Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

Plenty to watch at World Cup


VIDEO: Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis talk about the upcoming FIBA World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN – The FIBA Basketball World Cup is the best hoops you can get outside of the NBA season. Yes, it’s better than the Olympics.

There are twice as many teams, allowing for more depth from Europe and the Americas. And there’s an extra round of single-elimination, tournament play, giving us 15 win-or-go-home games once pool play is completed.

No, the NBA’s top two players aren’t here. But there are 46 guys currently on NBA rosters, a high for any international tournament. And because Kevin Durant and LeBron James aren’t representing the United States, and because there is so much depth among the second tier of teams, the competition for medals will be captivating.

Along with the U.S., Spain is the co-favorite. As the hosts they will enjoy a home-court advantage, which helped propel Turkey to the final game four years ago. But they also have a ton of talent and experience, both in the NBA and in making the U.S. sweat for a gold medal. The reason U.S. has four centers on its roster is because Spain has Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Beyond the top two, the competition to reach the semifinals could be wide open. Pool play will help sort things out somewhat, but as many as 10 other teams could have dreams of making the semifinals and playing for a medal.

Most of those teams will be on Spain’s half of the 16-team bracket after pool play is completed. In Group A play in Granada, the hosts will face Brazil, with its three NBA big men and terrific point guard, France, the 2013 European champion with five NBA players on is roster, and Serbia, who knocked out Spain in the quarterfinals of this tournament four years ago.

When pool play is completed, the top four teams from Group A (Granada) will match up with the top four from Group B (Sevilla) on the Madrid side of the bracket. Group B features Argentina, Croatia, Greece and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. has an easier path to the final. In Group C pool play in Bilbao, its toughest opponent will likely be Turkey, which has fallen hard since the 2010 World Cup, or the Dominican Republic, which the Americans blew out in New York last week.

Group D (Gran Canaria) features two tougher teams – Australia and Lithuania – which the U.S. will likely face on the Barcelona side of the bracket.

The USA’s history in this event (formerly called the World Championship) is not great. Prior to 2010, it had only won 1954, 1986 and 1994. Yugoslavia, which continued to exist as a basketball team after it dissolved as a nation, won five World Championships.

But Mike Krzyzewski has compiled a 43-1 record and a 36-game winning streak in his nine-year tenure as the USA head coach. He won this tournament four years ago with a roster of 12 guys who had never played a senior-level international game. And the world has yet to experience the defensive of new assistant Tom Thibodeau first hand.

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.

Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.

There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year

Let’s face it. For all the talk about stability and commitment, most NBA franchises change coaches the way the rest of us change T-shirts on these sweaty dog days of August — often and without even thinking twice.

When the regular season begins in two months, there will be nine new coaches roaming the sidelines. Some will sink, some will swim and some will stand out from the pack.

So as our Summer Dreaming series continues, let’s take a bold leap to next April and have a look at the five candidates most likely to be filling the Coach of the Year ballot for 2014-15.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer discuss new Clippers era

Doc Rivers, Clippers — After making the coast-to-coast jump from Boston to L.A., Rivers probably didn’t think his leadership duties on the West Coast would include being the spokesman and face of the team in the difficult scandal involving former club owner Donald Sterling. But as you might have expected, Rivers was out front, direct and kept a firm hold on the situation and his locker room, though it’s hard to discount some effect in the playoff loss to OKC. Now with a new owner and clean slate, he can get back to just concentrating on basketball, where he already upped the franchise record for wins from 56 to 57. He used an up-tempo attack to overcome the losses of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick for stretches. His fingerprints were all over the dramatic improvement of center DeAndre Jordan to become a mainstay rather than a sideshow in the lineup along with CP3 and Blake Griffin. The next step is the Western Conference finals and real bid for a championship.


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra’s exit interview

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — Now you see him, now you don’t. One minute you’ve got the best player in the game in your starting lineup every night and the next minute he’s gone home to Cleveland. Maybe that’s what it takes to finally get Spoelstra noticed for being more than just Pat Riley‘s pupil and the guy who let’s LeBron James pile up wins. Truth is, he dramatically revamped the Heat offense after that 2011 loss in The Finals and that did lead to back-to-back championships. But as Phil Jackson learned with the Bulls and Lakers, there is nobody overlooked more than the coach of the reigning league icon. The Zen Master won the award just once (1996) despite his 11 titles. Now if Spoelstra can keep a reinvented Miami attack built around Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the top half of the Eastern Conference race, he’d finally get the credit he’s been due.


