Posts Tagged ‘USA Basketball’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Irving to start vs. Slovenia | Drew ‘blindsided’ by Bucks firing | City of Charlotte ready to spend to upgrade arena

No. 1: Irving to start final Team USA tune-up — As of last week, the Team USA roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup is ready to go. (And if you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann pointed out how the teams in the FIBA pool boast plenty of NBA players, too.) Before FIBA play starts this weekend, though, Team USA has one last exhibition date — a matchup with Slovenia today at 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2). According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Kyrie Irving will get the start at point guard tonight over Derrick Rose as coach Mike Krzyzewski irons out how best to use his All-Star guard combination:

Kyrie Irving will start opposite Goran Dragic at point guard Tuesday night when Team USA plays Slovenia in its final tuneup game leading into the FIBA World Cup.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, in tabbing Irving as his starter against the Dragic-led Slovenians, told ESPN.com that one option under consideration is letting Irving and Derrick Rose trade off as the starter throughout the tournament, which opens Saturday in Bilbao with the Yanks facing Finland.

Krzyzewski says he can also envision Irving and Rose playing together once the tournament starts as Rose continues to acclimate himself to full-speed basketball after two major knee injuries limited him to just 10 games over the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

“I asked him today, and he said, ‘I feel great,'” Krzyzewski said of Rose. “He did everything. He’s full go. I think there’s a part of him that’s like: ‘Quit asking me how I feel. I’m good.’ So I’m not going to ask him anymore.”

Having relied heavily on small-ball lineups in its last two major competitions, USA Basketball officials wanted the ability to play big lineups in this tournament when needed. The tag team of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins won’t necessarily be unveiled against a Slovenian squad that shoots 3-pointers as liberally as anyone in the field, but Team USA is sure to bust out that alignment on occasion en route to the Sept. 14 championship game, where host Spain and its hulking front-line trio of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka could be waiting.

Despite the pullouts of Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook, as well as the emotional injury loss of Paul George, Team USA remains a heavy favorite to cruise through Group C play with no real resistance. Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine are the Yanks’ other opponents in pool play after the Finland game.


VIDEO: Relive Team USA’s top 5 plays from its game vs. Puerto Rico (more…)

For Kenneth Faried, same story, different chapter

Dominican Republic v USA

This isn’t the first time Kenneth Faried has proved the doubters wrong.

NEW YORK — After a week in New York City and two decisive wins in exhibition games, the final 12 players for the USA Basketball men’s roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup have yet to be announced. But one player who seems to have cemented a spot in the starting lineup is Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, a player whose inclusion in the initial player pool was questioned by some.

“Since we’ve been here I’ve, I guess, proven people wrong saying I wasn’t a good fit,” said Faried after posting 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 12 minutes during a 112-86 win over Puerto Rico. “People saying ‘That kid’s not gonna make it on the team.’ ‘Oh, why did they bring Kenneth? Why is he even starting?’ Hey, I’m gonna just keep proving people wrong.”

Proving people wrong is nothing new for Faried. While playing at Technology High School in Newark, NJ, Faried wasn’t recruited extensively by bigger college programs because he hadn’t played against elite high school competition. Faried ended up at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where he finished his four-year career as the NCAA all-time rebounding leader (post-1973, when the NCAA split into Divisions) as well as a collegiate second-team All-American.

Faried’s college credentials didn’t help much when the NBA came calling, as he dropped to the Nuggets with the 22nd pick in the 2011 Draft. He totaled just 20 minutes in Denver’s first 21 games that season, but his relentless energy in practice earned him a chance, and once he broke into the lineup he couldn’t be removed. He finished his rookie year on the NBA’s All-Rookie first team.

Faried impressed USA Basketball brass last summer at the team’s training camp, and parlayed that into an invite to this summer’s camp. In the weeks since, he’s used his perpetual motor and nose for the ball to earn what looks like a starting spot on Team USA.

He’s heard the questions — “I hear everybody saying stuff. I hear everything.” — and, as he’s done at every level, he’s answered them with resounding clarity.

“Same story, different chapter, basically,” Faried said. “Again, I’m just out here trying to prove everybody wrong. And again, I have to do it at another level, and that’s the USA level. Hopefully, after this run is over with, we come home with the gold, people will say, ‘Oh, OK, we apologize,’ and show me some respect. If not, until then, I’m gonna have to keep proving people wrong.”

Against Puerto Rico, with Coach Mike Krzyzeski still trying out different line-up combinations, Faried was told he wouldn’t play much in the first half, and he didn’t, totaling less than 5 minutes. But in the third quarter, Faried showed why he’s called “The Manimal,” teaming with Anthony Davis to give the U.S. a dynamic interior presence, unleashing a flurry of blocks and rebounds and dunks and tip-ins to help the USA push what was a five-point halftime lead to a 20-point advantage heading into the fourth.

