Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

U.S. crushes Slovenia, rolls into semifinals


VIDEO: Team USA rolls into semifinals with rout of Slovenia

BARCELONA — Spain has supplanted the U.S. National Team as the trendy pick to win gold here at the FIBA World Cup.

Everybody from TNT’s very own Charles Barkley to members of the teams the U.S. crushes on their way to Thursday’s semifinal have chimed in and sided with the host nation Spaniards.

After the U.S. used one of the their trademark blitzes to run Slovenia off the floor at Palau Saint Jordi 119-76 in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic weighed in with his belief that Spain is indeed the favorite.

That’s fine with the stars on the U.S. team, whose refusal to panic when things are tight early has become a hallmark for this bunch. Starters James Harden and Steph Curry were scoreless at halftime and the lead was just 49-42.

Not a problem. Not when Klay Thompson (20 points) and Derrick Rose (12) are your “backups.”

A swift 18-5 third quarter run later and the U.S. was off to the races, cashing in with its 61st straight win in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international competition, and one step closer to that date with Spain in Sunday’s gold medal game in Madrid.

“I thought we played really hard the whole game and we just couldn’t finish in the first half some of those plays,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and then they stayed with it and then the floodgates opened in the second half.”

The U.S. faces Lithuania, a 73-61 winner of Turkey in Tuesday’s first game, Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.

They’ll do so having played arguably their best game, so far, of the competition. They stroked Finland by 59 points in their opener last week in pool play. But beating Slovenia down was a tougher task.

“It was tough. They are a really good team,” Harden said. “They kind of slowed us down in the first half, dictated the tempo. Coach talked to us at halftime about playing our brand of basketball and how we like to play. And we came out with that intensity.”

Harden did heat up, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter. Kenneth Faried finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Anthony Davis 13 and 11. The depth the U.S. boasts is like no other team in this competition, not even a seasoned Spanish team.

Rose, in particular, had his teammates fired up.

“You [saw] him,” Harden said of Rose. “He looked amazing. He’s so quick and athletic, the way he followed the holes and finished … he made some amazing passes tonight. He was phenomenal.”

While it certainly helped having Thompson in a groove from the start on both ends, Rose needed a push. With the Coach K mandate that he play with a green light, Rose was as aggressive as he’s been offensively at any point in the tournament.

Rose was just 8-for-37 shooting before Tuesday, so whatever color his light was prior to seeing Slovenia, is anyone’s guess.

“It eased me a little bit,” Rose said. “Gave me a lot of confidence. I’m not lacking in confidence, but when the head coach tells you to go out there and be aggressive it makes you think in another way. Coach gave me that green light and said go out there and play the way I play. Don’t worry about getting other guys involved … I felt good.”

On a team that is suddenly dealing with an underdog status, at least here in Spain, Rose, Thompson and some of these other elite reserves are finding a rhythm at just the right time.

Just in time for Thursday’s semifinals and then on to Madrid, where the underdogs might finally have their say about who should really wear the favorite’s tag.

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

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

***

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…)