Posts Tagged ‘World Cup of Basketball 2014’

Suns center Len living Ukraine crisis from afar


VIDEO: Alex Len throws it down for the and-one

OAKLAND – Early Sunday, the New York Times reported that violence erupted in Ukraine at separate rallies backing and opposing the secession of Crimea, including a demonstration where pro-Russia supporters attacked with whips, while the Washington Post talked of another surge of Russian troops into the disputed peninsula.

And then Alex Len played basketball.

It has been like this for weeks now. Watch the news – sometimes via the United States networks, sometimes from Ukranian media, sometimes from Russian outlets – Skype with his family in eastern Ukraine, an area so far safely away from trouble. Play center for the Suns. Wake up the next day and continue the conflicted journey all over again.

Sunday, it was thinking about his homeland in conflict, hoping he will convince his grandparents to turn their planned visit to the United States in a couple weeks into something more long term and maybe even permanent, all before starting for the third game in a row as Miles Plumlee continued to be sidelined by a sprained right knee. The angst of worrying about family and friends, followed by 15 minutes against the Warriors at Oracle Arena with three points, three rebounds and two fouls.

“My family’s still over there,” Len said. “My grandparents. I still talk to them. It’s really confusing too, because if you watch Russian, American and Ukrainian news, everybody says different things about what’s going on over there. I’m not really into politics. For me, personally, I just want everybody to kind of stay together. It’s crazy. The country is just falling apart.”

Len was raised in Ukraine and played for the national team at the junior and, currently, senior levels, while also spending two seasons at the University of Maryland and turning into a possibility for the No. 1 pick in the draft thanks to a breakout 2012-13. The Suns took him fifth amid concerns about problems with both ankles that would follow him into his rookie season.

No Ukranian-born player had ever been taken higher, bettering Vitaly Potapenko going 12th to the Cavaliers in 1996. Len instantly became a major part of the Phoenix rebuilding, even with surgeries on both ankles that would cost him summer league and slow his progress into the regular season, and even as acquiring Plumlee and Gerald Green from the Pacers for Luis Scola turned into an important part of the Suns far exceeding most expectations. The important thing was that Len was getting more healthy, with the right ankle doing well and the left improving by the month, to where he is down to occasional pain.

Now, though, he spends hours at a time with his mind in another part of the world. Getting on the court, for games or practices, has become a refuge as Len has increased his workload to 9.4 minutes in 29 games.

“I worry about my parents. I talk to them almost every day on Skype,” he said, although his mother has spent a lot of time in Phoenix this season helping Len adjust to NBA life in a new city. “My grandparents. I ask them what’s going on, what’s the news. They update me every day, call me and tell me what’s going on.”

Len isn’t even sure if Ukraine, in the same Group C as the United States, will have a team for the World Cup of Basketball beginning Aug. 30 in Spain. He isn’t sure what Ukraine will have in ways more important than sports.

And even if there is a team, he is unsure he will play at a time when the focus will be in getting healthy and being ready for the Suns, his priority. No final decision has been made and he plans to meet with Ukranian coach Mike Fratello after the season. Len did say he will “most likely” leave the decision up to Phoenix.

More Than Kings Games At Stake With Cousins’ Suspension


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins gets into altercation with Patrick Beverley

DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings increased the degree of difficulty in his latest walk on the wild side, this time going for the double of being suspended and fined for separate incidents in the same game, a feat accomplished Tuesday against the Rockets at Sleep Train Arena.

The league announced Thursday that Cousins, long considered a cheap-shot artist by opponents, will not play Friday against the Lakers at Staples Center as the penalty for punching Houston’s Patrick Beverley in the stomach in the first quarter of what became a 129-103 Rockets victory. The NBA also docked Cousins $20,000 for “verbally abusing” officials and “failing to leave the court in a timely manner” when he was ejected in the third quarter with two technicals.

The absence will be felt in Sacramento and observed in Los Angeles, but also noted in Phoenix and Durham, N.C., as a reminder that this matters more than to Cousins and his 2013-14 finish.

This matters to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo in Arizona and to coach Mike Kryzyewski at Duke, it matters to the formation of the Team USA roster heading toward an important summer, and therefore it should matter to Cousins. That exhibition play, in fact, should matter a lot to Cousins, probably more than to any other player.

Cousins turned off USAB officials a couple summers ago, then won them back over enough to be among the 28 players in the initial pool of candidates for the roster at the FIBA Basketball World Cup beginning in August in Spain. He wasn’t going to win any citizenship awards, but Cousins carried himself better, enough that his attitude seemed to be improving. With no doubts about his ability to succeed on offense in the international game – he can pass and shoot with range – the encouraging signs in his personality were enough to be on the list released in January.

