court presence of veterans Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade among others.

Clippers — When asked about his interest in Smith at the team’s shoot around in San Antonio Monday, coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers simply said: “I don’t know.” The Clippers have been searching for help at the three all season, but would have only have the minimum to offer Smith. Since they are at the 15-man roster limit, they would have to waive a player before they could sign Smith. The personal connection in L.A. is assistant coach Mike Woodson, who was the head man in Atlanta when Smith had his most productive NBA seasons with the Hawks.

Kings — ESPN.com reported last summer that Sacramento tried to trade for Smith, offering various packages that included names such as Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams and Carl Landry. At the time it was said to be Kings owner Vivek Ranadive that wanted Smith to team up with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in would certainly have been an oddly-matched Kings’ frontcourt. Sacramento could only afford to offer the veterans minimum of $1.4 million. But the biggest handicap the Kings have compared to the other Western is not being a contender.

Morning Shootaround — August 10


NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Alonzo Mourning delivers his moving Hall of Fame speech

Durant’s National Team dues have been paid | Ray Allen will play in 2014-15 season | Lakers still feeling the sting of deal that never happened

No. 1: Durant’s National Team dues have been paid — Eyebrows around the globe went up when Kevin Durant officially withdrew from the roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup late last week, citing physical and mental exhaustion. Folks will continue to debate whether or not it was the right decision. But our Jeff Caplan insists Durant’s dues have been paid:

In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James,LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

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Durant has paid his Team USA dues

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Durant withdraws from Team USA participation

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

And as Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry pointed out, Durant has pushed his body to the limit over the last five seasons — both for the Thunder and Team USA.

Durant came away from the Vegas training camp and looked ahead to the commitment that followed. Team USA continues training in Chicago on Aug. 14-16, moves on to New York on Aug. 18-22 for workouts and exhibition games and a few days later heads to the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, to complete its preparations and exhibition schedule. It begins World Cup play on Aug. 30 in Bilbao, Spain. The gold-medal game is Sept. 14 in Madrid. NBA training camps open two weeks later.

Did Durant’s decision come as a surprise to Team USA? Yes. Was his timing tough? Sure. But the American pool is deep even with many of its top dogs — and particularly at the forward positions — having withdrawn. Team USA’s candidates at the wing include Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, Gordon Hayward and newest addition Rudy Gay. There’s not an MVP among them, in fact, not even an All-Star save for 2014 East reserve DeRozan.

But that’s OK. That’s what opportunity is all about. Gold isn’t a cinch, but why should it be? Team USA remains well-equipped to play on the final day in Madrid, and Durant, who has worn his country’s colors with honor, has earned the right to take a step back, regardless of when he came to that decision.

So everybody get a grip, and enjoy the games.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 170) featuring John Schuhmann

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Time to make some cuts … or roster selections as they say in the world of USA Basketball, where NBA All-Stars go to get humbled.

Not everyone is going to make the traveling roster for the World Cup in Spain later this month. Guys like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Paul George and Anthony Davis are virtual locks to make it to Spain.

But there are still some questions to be answered for other guys who are a part of the master group but might not fit on the competitive roster for this particular position. All-Star talents like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins and others are fighting until the very end for their respective places on the team.

It’s a good thing USA Basketball honchos Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have the responsibility of making the hard choices. But if they need any assistance, they can listen to Episode 170 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Schuhmann. NBA.com’s stat master and international basketball maven has been on the ground in Las Vegas since the start of training camp. He’s crunched the numbers and watched the workouts. He’s got his own ideas, backed up by his meticulously gathered data, about who should make the final cut.

So do we, of course (in addition to our views on the latest surrounding LeBron James, Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins, Pat Riley and more).

Tune into Episode 170 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Schuhmann to find out all about it:

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 best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

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