VIDEO: Dwane Casey accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Dwane Casey, Raptors — Midway through last season, Casey was on many lists as the coach most likely to be fired next. But talk about pulling yourself back from the brink. Once the Raptors unloaded the contract and the bad fit that was Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Casey got his team to raise its level of play by getting the Raptors to tighten down on defense and make that a calling card. So much for the outside world that thought the Raptors were going into the tank for a lottery pick. They went from ranking 22nd in defensive rating the previous season to finishing 10th and used that identity to win 48 games and the Atlantic Division title. It all came together enough to convince free agent Kyle Lowry to remain committed to what Casey is doing and sign back on. Casey himself re-upped on a new three-year deal. With up and comers DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, there’s no reason to think the Raptors can’t build on their success and stay in the fight in a rejuvenated Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Tom Thibideau talks about the Bulls’ upcoming season

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — Admit it. After what he’s done just grinding out wins the past two seasons with holes in his lineup, we want to see just how far Thibs can take the Bulls if a healthy Derrick Rose stays on the court. And don’t forget that the front office dealt Deng out from under him at midseason. You have to know that Carmelo Anthony‘s decision to stay in New York was all and only about the money when he passed up an opportunity to be the perfect piece in the puzzle in Chicago. Neverthless, Thibodeau gets to supplement his frontline with the ultra professional Pau Gasol, who’ll fit in nicely alongside the semi-controlled frenzy that is Joakim Noah. There is no question that the Bulls have bought into the philosophy and completely taken on the hard-driving, do-anything, no-excuses attitude of their coach. Yes, he has overused players to the point of wearing them down to the nub. But that’s only because he’s been playing shorthanded for two years. Give him this full season with all of the key players able to stay healthy and the Bulls will be challenging LeBron and the Cavaliers at the top of the East with a real shot at championship contention for the first time since that guy with the statue outside the United Center was still in uniform.


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich helps celebrate the Spurs’ championship win

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — Now that he’s won five titles and also this award three times in his career, it’s no longer fashionable to say that he’s taken for granted down there in little ol’ San Antonio. But you simply can’t have any list of top five coaches in the league without including the guy who is generally regarded by his peers as being the best. Far more than just a grumpy face, Pop has changed the focus of his offense during the 17-year championship run from being low post oriented with Tim Duncan to whipping the ball around the perimeter in an international style of unselfish frenzy and filling up the bucket with 3-point shots that Pop himself admits “I hate.” He’ll stick with his plan of managing the minutes of his core players Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the point of sacrificing wins — but never too many — in the regular season. He’ll continue to shift more of the burden to rising young players such as Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. They’ll likely be written off again as too old, too worn out at some point during the long regular schedule. But the Spurs will win 50 games, make the playoffs and, if physically fit next spring, Pop will have them once more as the team with know-how and the ability to win West again.

U.S. takes extra big on final roster


VIDEO: GameTime: USA Basketball Final Roster

NEW YORK – Just a few hours after a 112-86 victory over Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden on Friday and six days before it needed to, the U.S. National Team finalized its roster for the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

In a bit of a surprise, two players – DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond – who didn’t play on Friday made the final roster. Drummond is the fourth center on the team, while DeRozan made the cut over Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver. He offers more playmaking and explosive scoring ability than the other two.

In addition to Korver and Parsons, Damian Lillard and Gordon Hayward did not make the 12-man roster.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had previously indicated that they might take more than 12 when the team flew to the Canary Islands on Saturday afternoon, because some of the final decisions were proving to be difficult. But Krzyzewski made it clear after Friday’s game that they decided not to take any extras, for two reasons.

First, because it’s “really difficult,” according to Krzyzewski, for a player to travel abroad and eventually get sent home early. Second, with just one exhibition game remaining (Tuesday against Slovenia), it’s time for this team to finalize its rotation and everybody’s roles.

“Now that we’re down to 12,” Krzyzewski said, “we can get a little bit more precise with things.”

DeRozan and Drummond join guards Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose; wings James Harden and Klay Thompson; forwards Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay; and bigs DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Mason Plumlee.

