Posts Tagged ‘Paul George’

With holes to fill, Rudy Gay adds depth and experience to Team USA

VIDEO: Rudy Gay talks about his chances to make Team USA

NEW YORK — Since Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski took control of USA Basketball, they’ve spoken often of building USA Basketball into more of a “program,” establishing continuity by having a pool of players they’d be able to call upon for the various international competitions.

Never was that depth more necessary than this summer, when Team USA lost three key frontcourt members (Paul George, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant) in the span of a few weeks. In need of size and scoring, Colangelo was pleased to get a call volunteering his services from Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay, who was part of USA Basketball’s 2010 World Championship team and represented the USA in the 2005 Global Games.

Being welcomed back to the USA Basketball fold was important for Gay.

“It means a lot,” he said on Wednesday night, after scoring a team-high 13 points in a 105-62 exhibition win over the Dominican Republic. “The fact that I was one of the options, and the fact that they trusted in me to be ready, and they thought I could help.”

When Durant announced he was out, Gay was two weeks into his workouts to prepare for the regular season, weights and beginning basketball drills.

“This is a time when you’re usually just working by yourself or playing pickup,” said Gay. “To play competitively and also have a little more structure, or a lot more structure, helps you going into your season.

“Since my surgery I haven’t really been able to play competitive basketball in the summer, so it’s big just to be able to get back and play competitive basketball.”

In last week’s exhibition against Brazil, Gay scored five points in a dozen minutes. Tonight against the Dominican Republic, Gay played almost 18 minutes and scored in a variety of ways, including knocking down a three and getting to the free-throw line.

Without Love, Durant and George, the U.S. team lost most of their interior depth. The 6-foot-8 Gay gives them a player with the size to swing between both forward positions, and even switch onto a center defensively in a pinch, as well as the offensively ability to score from the inside or outside. Combine that versatility with his international basketball experience, and Gay would seem to be a lock to make the final roster. Not that Colangelo and Krzyzewski have given Gay any hints as to his roster status: “None. None. That was agreed to upon me coming. I told them I didn’t want anything, I wanted to prove my way. We didn’t have a conversation about anything.”

Gay’s late arrival to this U.S. team was made simpler by the continuity of the USA Basketball program — just as the USA Basketball staff was familiar with Gay’s game and what he could bring, Gay was familiar with Coach K’s system and expectations. But while he mostly played small forward in 2010, Gay is now spending most of his time at the four, or power forward position.

“It’s not a natural four,” Gay said. “So I’m trying to learn the spots they want me to be at also how I can be effective at them. It’s more like a stretch four, especially when I’m in there. I think that’s what coach wants from me and the kind of game they want to see me play.

“I can guard different positions, make it easier on our guards. And that makes it easier for the whole team.”

‘Melo says Knicks are a playoff team

Carmelo Anthony is putting in the work this summer to back up his words about the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Don’t count the New York Knicks out of the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference.

Not yet.

So says the face of the franchise, Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is not only talking the talk, insisting that the Knicks will rebound from last season’s dismal 37-45 finish and return to the playoffs this season, he’s putting in the work to prepare himself physically and mentally for the rigors to come during the first full season of the Phil Jackson-Derek Fisher regime.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post caught up with ‘Melo and delivers the goods:

But the playoffs are another matter. In fact, Anthony on Monday asserted his belief the Knicks “absolutely” will be back in the playoffs after missing out last season.

“Yeah, I think so for sure. Absolutely,” an impressively slimmed-down Anthony said of the Knicks’ playoff chances before entering a Midtown gym for a late morning-to-early afternoon workout with a group of NBA players.

Anthony snuffed an attempt to establish any goals for the revamped Knicks, who will enter their first full season under team president Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher.

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Anthony, who missed the playoffs for the first time in his career when the Knicks stumbled to a 37-45 record last season. “No goals. Not setting any goals, but I just can’t wait to get it back on.”

Whether this is just a star player exhibiting the expected confidence in himself and his situation or ‘Melo channeling the power of positive thinking is irrelevant. Knicks fans should love what they are seeing and hearing from ‘Melo. He’s either all in with the new program in New York or a better actor than anyone on Broadway.

There are plenty of factors in the Eastern Conference conspiring against ‘Melo and the Knicks.

LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, who are expected to add Kevin Love to their mix in the coming days, have forced a complete reshuffling of the playoff deck. If what we’ve seen from Derrick Rose this summer is any indication, the Chicago Bulls (with Pau Gasol now on board) will also force changes at the top.