“I play hard and my teammates start having fun, and my energy is contagious,” said Faried. “It’s been contagious my whole life. People come out basically to see me play, and guys feed off my energy, and this is what happens: We win games.

“I feel as though we’re having fun, if anything. When you’re having fun everything else just falls into place. Guys want to get after it. We’re playing great defense. That’s what we’re trying to do, stick to our motto: Play defense. Lock down whoever their best player is, whoever their second go-to player is. We want to lock down all five, basically.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Faried somehow feeds off the slights accumulated throughout his career. He hears them, he shrugs them off, and then he outruns and outworks any doubts.

“No, that really is not what drives me,” Faried said. “Just going out there and playing every day, and lacing my sneakers up, and being blessed to play the game I love. I don’t go to work every day. I just go have fun.”

It’s been quite a ride, but the guy who has spent much of his life being overlooked is smack in the middle of Team USA. Just don’t ask him if he feels like he belongs.

“I know I belong,” said Faried. “Ain’t no feel like it, I know I belong. So I’m not worried about anything.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 172) Featuring John Dimopoulos

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s not as foolish as you think ….

Spain as the favorite at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

It’s not a joke.

It might be a little strong, but again, it’s not a joke.

The home team has every reason to believe that playing on home soil will give them a chance, not necessarily an advantage, to spring the upset against the reigning World and Olympic champion U.S. Team.

The U.S. Men’s Senior National Team has been wounded by defections and injuries in the lead up to the competition, which begins next week in Bilbao. Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George are all out of the competition for various reasons.

The U.S. still has the deepest and best roster (including Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis and the NBA’s “best all-around player” in James Harden), but they won’t have the most experienced crew. And they won’t have the home court advantage. That belongs to the Gasols and Spain, the team international hoops guru John Dimopoulos of www.EuroJohnBall.com suggests on Episode 172 of the Hang Time Podcast, should go into the competition with all of the confidence in the world.

We dive in with the latest headlines around the NBA, TNT’s Charles Barkley doing his #ALSMarshmallow/IceBucketChallenge, a peak ahead at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and more on Episode 172 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Dimopoulos of EuroJohnBall.com:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (with marshmallows as an appetizer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Coach K talks about Team USA at West Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team USA resumes with drama, questions


VIDEO: Recapping TEAM USA’s first scrimmage

CHICAGO – Cliffhangers are supposed to come later, when Team USA is up a few or down a few points late in a tense 2014 FIBA World Cup game over in Spain. Or when the final roster cutdowns have to be made, shrinking the current list of 16 players to 12.

Instead, uncertainty and nail-biting already abound as the U.S. men’s team resumes its workout and tune-up schedule this week. The roster, the risks, the style of play and the eventual matchups that Team USA will pose – and face – going forward in the tournament all hang heavy as questions still in search of answers.

Among them:

No George, no Durant – When last we left the assemblage of basketball talent, coach Mike Krzyzewski and poobah Jerry Colangelo at the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, most everyone’s eyes were glazed over and their minds were elsewhere after the gruesome right-leg fractures suffered by Paul George, the Indiana Pacers’ star wing player, deep into the public intra-squad scrimmage. Six days later, Kevin Durant – the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player and Team USA’s most potent scorer – withdrew from participation, citing extreme physical and mental fatigue. Durant, a four-time NBA scoring champion, led the U.S. squad to a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics with 19.5 ppg and carried the 2010 World Championship team by averaging 22.8 while no teammate averaged more than 9.8. George, after playing two years ago for the Select Team, figured to step up as a scorer this summer to help Durant.

Risk debate rekindled – Derrick Rose‘s strong showing in Las Vegas two weeks ago has whet appetites of Chicago Bulls fans, who are eager to see or at least hear about his continuing progress at practice Thursday and Friday and in the exhibition game against Brazil Saturday night at United Center. But seeing George wheeled off on a stretcher to face surgery and a year of rehab, with Rose on the scene, hit close to home for many of them. Last November, Rose – who was coming back from left-knee ACL surgery that cost him the entire 2012-13 season – tore meniscus cartilage in his right in his 10th game for Chicago. But at least that was for Chicago. George’s injury sparked anew the debate over NBA involvement in the international competition and the health/financial risks shouldered by the league’s owners and their players. Dallas’ Mark Cuban again spoke (and Tweeted) out, while Durant’s ill-timed withdrawal seemed to some like an obvious case of a valuable property seeking cover. And yet, the show goes on, continuing to New York next week for exhibitions against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden.

Going small – It’s not only Durant’s scoring prowess that might be missed. His length will be absent, too, just like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. That could be an issue if Team USA winds up facing Spain and the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, with the championship at stake. Heck, it could be a problem Saturday against Brazil – that squad’s big men all are proven NBA hard cases: Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao. Sacramento forward Rudy Gay (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) has been added to the roster for now and could find himself having to play bigger than he’s accustomed to, as could Dallas’ Chandler Parsons (6-9, 200). Team USA’s size, at the moment, starts with Anthony Davis, then drops off from there with DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried (with one of them expected to be cut).