The starting lineup – Irving, Curry, Harden, Faried and Davis – seems to be set, with Irving having replaced Rose for the two exhibition games this week.

Rose is going to Spain, though. If Irving is the starter, Rose will be one of the first players off the bench, along with Thompson (backing up Curry and Harden) and Gay (backing up Faried).

There was no need to see how Rose felt after his second exhibition game. He got four days of rest after last Saturday’s win over Brazil, but Krzyzewski has clearly seen and heard enough.

“I feel very confident about Derrick,” Krzyzewski said. “I think Derrick feels very confident.”

It remains to be seen how many of the USA’s nine potential games Rose will play at the World Cup. It’s safe to assume that it’s less than nine, especially with the five pool-play games in the first six days.

“If he needs a day off,” Chicago Bulls head coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said of Rose on Friday, “he’ll get a day off.”

And Krzyzewski is fine with that. As the U.S. tries to win its fourth straight gold medal in international competition, it will also be trying to get Rose back into top basketball shape.

“These guys want to play with him,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of getting back is to be around a group of peers, who want you to be really good.

“That’s what we’ve seen over the years. That’s where the brotherhood develops. That’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the last nine years. We think that can happen again and hopefully, that will help Derrick as he gets ready to keep participating in this, but also for the NBA season. I think it’s a huge, huge help for him.”

So the U.S. will have just one full-time point guard – Irving – on the roster, with Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and the staff clearly wanted extra depth up front, with Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee backing up Davis, who could see some time at power forward.

The need for three backup centers is a bit puzzling, especially since Davis will likely rank first or second on the team in minutes played. Two of three back-ups will certainly have limited roles.

But the U.S. may have its sights set on the frontline of Spain, which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The hosts are the clear favorites to reach the gold medal game from the other side of the bracket, though they’ll have a tougher road than the Americans.

The U.S. got a tough 20 minutes on Friday, as Puerto Rico took a five-point lead in the first quarter and hung within two until Thompson beat the halftime buzzer with a pull-up 3-pointer. Veteran guards Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea were able to take advantage of the USA’s aggressiveness on the perimeter to push Puerto Rico to 47 points on just 40 first-half possessions.

The U.S. tightened up its rotation and its defense in the second half, using a 14-2 run to take control.

“We tried to do too much trapping [in the first half], and they’re just too good,” Krzyzewski said. “Second half, I thought we played really, really well.”

Still, the U.S. will need Tuesday’s exhibition game against Slovenia (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and all five pool play games in Bilbao to sharpen up for single-elimination action in Barcelona and Madrid. With the roster set, the focus can go from choosing a team to winning another gold.

“There’s still,” Krzyzewski said, “a lot to do.”

The war of the Rose?


VIDEO: Derrick Rose sits out of Wednesday’s game against the Dominican Republic

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ten games in two years.

That’s the sum total of work Derrick Rose‘s knees have allowed him to put in with the Chicago Bulls of late. Knee injuries and issues have robbed Rose and Bulls fans of two years of the one-time MVP’s prime, time he’ll never get back.

Never!

So if Rose wanted to bail right now on his commitment to USA Basketball for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, no one could blame him. The breathtaking talent is still there. We’ve seen enough of that during this current exhibition run to the competition in Spain, even with Rose sitting out Wednesday’s game against the Dominican Republic. But we’re watching it, holding our collective breath, hoping the basketball higher powers spare Rose and the Bulls any further injury agony.

There is a philosophical debate going on right now in the Windy City. Should Rose continue his road back now with USA across his chest? Or should he bow out gracefully right now and make sure he’s ready to go when the Bulls kick off their championship hunt in two months?

Rose doesn’t owe it to anyone to push his sore knee(s) beyond their comfort zone right now. He owes it to himself to continue to listen to that voice inside of his head that tells him when to push it and when to step back. He did it with his recovery with the Bulls and has no reason to ignore that voice this time around.

As disappointing as it would be for the folks at USA Basketball to lose yet another superstar, they would understand where Rose is coming from given his recent injury history.

Nothing will make up for the time he missed the past two seasons. Not even a gold medal in Spain, which I think can be attained with or without Rose in the fold — especially with James Harden, “the best all-around player in the NBA” in uniform.