The Indiana Pacers are expected to tumble a bit with the losses of both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency). But the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets are poised to move up in the standings. The East’s defending champs, the Miami Heat, have Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade ready to hold the line sans LeBron and remain in the projected playoff mix.

That leaves a narrow opening for the handful of teams (led by the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Knicks) vying for those final precious playoff spots. I don’t know that Anthony’s confidence is warranted, especially given the 2013-14 season he and the Knicks endured.

But the bravado is good to see and should be welcomed by folks who like to see the best players embrace the super-sized expectations that come with playing in New York. Whatever the Knicks do this season rests on Anthony’s re-sculpted shoulders. If his personal transformation is any indication, and if his confidence has infected the locker room, the Knicks could very well find their way into the playoffs.

It won’t be easy, of course. And it’ll take some luck of some sort along the way.

It’s the offseason, everybody … well, almost everybody believes deep down that this is going to be their year. Even if they are completely delusional, they believe in August.

‘Melo is no different. And he’s got a 54-win season from two years ago as a reminder of what the Knicks can do when they are clicking. Some of the faces have changed and the system will be different from what the Knicks operated when coach Mike Woodson was calling the shots.

But if ‘Melo says the Knicks are “absolutely” headed back to the top eight mix in the Eastern Conference, I see no reason to dismiss the notion now.

It’s like Kevin Garnett once famously said: “anything is possible!”


VIDEO: Knicks.com highlights the top matchups for the 2014-15 season

For Coach K, Team USA, day at West Point goes beyond hoops


VIDEO: Coach K talks about Team USA at West Point

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Addressing the crowd in Christl Arena just before Monday’s USA Basketball open practice began, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “I take West Point everywhere I go.”

Krzyzewski attended the United States Military Academy at West Point as a cadet, and was a three-year letterman under coach Bob Knight from 1967-69. After five years of service in the Army and one year as an assistant coach at Indiana under Knight, Krzyzewski returned to West Point as coach, his first head coaching position. In five years at Army, before moving on to Duke in 1980, Krzyzewski accumulated a 73-59 record.

Which explains in part why Krzyzewski was looking forward to Monday as part of the USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team’s preparation for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The practice itself was nothing more than shooting drills and layup lines, with a short scrimmage mixed in. But Krzyzewski felt the lessons learned were less about basketball and more about teaching what it means to represent the United States.

“A day like today is one of our most important days,” Krzyzewski said, “because these guys get a chance of feeling America, feeling what it is to be on the U.S. team. You know, we’ve done that with all of our teams, whether it be Arlington Cemetery, the Statue of Liberty, Wounded Warriors, people coming in from the military to talk. To spend a day here is better than any offensive or defensive drill you could have that bonds a team together. That’s what today was about.”

The team spent the early part of the day touring the campus and doing things like watching cadets run an obstacle course, observing a Combat Water Survival Swim Lab, as well as visiting the West Point Cemetery. Just before the practice, they ate lunch in the mess hall with the cadets.

“They only have like, 20-25 minutes to eat,” said Team USA guard Derrick Rose. “That’s what shocked me. How can you even prepare yourself to eat with 20-25 minutes? That’s what shocked me. And waking up. I think they have to get up at 5:30 or something like that. To me, that would be devastating. But it tells you that they’ve committed their whole life to this, and that’s pretty cool.”

“You walk around this place and you just … feel,” said Krzyzewski. “You feel good about being an American, and you feel a little bit more proud of being a USA Basketball player and coach. And that’s what we wanted our guys to get today. You can talk about it, you can see it, but today we all had a chance to feel it. And that’s why we do these things with the military.”

Despite spending over three decades at Duke, it’s obvious that West Point still plays a huge role in Coach K’s life. He calls West Point “the foundation of who I am.” He still wears his West Point class ring just above his wedding band (“I never take it off”), and he visits the campus at least once a year.

“You go to the best leadership school in the world, and something’s gotta rub off, you know,” Krzyzewski says. “Part of it is organization, understanding of teamwork, not accepting failure — all these things. I got married on graduation day here at West Point. And I lived here for five years when I coached, so it’s been a cool place.”

Even his former Duke players understand Krzyzewski’s special relationship with West Point, as they heard him frequently reference West Point during locker room motivational sessions.