Unkind cuts elsewhere – There are four point guards among the current 16 – Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard – but it’s no lock that any of them gets cut because Curry, Lillard and even Rose could slot over to for minutes at shooting guard. The wings include DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson, along with Gay and Parsons. So there will be guessing games aplenty about both the final cuts and the likely starting lineup, stirred up as soon as Thursday by the combinations of players used in the end-of-practice scrimmages.

Morning Shootaround — August 10


NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Alonzo Mourning delivers his moving Hall of Fame speech

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

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

In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

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

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

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

So get a grip.

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

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

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

(more…)

Team USA planning Paul George tribute

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Team USA will keep Paul George on the roster for the 2016 Olympics and is looking into options for a salute when the World Cup begins later this month, even if it means pushing for a change in international rules, the managing director of USA Basketball said.

While dismissing the possibility of the ultimate tribute of keeping George on the active roster for Spain and letting him likely win a medal without playing, saying each of the 12 spots are too valuable, especially with the United States thin on the front court, Jerry Colangelo said there are plans to make sure the injured star is a visible presence in Spain. Wanting to add to George’s motivation during the comeback from a broken right leg, Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have also already made it clear to the Pacers small forward that he is expected to be in the lineup in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“We’ve told him we have a spot for him in ’16,” Colangelo told NBA.com at festivities Thursday in advance of the Friday enshrinement of the Hall of Fame class.

Without seeing how he comes back?

“Right,” said Colangelo, also the Hall chairman. “That’s what we told him.

“We thought it’s the right thing to do,” Colangelo said. “That’s it…. We didn’t give thought to all the detail. Just that when a guy goes down and all these things, the circumstances, his career passes before him, he’s out for a year, a year-plus, he’s not able to participate now with us — we wanted to throw that out and say, ‘We’re counting on you. You’ve got a spot in ’16.’ “

Making George feel part of the team in Spain is more challenging. USA Basketball has looked into a uniform patch with his initials or jersey number, and adopting the NBA tradition of writing a message on shoes, but the rules of FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, prohibit altering uniforms. So USAB may move to change the rules.

“As far as the players are concerned, this is a rallying point in terms of what happened to Paul,” Colangelo said. “We just want to take some steps that are yet to be determined that we’re talking about to bring attention to Paul George and what his contribution has been.”

Other developments as part of three days of events highlighted by the enshrinement of the Class of 2014 …

  • The final list was released for the presenters on Friday night, the current Hall of Famers who will accompany the newest inductees to the stage Friday night but have no responsibility beyond standing to the side during a speech. Mitch Richmond picked Chris Mullin and Ralph Sampson, Bob Leonard picked Mel Daniels and Larry Bird, the family of the late Guy Rodgers picked Earl Monroe, Sarunas Marciulionis picked Mullin, Alonzo Mourning picked Pat Riley and John Thompson, and David Stern picked Bird, Magic Johnson, Bob Lanier and Russ Granik.
  • Among the Class of 2014 without NBA ties, Nolan Richardson picked Thompson and Nate Archibald, the Immaculata women’s team of the 1970s will be represented by Cathy Rush, the late Nat Clifton by Meadowlark Lemon, and Gary Williams picked Billy Cunningham.
  • While Marciulionis is happy to be in the same class as long-time friend and former teammate Richmond, he is especially pleased to note the timing of being inducted with Stern, the former commissioner who turned international players making the jump to the NBA from experiment to commonplace. “He helped European basketball, our basketball, so much by opening those gates with the Soviet Union,” Marciulionis said. “I remember him in ’86 when he arrived in Moscow and we had those Atlanta Hawks games. To be in the same line with him is a great, great honor. It’s destiny. Unbelievable.”
  • Mourning: “I’m truly excited about this enshrinement. There’s no other place to go from here but heaven, to tell you the truth. The beauty of it all is this. You wait all your life, you put your heart and soul into the game of basketball, truly put your heart and soul in. For some instances for me, I put blood, sweat and tears into it. This is the reward for your passion for the game and playing the game the right way and contributing to the game. This is the reward for doing that. I’m excited about celebrating.”
  • Near-perfect weather is forecast for Friday night and the outdoor red-carpet arrival, before moving inside for the actual enshrinement.

Durant withdraws from Team USA

NBA.com staff reports


VIDEO: Durant Withdraws

2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant will withdraw from the USA Men’s National Basketball team prior to the FIBA World Cup in Spain:

Durant released the following statement:

“This was an extremely difficult decision as I take great pride in representing our country. I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience. After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint. I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. I will be rooting for USAB and look forward to future opportunities with them.”

This is another big blow to Team USA after the loss of Paul George and will place added responsibility on Derrick RoseStephen Curry and James Harden. It also means Team USA will only need to make three more roster cuts prior to the start of the FIBA World Cup on August 30.