Selfishly, I’d love to see Rose on the court in Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid, leading this U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in the World Cup. Without Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George on the roster, the margin for error shrinks considerably. But the strongest team in the field remains whatever combination of players USA Basketball boss Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski choose to take to Spain.

If Rose wasn’t experiencing any soreness and was completely healthy, there would be no need for debate. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, one of Krzyzewski’s assistants this summer, insists Rose is “fine.”  And to some, like Sam Smith of Bulls.com, Rose’s rebirth is a product of his affiliation with USA Basketball and their comprehensive program. There’s a sentiment that he owes it to the program to stick it out this summer.

But he’s already being held out of practices and exhibition games as a precautionary measure. Why risk it? There’s a reason for the nervousness, from some, in Chicago.

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times voices some of those concerns beautifully:

I know this is hard for Rose to take. An elite, driven athlete is never sated just by tons of money. He wants to play. He wants to dominate. That’s what he was put on earth to do.

But for Bulls fans, the wait to see a healthy, resilient Rose has been like dripping water torture.

Patriots though we may be, we have no similar interest in the United States’ dominance in world basketball. We know the globe now plays the game. We’ve seen our Olympic teams beaten by Argentina, Puerto Rico. We’re still the best, overall. So it goes. Every global star either plays in the NBA or is named Nikola Mirotic. Hooray.

But Kevin Durant and other stars are not playing for Team USA. They’re preparing for the NBA season and the preseason practices that begin — for all teams — just five weeks from today.

Rose’s first knee injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — may be totally healed. And his second major injury — a torn medial meniscus in his right knee — has been stitched back together and supposedly is good to go.

But God — or old David Stern — generally built players’ bodies pretty well before surgery. No normal knees get better with surgery. There isn’t a rocket chip doctors can put in there. Yet.

So Rose is damaged goods. Sorry, it’s the truth. Hurts to say it. Just like it hurts to say former MVP.

Arthritis likely will be his new closest friend. That and inflammation and swelling and good old ‘‘soreness.’’ Oh, and fatigue.

All of which are just indicators that he’s not a yearling in a spring field of flowers anymore.

Who cares if he wins with Team USA or loses with them or becomes the team mascot. Does anybody in America care that our beloved Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews won the gold medal for Canada in the 2014 Olympics? Or that his beloved teammate Patrick Kane lost for the U.S.?

No. The Stanley Cup is all.

The Larry O’Brien trophy is all that matters to Rose and Bulls teammates like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and newcomer Pau Gasol, all guys whose vested interests should come before whatever limited role Rose might play in Spain.

If Rose cannot go all out now, why would anyone expect him to do so once the Bulls start training camp?

There is no shame in recognizing that more rest is needed. There would be a level universal understanding, within the basketball community and beyond, if Rose took himself out of the mix.

If he thinks his knees will hold up, that he needs this challenge to prove to himself that he’s all the way back, I’m fine with that. If this hurdle is emotional and not physical, play on sir. Do your thing.

But knowing what we’ve missed for all but 10 games the two seasons, knowing what sort of agony Bulls fans have had to endure without their hometown superstar in uniform, if this hurdle is physical and not emotional, I’d have no problem with Rose bowing out gracefully.


VIDEO: All-Access look at USA Basketball’s recent visit to Chicago

Rose gets day off at West Point


VIDEO: USAB at West Point: Derrick Rose

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Monday was a light day for the U.S. National Team. In front of a gym of cadets and guests at the U.S. Military Academy, the team took part in offensive drills, a half-paced scrimmage, and shooting games.

But the easiness of the day didn’t stop the U.S. from taking extra precautions with Derrick Rose, who didn’t participate in any of the action.

When the players were introduced to the crowd, Rose wasn’t wearing his practice gear, and his knees were wrapped in ice. He still got the biggest ovation among the 16 players on the roster. He said afterward that the day off wasn’t about any pain or discomfort with his surgically repaired right knee (or his surgically repaired left knee).

“Everything feels fine,” Rose said. “I just wanted to get a little bit of rest.”

He added that if he knew how casual the two hours in the gym were going to be, “I probably would have practiced.”

The practice came at the end of a tour of the campus in West Point, where the National Team observed how the cadets live and train. Bulls head coach and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said the day off was “more precautionary than anything else.”