“You know, 30 years at Duke, he’s got some Duke stories,” admitted Team USA center Mason Plumlee, who played for Krzyzewski at Duke from 2009-2013. “But he’ll always reach back to some of his West Point stories — when he was a player, when he was a coach here. The most frequent were the ones where Bob Knight was telling what he could and couldn’t do. Those were always good stories.”

After the open practice, the team headed back to New York City to prepare for exhibitions against the Dominican Republic (Wednesday) and Puerto Rico (Friday). While Monday might have been about team building off the court, with Paul George injured and Kevin Durant gone this group first assembled in Vegas, Krzyzewski says there is plenty of work left to do in the gym.

“We need a lot of practice time, quickly, because we’ve had so many changes in our roster. And the guys are working hard but hopefully the next few days will be good for us.”

Faried not your typical FIBA big


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried has made a name for himself with Team USA

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kenneth Faried does not fit the mold.

To play the four or the five for the U.S. National Team in FIBA competition, you typically need to be able to shoot or be really tall. Faried can’t shoot and is just 6-foot-8.

USA in New York this week
The U.S. National Team begins its third phase of World Cup preparation with an open practice on the campus of the U.S. Military Academy (coach Mike Krzyzewski’s alma mater) on Monday. It will also practice at the Brooklyn Nets’ practice facility in East Rutherford, NJ on Tuesday and Thursday, and play exhibition games against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and Friday. After that, the team moves on to the Canary Islands for two more practices and an exhibition against Slovenia.
Date Description Broadcast
Monday Open practice 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Tuesday Practice
Wednesday USA vs. DOM 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Thursday Practice
Friday USA vs. PUR 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Aug. 24-25 Practice
Aug. 26 USA vs. SLO 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Aug. 30-Sept. 14 FIBA World Cup Spain

Even in the NBA, where perimeter shooting is getting more important every year, Faried has his limitations as a power forward. In international play, where zone defenses are allowed and the 3-point line is shorter, a non-shooter can be thought of as a liability. Over the last several years, the U.S. has filled the power forward position with its big (and talented) three men, guys like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

So when this year’s training camp opened in Las Vegas three weeks ago with 19 (and then 20) guys vying for 12 roster spots, Faried looked like a long shot to make the team.

But it didn’t take long for him to make the staff rethink what they looked for in a power forward and what kind of team they were building. In the first few days of practice, Faried made a compelling case for inclusion on the 12-man roster that would compete at the World Cup. And that was before Paul George broke his leg and Durant decided he wasn’t going to play.

No, he didn’t come to camp having grown a few inches or with an improved jumper. Faried’s energy and bounce was just impossible to ignore. He broke the mold for an international power forward by just doing what he does: running, jumping, grabbing lots of rebounds, and finishing around the rim.

That could have earned Faried a role as a “specialist,” someone who can make an impact in short bursts. But now, with George and Durant out of the picture, Faried is a candidate to start for the U.S. In fact, he started the first exhibition game against Brazil on Saturday.

It helps that the U.S. has Anthony Davis starting and playing the bulk of the minutes at center. Davis has range out to 20 feet and can take on the role of floor-spacing big on offense. With Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry and James Harden also in the starting lineup, the U.S. is in good shape on that end of the floor.

That fifth guy needs to do the dirty work and feed off the others. Faried did just that against Brazil, racking up 11 points, nine rebounds and two assists in a little over 23 minutes of action.

On the USA’s second possession of the game, Faried beat Nene to a rebound and drew a foul on the tip-in. On the next possession, he drove past Nene and fed Davis for an easy dunk. Before he was subbed out just four minutes into the game, he had picked up a couple of offensive boards (tipping in his own miss) and a deflection on defense.

Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons are the other candidates to start at power forward for the U.S. Both got a few minutes with the other four starters on Saturday and one or both could start in New York this week. Faried got the start on Saturday because Brazil has such a big frontline.

But neither Gay nor Parsons is the rebounder or defender that Faried is. And neither made the impact that Faried made on Saturday. Not only did he record a near-double-double, but the U.S. outscored Brazil 65-38 in Faried’s 23-plus minutes. His plus-minus, both overall and on a per-possession basis, was the best on the team.

Defensively, Faried does fit what the U.S. is trying to do, which is force their opponent into turnovers and a fast pace with their speed and athleticism. Faried has the strength to hang with the bigger fours and fives inside, but also the quickness to challenge shots on the perimeter. On Saturday, Brazil scored just 38 points on 48 possessions (79 per 100) with him on the floor.

