LAS VEGAS — No one got injured in USA Basketball’s “Showcase” scrimmage Friday, not even the basketball scribe who narrowly avoided getting beaned by a TV monitor knocked off the table behind him in the tiered media section. (I did feel the breeze and flinch when it crashed, though).
A year ago, Indiana’s Paul George suffered a gruesome leg fracture that cut the Team USA scrimmage short and raised questions about players’ willingness to assume such risk – or their NBA teams’ cooperation with the process – for relatively little reward (exhibition rather than competition).
So, when a representative sampling of the USA roster took part Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus and none of them limped off afterward, the event felt like a success. The White squad beat the Blue, 134-128, in a game that seemed time-shifted from an NBA All-Star Weekend, with a whole lot of alley-oops and dunks, barely a whiff of defense and no apparent physical trauma.
“You wanted to come out here and put on a show for people,” said Golden State forward Harrison Barnes, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue. “But at the same time, if a guys on a fast break, let him go. You didn’t want to give any hard fouls.”
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who merely observed while assistants Tom Thibodeau (White) and Monty Williams (Blue) worked the sidelines, joked that neither the offense nor the defense on display Friday was what Team USA intends to take to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.
That will get installed and honed next summer when the final 12-man squad shows up in mid-July for training camp.
To that end, Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball managing director, made news in this realm when he said during the ESPN2 telecast that the final roster will be announced in late June after the NBA Finals and Draft. That means no cutdowns from 18 or 22, no mini-camp for final auditions.
“Rather than … ask six to 10 players to go home – that just didn’t sit well with us – we’re going with the game plan from [2008 in announcing the official 12 at the start],” Colangelo said.
VIDEO: Jerry Colangelo explains how the 2016 Team USA roster will be chosen
The pool of Team USA talent will still be about 28 players strong, with that group identified in the coming months. By late June, though, impediments that might prevent a player from heading to Rio – injuries, contract complications or personal situations – would be known to him and the selectors. A number of Select Team players will be invited to Las Vegas as in the past to provide competition during the training camp.
The “Showcase” game did stray from some of the one-for-all, all-for-one culture so important to Team USA in the players who participated: Only 14 of the 34 who took part in meetings or light workouts this week played. When Colangelo and Krzyzewski deemed the scrimmage “voluntary,” some of the program’s biggest names – LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and a dozen others – opted out.
In fact, four NBA players were trucked in as late additions to flesh out the Blue and White rosters to nine men each. So Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson, Terrance Jones and Elfrid Payton played in jerseys that didn’t sport their names on the back.
The fans at the Thomas & Mack were grateful for the big names who did play, including Clippers forward Blake Griffin, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Barnes and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan. Cousins had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the winning White squad, while Andre Drummond led the Blue with 27 and 16.
“For me, I came all the way from Florida, so I was playing,” Gay said.
Krzyzewski and Colangelo, while noting George’s “horrific” injury last year, said that Team USA players trust them as far as safety issues or the workload demands. Because of how George got hurt – jamming his foot against one of the basketball stanchions – many folks in the gym noticed the stanchions farther back from the baseline, with fewer cameras and photographers close to the court and ample “exit lanes” for players venturing into that area.