“We were on our feet a lot today,” Thibodeau said. “We wanted to be careful with all the players.”

But neither Rose nor Thibodeau would dismiss the notion of further days off. The U.S. has practices on Tuesday and Thursday this week, with games at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and Friday. When the World Cup begins in Bilbao on Aug. 30, they will play five pool-play games in six days.

Rose is slated to be the starting point guard, but the U.S. certainly has the backcourt depth – Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard if he makes the final roster – to make up for his absence should he need a day off against one of the weaker pool play groups at the World Cup. The defending World and Olympic champs might not face a real challenge until the semifinals on Sept. 11.

“If he needs rest,” Thibodeau said, “we’re going to give him rest.”

Chicago’s finest lead USA past Brazil


VIDEO: Rose, Davis lead U.S. to 95-78 win over Brazil

CHICAGO – They came for one of Chicago’s own and got wowed by another.

As important as the exhibition game might have been to USA Basketball and the Brazilian national team for all the expected team-building and measuring-stick reasons heading toward the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament, Team USA’s 95-78 victory at United Center was mostly a framework for the fans to do some star gazing.

The brightest lights were on Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ MVP point guard who is starting his second comeback in as many years from season-ending knee surgeries. As frustrated as some Bulls fans had grown with Rose during his extended layoffs – Rose had played only six games on the UC court since April 2012 – the folks who packed the joint Saturday night flexed oohs, aahs and MVP chants that were no more rusty than the hometown kid’s game.

Anthony Davis crashed their little party, though, turning in the most impressive performance of the night. Like Rose, Davis grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Unlike Rose, whose high school (Simeon) is one of the city’s basketball powerhouses, Davis’ Perspectives Charter School didn’t even have its own gym.

But the New Orleans Pelicans’ 21-year-old center made United Center his own against Brazil’s imposing front line, scoring 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking five shots.

Local fans who’ve paid attention to Davis’ career – his single season and NCAA championship at Kentucky, his No. 1 draft selection in 2012 by New Orleans – might have been just as hungry to see him play. Davis missed the game in Chicago as a rookie while recovering from a concussion, then sat out the Pelicans’ visit last season with a broken hand.

So this was Davis’ first game back home since high school and he put on a show. He had several throw-down dunks battling Brazil’s NBA bigs Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene. He ran the court with ferocity and, in the second half, turned in two of his most impressive plays defensively. On one, he blocked a driving foe’s shot, saved the ball from falling out of bounds and pumped his fist when James Harden finished at the other end with a fast-break layup. On another, Davis crashed over a woman in the first row, catching one foot on the chairs and taking impact where, er, men don’t like to take impact.

“I’m good, I’m fine,” Davis said afterward. “I hope she’s fine, because that was 240 pounds coming right at her. That’s the type of plays we need, hustle plays, and that really got us going.”

Said Rose: ” ‘Ant’ played great. That’s what we need from him. We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs that they had, because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight-wise. But he came out and hooped.”

Rose’s numbers were more modest: seven points, just five field-goal attempts, four boards, two assists and three turnovers in 24 minutes. He even missed a rushing, two-handed dunk in the second quarter.

But his two buckets were memorable. The first came just before the half ended, when he streaked downcourt and put up a running bank shot. In the third quarter, Rose got isolated on the left wing against Brazil’s Raul Neto and spun him silly, crossing over and changing hands for a lefty layup. Both were flashes of what Chicago fans remember and look forward to again.

That one normally would have brought Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to his feet, if he hadn’t been planted on the USA bench as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski‘s staff. Still, it – and Rose’s overall play since the first workouts in Las Vegas three weeks ago – had Thibs excited. Much of the NBA is pulling for Rose to stay healthy in 2014-15 but no one more than his head coach.

“He’s steadily getting better,” Thibodeau said. “This is the perfect setting for him. I think his first [USA] experience in 2010 was a springboard to his MVP season. It was so positive for him. And I know how important it is to him.

“He went through the comeback last year and I think he learned a lot from it. And I love the way he’s playing. He’s finding the rhythm of the game. He’s playing to his strengths and he’s recognizing who’s on the floor with him and what their strengths are. He made several good plays, particularly against the zone in the fourth quarter. He showed great patience.