We shouldn’t try to take too much from just one game. Faried could be a minus-10 against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday. But early indications are that he’s a good fit on that starting unit and that he can make a positive impact in more than short bursts. In what would have been a huge surprise a few weeks ago, he’s a lock to make the final U.S. roster.

Kenneth Faried has broken the mold.


VIDEO: Team USA knocks off Brazil in Chicago

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul George starts long road back | Did Durant “withdraw” or “quit?” | Searching for USA’s sixth man | Wait till it’s your home, not Ray Allen’s

No. 1: Paul George starts long road back — Two weeks removed from the gruesome (sorry if we’re overusing that word, but it’s the best adjective available) injury that shut down Paul George‘s Team USA experience, wiped out his plans for the 2014-15 NBA season and had many onlookers worried about his pro career, the Indiana Pacers’ All-Star wing player met with media in Indianapolis on Friday. Through them, he spoke to the fans – not just to those who root for the Pacers and him but for the league and for dazzling young athletes of any kind who might endure such a cataclysmic mishap. And the 24-year-old put a lot of minds at ease with his optimism, as chronicled by Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star:

“A bump in the road,” he called it at one point. “I’ll be able to battle through this. There will be a story I can tell, a testimony I will have.”

And yes, he has seen the video.

“I watched it one time,” George said, “and that’ll be the last time.”

At what was largely a feel-good gathering at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, George even talked about playing again before the end of the coming season. That might have been emotions running ahead of the prognosis, of course, and no one’s holding him to it:

What remains, of course, is the cold reality: A metal rod was planted in George’s right leg, pins screwed in his knee and ankle to hold it in place. His coming season is all but lost. A rigorous road of rehabilitation awaits.

“I’m very aware of not being able to play this year; that’s a huge possibility,” George said. “[But] if I have the opportunity, I’d love to make a comeback.”

He firmly resisted doling out any blame — not to USA Basketball, not to the stanchion at the Thomas & Mack Center he fell on that originally appeared to be considerably closer to the court than one at a typical NBA game. This was nothing more than a freak accident, George said.

“It sucks I was on the bad side of it, but USA Basketball doesn’t deserve any criticism because of this,” he said, noting several times that after a successful recovery, he would still love to suit up for Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

***

No. 2: Did Durant “withdraw” or “quit?” — Words matter, and there currently is a little war of them going on as far as Kevin Durant‘s decision to end his participation with Team USA this summer in its pursuit of the 2014 FIBA World Cup title. Durant notified USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo on Aug. 7 that he felt too mentally and physically drained from Oklahoma City’s long 2013-14 season and his other activities to continue. Unfortunately, his decision came after Team USA laid its X’s & O’s foundation for this summer’s tournament in a week of workouts and walk-throughs in Las Vegas. That – and what some perceive as outside business interests creating a tail-wags-dog situation for Durant – has Chris Sheridan favoring the latter word on his SheridanHoops.com Web site (click through to Sheridan’s site for coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s intriguing assessment of Durant’s work while in the USA camp):

Yes, Durant quit the team.

It is semantics, but “withdrew” is reserved for players who told the federation before training camp began that they would not be attending. If you attended camp in Las Vegas, and if you called coach Mike Krzyzewski to ask for advice on how to be a “leader” when camp resumed in Chicago, and then you blindside Coach K and every other member of the national team, you have “quit.”

What Kevin Durant did was shameful.

And what I have discovered in talking to members of the U.S. federation over the past two days is this: Durant and his agency, Roc Nation, are more interested in cashing in on his MVP award and his expiring Nike deal than they are in having Durant keep his word to the people who were with him in 2010 in Turkey at the World Championship and in 2012 in London at the Olympics.

Team director Jerry Colangelo said he could see signs in Las Vegas that Durant was distracted. Krzyzewski reiterated Friday that Durant’s actions blindsided everyone.

“Looking back, if you could turn back time. you would like for him to make that decision before Vegas. We might have invited somebody different,” Krzyzewski said. “But saying that, that’s in the past, we’re forward, and it puts us a little behind, just like the injuries.”