Now he has been suspended for punching a player for the second time in as many seasons, following the one-game hit in December 2012 for striking O.J. Mayo of the Mavericks in the groin. And that is on top of Cousins leading the league in technicals in 2013-14 and, thanks to Tuesday’s ejection, being one T away from an automatic one-game suspension, with the possibility of more to follow.

This won’t get Cousins removed from the mailing list for invitations for the Team USA camp in Las Vegas after the summer league schedule, but it’s an obvious setback at the very wrong time. If he could have gone from putting up All-Star numbers this season to a positive review from the most impartial judges possible, Chairman C and Coach K, Cousins would have positioned himself as a legitimate dependable star. That could have happened even if he didn’t make the World Cup roster while handling himself well because Team USA preferred, say, the defense of Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond or Tyson Chandler since there would be no doubt about the offense heading to Spain.

That 28-player pool is just a working list, after all. Players can still be added for the Vegas sessions, though all the primary names are already included. Players can still be removed.

Live From Las Vegas: It’s Showtime From USA Basketball’s Blue-White Showcase





LAS VEGAS – Over the course of three days, in countless drills and scrimmages, players are bound to have a few shining moments. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what has happened during USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team mini-camp.

All-Stars like Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday have stood out, as have reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, Olympic gold medalist Anthony Davis and talented big man DeMarcus Cousins.

With 28 young stars from around the league gathered here for evaluations by USA Basketball’s brass, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises as well. Gordon Hayward, Klay Thompson, Derrick Favors, Kenneth Faried, Mike Conley, John Wall and others have stood out as USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski continue the vetting process for roster sports for the roster for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball next summer in Spain.

All-Stars and two-time gold medalists Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are already on board for 2014. (LeBron James, on the other hand, will not be around next summer and remains something of a mystery for 2016.)

Tonight’s Blue-White Showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV) will give us our first glimpse under the bright lights as to who might join Durant and Love in USA Basketball uniforms next summer and perhaps beyond.

Roster spots are limited. And no one game or performance will be used as the basis for any players’ candidacy. But is there a better way to gauge how these guys will perform under extreme circumstances than seeing them in game-like conditions?

We’ll have eyes on all of the action from courtside (four to be exact, mine and those of my main man and NBA.com’s John Schuhmann) from opening tip until the final buzzer.

We’ll share our thoughts of what’s going on and you need do the same below — (again, the action tips off at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV)

FOURTH QUARTER

– White team shines through in the end with balance and superior energy and effort from their bigs in a 128-106 win. The USA Basketball talent pool is overflowing with talent these days. Kyrie thanks the fans at the end, which is fitting since this was his show tonight.

– If you’re looking for a player who changed his stock dramatically from scrimmages earlier in the week to tonight’s game, it has to be Kidd-Gilchrist and Holiday. They didn’t really distinguish themselves earlier in the week but they’ve both been really good in this Blue-White Showcase. I expected more from Cousins and would have loved to see more minutes for Favors, who was solid all week in scrimmages.

–  All five starters for the White team in double figures in scoring. Their balance has been impressive. Coach Monty Williams is aiming for bragging rights over Blue team coach Tom Thibodeau. Williams better get this one because his Pelicans will only get two cracks at the Thibodeau’s Bulls during the regular season. And I’m betting the Bulls will be favored in both of those contests.

–  We have to start talking MVP now with just under eight minutes to play. Kyrie is a no-brainer right now. He leads the White team with 20 points and six assists, and those numbers should climb in the next few minutes. He’s been a cut above the rest of the point guards in this game. Easy argument for him being the best player on the floor tonight.

White team is just too good in all the right spots. Blue team can’t stay in front of their point guards consistently enough to keep them from doing work with the dribble drive.

THIRD QUARTER

– By the way, White team lead stretched to 89-79 in the final minutes of the quarter with Conley-Lawson leading the way.

Harrison Barnes, who has looked really good tonight, highlights Anderson with a nasty smash while floating to his left through lane on his way to the basket. Still can’t see Barnes coming off the bench in Golden State this season. Mark Jackson is going to have to do some serious tinkering with his rotations with Barnes, Thompson, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala all in the mix at the same time. Once they get it down they’re going to be a monster crew on both ends of the floor.