“He’s shaking some rust off. His explosiveness is back. He’s playing well off the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. He’s prepared himself extremely well. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through, but that adversity has made him a lot stronger.”

The first tuneup game provided a baseline for the USA team, with Krzyzewski most satisfied with the effort and the defense. His squad led by 14 at the end of the first quarter, settled for jump shots and let the lead slip to just two in the second. It was 68-63 through three quarters, after which the home team pulled away.

Davis’ production, on an every-night basis, might spoil the USA coaches. Then again, their team might need it, given the absence of bigs such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. DeMarcus Cousins sat out Saturday’s game with a bruised knee and Kevin Durant, who at least has length, withdrew from the competition last week.

Davis worked himself into the game offensively after a poor shooting start. “Kyrie [Irving] asked me, ‘Are you going to stop shooting the ball because you missed three jump shots?’ ” Davis said. “I told him no. We came out and ran a play for me and made the first one, and he said, ‘That’s all you needed.’ Then I hit the next three or four, whatever.”

Not that Krzyzewski needed any convincing.

“He’s one of the best players in the NBA,” the Duke University coach said. “Anthony is one of the emerging stars. We hope that, like what happened to a lot of those guys in 2010, will happen to him in this competition. Where we just watch what should be kind of a storied career form.”

That’s when the native Chicagoan in Krzyzewski seeped out, as he played to the home media. “Another great guy,” he said of Davis. “You talk about these two Chicago guys, he and Derrick. The best guys, easy to coach, team guys. Dreams to coach, both those guys.”

Said Rose, all smiles at the end: “I probably won’t get any sleep tonight. I’m excited for the city.”

The city is excited back. And New Orleans should be too.

USA camp – Day 3 notes


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

***

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

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

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

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

And it has paid off.

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

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

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any reasonable conversation about the balance of power in the NBA starts with the world champion San Antonio Spurs, the rest of the rugged Western Conference and spreads from there.

But no region of the NBA has seen the sort of influx of talent and energy that the Eastern Conference’s Central Division has this summer. From LeBron James coming home to team up with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland to Pau Gasol joining Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago to the top two picks in the June Draft — Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, for now, and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee — things have changed dramatically.

LeBron James' return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James’ return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

The Indiana Pacers won the Central Division and finished with the best record in the East last season, but they have garnered more attention this summer for a player (Lance Stephenson to Charlotte) that they lost in free agency than they did for anything else they have done. They’ve been usurped, in the eyes of many, by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, before the summer/free agent business has been finalized.

If the Cavaliers can find a way to secure Kevin Love via trade from Minnesota, they will not only enter the season as the favorites to win the Central and the East, they’ll rank right up there with the Spurs as the favorites to win it all. (And had Carmelo Anthony chosen the Bulls over remaining with the New York Knicks, the Bulls would be in that mix as well.)

You have to wonder what Stan Van Gundy, the new team president and coach in Detroit, and Jason Kidd, who takes over as coach in Milwaukee, are thinking now. A rebuilding task in Detroit, whatever gains are made during the 2014-15 season, will likely be overshadowed by what goes on elsewhere in the division. Kidd’s shocking move from Brooklyn to the Bucks, and the ensuing fallout, lasted a couple of days before taking a backseat to all things LeBron and Love.

“It’s hard to rank them right now, before we know exactly what happens with Love and Cleveland. But I don’t think it takes any stretching of the imagination to assume there will be no more competitive division in the league than the [Central], and that’s based on just those top three teams alone,” a Western Conference advance scout made clear to me. “The Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are all going to be legitimate contenders. And I think the Pistons, with Stan running things, could be one of the more improved teams in the entire league. And there’s a chance no one will notice because of what the Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are doing.”

The most intriguing part of the entire transformation of the division is going to be watching if the Pacers, a fragile bunch by the time their season finished in the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron and the Heat, can get back on track with the increased competition. Frank Vogel and his crew took advantage of the opportunity to step into the void when Rose and the Bulls slipped from their top spot the past two seasons. Tom Thibodeau kept the Bulls among the East’s best without Rose available. Now he’ll have an energized Rose, whose confidence is soaring as he attempts to earn his spot on USA Basketball’s roster for next month’s World Cup in Spain, and the Windy City twin towers of Noah and Gasol to build around.