***

No. 3: Searching for USA’s sixth manCarmelo Anthony never got better reviews than when he voluntarily and affably accepted a reserve role for the 2012 USA squad that won gold at the 2012 London Olympics. The Knicks’ scoring star proved invaluable with his production, points and otherwise, off the bench. He showed, to some, how he might play if he had better talent around him than the rosters in Denver and New York have offered. Anyway, it’s time for some other top-tier talent on a roster full of stars to fill Melo’s sneakers as Team USA’s sixth man and spark plug. Our Steve Aschburner looked at possible candidates as Krzyzewski’s rotations begin to take shape now:

“I really think there are a lot of guys who would be willing to do it,” [Kyle] Korver said. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing. It’s one thing for a guy to be the sixth man on his NBA team, but there have been a bunch of guys [to do that for Team USA]. Every time someone’s done it, it seems that person has gotten a lot of praise and a lot of credit.”

Having a green light to shoot, at the urging of the coaches, at a rate that probably would lead the stellar squad in attempts-per-minute? Yeah, someone might raise his hand for that.
“We’ve got so many guys who can come in and contribute in any aspect of the game,” said [James] Harden, who might pick up some of Durant’s shots in Team USA’s reworked offense. “From Klay Thompson to Kyle Korver to Damian Lillard, so many guys who can be effective at what they do.”

Harden was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 before getting traded to Houston and emerging as an All-Star the past two seasons. He knows a little about managing one’s ego from the bench.

“It’s all about your mindset,” he said Friday. “If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to impact the game, that as soon as you step out there you’re going to make your presence felt, then you’ll be more effective and your team will be better off. We won’t have that problem with this team – I’m sure guys will be ready and super-prepared at all times.”

***

No. 4:  Wait till it’s your home, not Ray Allen’s — The initial reaction of local authorities struck some of us as a tad too casual after the intrusion into longtime NBA sharpshooter Ray Allen‘s luxury home in Coral Gables, Fla. Overnight Wednesday/Thursday, seven males in their late teens entered Allen’s home while his wife and children slept (Allen was not home), waking and alarming Shannon Allen. After she shouted out, the intruders allegedly exited without incident and, when rounded up by police, were not charged with a crime. And that seemed disproportionately light to Allen and his family, who have sought legal representation in the matter and released a statement, carried by the Miami Herald, that included this harrowing description of a scene to which no one should wake:

“She heard male voices loudly discussing our personal property and sat up in a state of alarm to find at least five people inside our bedroom with large flashlights. She was immediately fearful for the safety of her own life, but more importantly the lives of our young children. When she screamed at them, the intruders quickly fled the scene and laughter was heard as they made their way out of our bedroom, down the stairs and out of our house.

“As these individuals were fleeing our house, Shannon immediately called security and the police for help. Shannon and I believe that a number of the public statements made through media outlets have mischaracterized certain important facts and what we believe to be the seriousness of this potentially devastating invasion upon our lives, home and family.

“The suggestion that anyone can unlawfully enter into someone’s locked home and then into an occupied bedroom in the middle of the night without consequences is unsettling…”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: DeMarcus Cousins‘ sore knee won’t let him play for Team USA against Brazil, but he’s on his way back Andre Drummond would love to pounce on the opportunity Cousins’ layoff opens for a big man. … Itinerary change for Team USA: Taking no chances with Ebola in Senegal. … Greg Oden, who once might have been a Team USA big man, gets a trial date instead.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rose committed to Team USA | Blazers submit All-Star weekend bid | Trainer opens up about ‘Melo’s weight loss

No. 1: Rose won’t forsake his Team USA commitment — The U.S. Men’s National Team is practicing away in Chicago on the second leg of its preparation stint for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It’s the first time the squad has practiced since Paul George suffered his leg injury during the team’s scrimmage in Las Vegas. His absence from the team — coupled with Kevin Durant pulling out from the team for personal reasons — has thrust Bulls star Derrick Rose into the spotlight as the likely No. 1 option on the squad. Rose, for his part, told the media after Thursday’s practice he’s sticking with Team USA no matter what. The Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson has more:

But seeing Paul George on his back, his right tibia and fibula fractured and his 2014-15 NBA season over before it began, won’t deter Rose from his commitment to USA Basketball and his own comeback. The Bulls star stated as much on Thursday following Team USA’s practice at Quest Multisport, Rose’s first public comments since George’s horrific injury cut short an intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas on Aug. 1.

“I have no fears, I have faith,” Rose said. “I know that I’m going to be fine. I know that I busted my ass the entire two summers — you can say two seasons — to get back to where I am right now. Just try to keep it moving, stay positive every day, do everything consistent like I’ve been doing.

“I think everything will go my way.”

And so Rose keeps pushing forward, on to a Friday practice and Saturday exhibition against Brazil at the United Center. Next week, training camp shifts to New York and more exhibitions before the FIBA World Cup begins in Spain on Aug. 30.

Neither Rose nor USA assistant coach Tom Thibodeau believes George’s injury or Kevin Durant’s subsequent departure create an added burden.

“There’s a lot of depth to this team,” Thibodeau said. “We have a ton of scoring. “I don’t think anyone is going to be taxed with heavy minutes.

“That’s the value of having depth. I still think it’s good for him to come back in this setting.”


VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks about his Team USA experience and more

(more…)

Back to work: USAB deals with new injury and the weight of one withdrawal

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis got tangled up in Team USA's scrimmage Thursday.

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis got tangled up in Team USA’s scrimmage Thursday.

CHICAGO – After 12 days of upheaval, hand-wringing, rest and re-commitment, Team USA went back to work Thursday with the first of two workout-and-scrimmage sessions, in preparation for their tune-up game against the Brazil national team Saturday night at United Center.

Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball’s men’s team, opened the midday session with a pep talk, sharing the encouraging prognosis on Indiana wing Paul George, whose gruesome right-leg fractures Aug. 1 marred what to that point had been a stellar practice week in Las Vegas.

Then, a couple hours after Colangelo talked to the 16 NBA players vying for 12 Team USA roster spots, Sacramento big man DeMarcus Cousins raised the red flag of injuries again. He got tangled up with New Orleans’ Anthony Davis chasing after a loose ball and wound up lying on the court, grabbing at his right knee.

The early word was a strain, which later was amended to a bone bruise. By mid-afternoon, Cousins – who had limped out of the gym after receiving treatment – minimized the damage via social media.

Still, Cousins’ availability the rest of this week remains unknown. George will be honored via some shooting shirts the U.S. players don Saturday and for their remaining tune-up games before heading to Spain, though of course his 2014-15 season is over for the Pacers and for him.

And then there’s the very large elephant that filled the very large gymnasium Thursday, NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant‘s decision to withdraw last week, citing mental and physical fatigue despite participating in the Las Vegas sessions.

Colangelo said he was not surprised when Durant called him to withdraw, suggesting he noticed wear and tear in Oklahoma City’s four-time scoring champ during the stay in Vegas.

But it all seemed to hit Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski as news, because he had fashioned the national squad’s attack around Durant. After Thursday’s two-plus hour session, Krzyzewski bemoaned the lost preparation time, having Durant quit after rather than before the work started.

“We had a whole camp building what we’re doing around him,” Krzyzewski said. “So that’s the very first thing: You had one of the great scorers at the [power forward position]. So how does that change your offense? That changes your offense immensely.

“You have to do more to get your guards shots. I mean, these guards are really good, but they were complementing one another – Kevin with those guards. … Now we have to look at developing our inside and getting the guards more involved.”

To hear Krzyzewski tell it, losing Durant to his abrupt personal decision is little different from losing George to that devastating injury.

“You don’t replace Kevin Durant. You look different,” he said. “We have today and tomorrow to look different before we play a really good team. That’s a concern for me, because we were pretty far along.

“We had our best camp ever in Vegas since I’ve coached. We had more strategy in, to play a certain way. And then Kevin deciding not to play, we didn’t practice until we’re here. So it’s concerning. Hopefully we’ll be good enough on Saturday.”

Sacramento forward Rudy Gay, a member of the 2010 FIBA World Cup team, joined Team USA in time for Thursday’s workout. He said he’s in good enough shape and needed only to catch up with certain sets and play-calls. He has moved into Durant’s roster spot for now, but he isn’t trying to replace Durant’s production or style.

“I wish I could play like the MVP,” Gay said, smiling. “No, I’m not coming here to fill his footsteps. I just want to play hard and help this team get a W. I’m not going to do it just like him.”

Picking up the slack from Durant – and George, for that matter – figures to be a collective thing. Neither Krzyzewski nor the players nominated anyone to understudy the Durant role. More likely, the offensive burden will fall more on guards such as Stephen Curry, James Harden, Derrick Rose and Klay Thompson, with more of a shift to the outside. Also, Team USA might show feistier, small-ball lineups and dial up their defense, which was at a fever pitch already on Thursday.