The key for the Bulls, of course, is a healthy Rose.

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that,” Rose told our John Schuhmann when asked how close he was to regaining his superstar form. “My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

I don’t know that Rose’s confidence is enough to convince me that the Bulls are truly ready to reclaim that top spot in the division. And I’m not completely sure LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland means the Cavaliers push past the Pacers for that No. 1 spot. But it’s clear that the Central Division is where we could see the best power struggle in the league next season.

The July 2014 ranking of the Central Division (based on what each team has on the roster as of July 29, 2014):

1) Indiana Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and the crew won’t give up the banner without a serious fight. They’ve learned from last season’s mistakes and won’t have to worry about whatever distraction Stephenson might have been. A clean slate for 2014-15 is exactly what this team needs.

2) Cleveland  Sorry Cleveland, but LeBron coming home doesn’t automatically make you the top dogs in the division or the conference. Not around here. The pressure isn’t just on LeBron, either. New coach David Blatt, Kyrie Irving and that supporting cast are all shouldering that load as well.

3) Chicago Derrick Rose is feeling good. And that can’t be anything but a great thing for the Bulls. But we need more than good vibrations to push the Bulls up the food chain. If Rose lights it up in Vegas during USAB training camp and later in Spain, an updated evaluation will be in order.

4) Detroit Greg Monroe‘s future with the Pistons remains a bit uncertain. But the rock for the future is Andre Drummond, who is also on the USAB roster, working to earn a spot on the World Cup team. Van Gundy’s system requires shooters, which the Pistons added in Jodie Meeks, and to an extent Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. Josh Smith remains the wild card.

5) Milwaukee It’ll be fun watching Parker’s game evolve under a young coach like Kidd. But the Bucks are still at least two years away from being a factor. They simply don’t have the personnel to compete with the top teams. And there is a learning curve the entire organization will have to undergo before the Bucks get back into the mix.


VIDEO: Relive the Bulls’ top 10 plays from 2013-14

Rose suffers no lack of confidence in return to the floor


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

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

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

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

By all accounts, Rose is back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience has taught him how stay in control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But making the final roster is not a sure thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirotic’s transition an era apart from new Bulls teammate Gasol’s


VIDEO: Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic officially joined the Bulls Friday

CHICAGO – It’s possible Tom Thibodeau, in the heat of a tight Chicago Bulls game next season, will pull a cheat sheet out of his suit pocket. Or maybe he’ll go with one of those fold-out wrist bands NFL quarterbacks use to tote their crib notes.

¡Hielo!

¡Haz tu trabajo!

¡No dejar de lado la cuerda!

It might lend a continental flair to what, after four seasons, has become a familiar soundtrack near the Chicago bench. Opting for the Spanish translations of Thibodeau’s greatest courtside hits – Ice! Do your job! Don’t let go of the rope! – would seem appropriate with the team’s acquisitions for 2014-15 of veteran NBA forward Pau Gasol and Euro prospect Nikola Mirotic.

Gasol, 34, signed with Chicago as a free agent after 13 NBA seasons, the past six-plus with the Los Angeles Lakers. Mirotic, 23, is a Spanish-Montenegrin described by Bulls GM Gar Forman, off his performance for Real Madrid in recent seasons, as “the best young prospect not playing in the NBA.”

Thibodeau should be fine, of course, what with Gasol’s mastery of English – he’s better than a lot of the league’s domestic membership, frankly – and Mirotic’s improving bilingual game. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound “spacing 4″ had an interpreter at his side for the news conference at United Center Friday, but Thibodeau said when they went to dinner Thursday, Mirotic did just fine on his own.

Besides, the Bulls head coach’s volume and occasional NSFW word choices combine in their own universal language of sorts. And this isn’t Thibodeau’s first Berlitz course.

“I went through this once before, in Houston with Yao Ming,” said Thibodeau, a member of Jeff Van Gundy‘s staff when they took over in 2003-04, the second NBA season for the 7-foot-6 center from China. “Yao seemed to understand when it was praise, and he had a hard time when it was criticism [laughs].

“I think it will be fine. Nikola is ready for this. I think he’s going to be a good fit for our team. We’re gonna start the process of getting him up to speed right away.”