“You can’t replace Kevin Durant – what he does, that’s impossible,” Thompson said. “Not having Kevin out there … if a play breaks down, you can just throw it to him and he’s going to get you a bucket.

“You just have to do it collectively. The challenge, I don’t think it’s going to be scoring. I just think it’s going to be who’s gonna rise as a leader. I’m not worried about it actually because we’ve got guys who have experience at this level – we’ve got Steph, Rudy Gay, James Harden, D. Rose.”

Said Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, another deep threat whose touches might go up a bit: “Our guard play is amazing. And that’s going to be the strength of our team now. A lot of what we do is going to be predicated off of our guard play. … I don’t think we’re going to get to the end of the shot-clock much.”

George’s freak injury revived some debate on the risks faced by NBA players – and the teams that employ and guarantee them millions of dollars – in international play such as this and the Olympics. Durant’s late withdrawal is seen by some as a second-guess and a preemptive move to avoid a mishap of his own. Cousins’ limp off the floor Thursday was yet another reminder.

But there still were 16 players in the gym, to be cut down to 12 by the time Team USA leaves New York Aug. 23. If there was any trepidation, no one was showing or saying.

“I didn’t sense anything,” Korver said. “We’re basketball players. This is what we do. … More so than anything, what gets you hurt is playing to not get hurt. When you get to this level, you have to be able to shut that out.

“We’d love to have them. We understand why Kevin’s not here. Obviously we feel horrible for Paul. But I think there’s still a lot of potential with the guys that we have.”

Cousins hurts knee in USAB scrimmage; MRI reportedly negative

NBA.com staff

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins injured his right knee during a practice with the USA Basketball team Thursday in Chicago. Reportedly, he will not be available for Saturday’s scrimmage against Brazil although an MRI came back negative. Yahoo’s Marc Spears has the roundup:

NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner is on site in Chicago, too, as is Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:

Cousins was hurt in a scramble under the basket when Anthony Davis of the Pelicans fell across his knee. It was the first practice for Team USA since Paul George of the Indiana Pacers broke his leg in a scrimmage in Las Vegas on Aug. 1.

“We hope that he’ll be fine,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters about Cousins. “They want to take precautions, like we do with all of our guys.”

The team is scheduled to practice again Friday before its Saturday night game against Brazil at United Center. Next week, the team that will represent the U.S. in the FIBA Basketball World Cup will move to New York, with exhibition games against the Dominican Republic (Aug. 20) and Puerto Rico (Aug. 22) at Madison Square Garden. The FIBA Basketball World Cup begins on Aug. 30 at four venues in Spain. The U.S. opens that day against Finland in Bilbao (3:30 p.m., ESPN).

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 14


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down the games during the 2014-15 season’s opening week

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Anthony slims down for Knicks’ offense | Team USA faces key questions | Sacramento starts preparing future arena site

No. 1: Anthony slims down to better mesh with Knicks’ offense — Via his Instagram account, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony revealed a photo of himself after a workout and it was quite noticeable that the All-Star forward had slimmed down quite a bit. Aside from just getting in shape for a new season, though, Anthony dropped the pounds to better fit into the Knicks’ expected plans of running the triangle offense. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more:

Carmelo Anthony took a $5 million pay cut on his new contract, but it appears he took a bigger cut in weight. According to an Anthony confidant, Anthony has done so in order to resemble his physique as a rookie with the Nuggets and to be more viable in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense.

A photo of Anthony this week on his Instagram showed what appeared to be a dramatic weight loss since the season ended. Anthony, who turned 30 on May 29, looks younger with the weight loss.

“He wants to be as athletic as he was when he was a rookie,’’ the confidant told The Post. “Plus he wants to be a facilitator in the triangle and speed will help that.’’

Anthony was listed at 230 pounds as a Denver rookie in 2003 and appears to be close to that goal. Last season, the 6-foot-8 Anthony was listed in the Knicks preseason media guide at 240, but likely played at least 5-to-10 pounds heavier as the season wore on.

Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris, a Long Island product, worked out three times with Anthony in June at the Terminal 23 gym Anthony owns in midtown. Harris noticed a major difference in his appearance. “He looked real good,’’ Harris told The Post recently.

According to a source, the Harris camp was told Anthony was working out three times a day, doing basketball drills, agility drills, weights and yoga.

(more…)