The coincidence of the two foreign-born players being signed and introduced on the same day served as a reminder of how far the NBA and the global game have come in the span of a single player’s career.

When Gasol arrived as the No. 3 pick overall in the 2001 Draft, the practice of importing international talent was underway but still to the left on most teams’ learning curve on both sides of the various ponds. The 7-footer from Barcelona was the best of five foreign-born players taken in the first round who hadn’t played at a U.S. college. Five such prospects also were picked in 2000.

But only two went in the first round in 1999, four (including Dirk Nowitzki) in 1998, one in 1997 and four in 1996. And from 1991 through 1995, there were none.

Gasol was the first player from Spain to test the NBA since Fernando Martin, a 6-foot-9 Madrid native who played 24 games for Portland in the 1986-87 season. He had been drafted 38th overall by New Jersey in 1985.

Of course, when Gasol was a boy, only one NBA game per week was available on television in Spain. By the time he was drafted, fans had their choice of five TV games weekly. Now NBA Spain has its own Twitter account @NBA_Spain.

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”

Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.

He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions – international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas – throughout his career.

Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.

“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.

“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

There have been milestones along the way in this shrinking of basketball’s globe. International competition has been huge, and not just at the highest level of the Olympics and the World Championship tournaments. The Nike Hoop Summit, featuring many of the best players in the world age 19 or younger, has been held for 17 years. Nineteen alumni of the World team were active in the NBA last season, including Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Andrea Bargnani, Patty Mills and Tristan Thompson.

Exposure to the game got a major bump in 1996, when Toni Kukoc of Croatia played a vital role on Michael Jordan‘s second three-peat of NBA championships with the Bulls. Nowitzki’s success in Dallas opened a lot of eyes to international talent pools, and the NBA’s outreach overseas with exhibitions and development programs furthered the cross-pollination.

“You can see over the years how many more teams have gone overseas and played Real Madrid or have played Barcelona,” Ronzone said. “Teams have gone to China, to Brazil. These teams are going over and you have players there saying, ‘Shoot, I feel I’m as good as them.’ So now the work ethic and the desire go up, and the fear factor’s gone. They’re able to adjust and make it happen.”

All of which suggests Mirotic should have an easier time acclimating in Chicago this season than Gasol did in Memphis. The older player talked about, and compared a little, their transitions 13 years apart.

“It’s going to be an adjustment year for him. I think he’s going to be homesick for a while,” Gasol said. “But coming into such an exciting situation, an exciting team, is going to make a big difference for him. And I think the city of Chicago is going to help as well, because there’s a big Serbian community as well.

“My situation, 13 years ago, it was a little different. I was lucky that my family was able to join me and make that transition much easier.”

Gasol’s parents Agusti and Maria brought Pau’s chubby, 16-year-old brother Marc along to Memphis. You may have heard of him. Gasol was a runaway winner of the 2001 Rookie of the Year Award and has gone on to average 18.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists while winning two NBA titles and four All-Star selections.

Ronzone said the hardest adjustments for international players are foot speed, game speed, terminology and learning the referees. But Mirotic has a plush resume that should aid in his move to the NBA. The No. 23 pick in 2011 by Houston – traded first to Minnesota and then to the Bulls – averaged 12.4 points and shot 46.1 percent from the international 3-point line for Real Madrid CF of the Liga ACB. He won the Euroleague’s Rising Star Award in 2011 and 2012, presented to the league’s best player under 22, and he was an all-Euroleague second team selection and Spanish Cup Final MVP in 2014.

Said Thibodeau: “I think it’s great having Pau here for [Mirotic's adjustment]. But there are a lot of international players in our league and they have done quite well, so I don’t think it will be a hard transition for him. There are some things he’s going to have to get used to – it’s a new culture, the NBA’s different – but he’s been preparing for this for, really, three years now. Once he gets here, it’ll move along well.”

Thibodeau said Mirotic should be OK learning the Bulls’ five-man defensive strategies because he has “good body-position defense already.” Ronzone thinks the continued blending of styles, NBA and international, will work in his favor, too.

“The American game has become more European – we were just watching San Antonio play in The Finals with more passing, more cutting, moving without the ball,” Ronzone said. “And the European game actually has become a little more American at times in how some guys are dominating the ball.

“So it’s actually helping both worlds out.”