– Tons of intriguing combinations on the floor tonight for both sides. White team has a Mike Conley-Ty Lawson backcourt that is doing work right now. Their mismatches have opened up the floor a bit for Ryan Anderson, who has knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers (and he’s 3-for-3 on the night so far). Blue team is countering with a John Wall-Kemba Walker backcourt that isn’t flowing at all. All eight of the point guards here this week were instructed to forget their normal designations and concentrate on just playing in the backcourt. Some of these guys have no problem doing that while others are continuing to struggle with the concept.

Dunk of the night goes to the Air Force (Nathaniel Mills of Douglasville, Ga.) who was honored with 5:05 to play in the third and showed off his hops by nailing a Dominique Wilkins-inspired windmill in full fatigues and combat boots. He got some post-dunk love from Carmelo, too.

Faried and Holiday have some nice chemistry working for the White team. Holiday has five assists and Faried 11 points and seven rebounds. Versatility kills in this type of environment. The fact that Holiday works efficiently with either hand and is a much better and more physical athlete than he appears to be on the hoof,  He just as good off the ball as he is with it in his hands, something that will come in handy this season in New Orleans.

I see you Monroe. He gets his shot blocked by Jordan on a flat-footed jumper from the wing. He got the ball back and spun baseline past Jordan for a smooth layup that draws oohs from the crowd. Monroe has been solid tonight, extremely solid for a guy who struggled a bit at times during the week.

– Schuhmann’s head is going to explode if Davis takes another 18-footer. Haha. I love his confidence and he absolutely needs that shot as a part of his repertoire going forward. He’s 6-for-8 from the floor right now and leads the Blue team with 12 points with 7 minutes to play in the third.

Proof that you just never know how these things will play out once the lights come on: George missed his first six shots of the night before draining a corner 3-pointer. He was clearly the best player on the floor during scrimmages earlier in the week. But tonight he’s struggled to get on track.

SECOND QUARTER 

Surge from the Blue team at the cuts the White team’s lead to just 53-51. We’ll have fireworks in the second half for certain.

Carmelo Anthony is in the crowd an gets a shoutout from the PA announcer and some jumbotron love. White team still in control with a 50-42 lead in the final three minutes of the first half.

– Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was sort of quiet during the scrimmages on Monday and Tuesday. But the things he does well (hustle, defend, find-the-ball instincts, etc.) are on full display as the White team takes control of things here in the second quarter. He’s the sort of utility player that comes in handy during international competition. You just wonder how long it’s going to take him to improve his shot to the point where won’t be a liability on offense?   

Pistons boss Joe Dumars is sitting behind the scorer’s table at midcourt with prized power forward Josh Smith as they watch Monroe and Drummond do work in the showcase. Nothing but smiles.

White team takes the lead 42-38 with 5:59 to play behind Kyrie doing the Blue team dirty off the dribble. He was clearly the best point guard here this week and arguably the best player in camp. This showing so far tonight is just validation of what we’ve seen all week. He leads all scorers with 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor.

– Kyrie is just ridiculous. He keeps blowing by his man and getting into the teeth of the defense. The fact that he can finish at the rim with either hand makes him even more dangerous. He’s the first man in double figures tonight with 13. He can get whatever he wants out here. Ridiculous.

Cousins is such an enigma. One second he’s blowing by Drummond with a great first step to the basket and drawing a foul. The next he’s pouting because he ran the floor and didn’t get the ball. A guy with his attitude issues is going to be a tough sell on any 12-man team selected to represent the U.S. in any international competition. There are too many guys in the program who can do similar things that don’t bring that extra stuff.

FIRST QUARTER

– Blue team is up 30-23 after the first 12 minutes. Davis leads the Blue team with 8 points. Lillard has 7. Irving the leads the White team with 8 points, Jordan has 6 and Faried 5.

 It took Faried all of nine minutes to grab six rebounds to go along with his five points. His motor runs in ways that these other guys just can’t match. Even when he seems physically overmatched he wins his individual battles around the rim on sheer hustle. Works the same way with FIBA rules as it does in the NBA.

 Klay Thompson is left open twice moments after entering the game and drains a step-in jumper and a 3-pointer off of a long rebound. Seriously, someone on the White teams needs to make sure he is not left open.

 Nice point guard battle shaping up here. Lillard drains a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer and Kyrie answers with a driving layup on the other end and the foul. These two guys could fight it out for a spot on the team next summer to go to Spain.

 Blue team opens the game on a 8-0 run while the White team turns it over time after time.

Greg Monroe’s work in the post is subtle but effective. He’s a smart big man who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

 White team starters are Irving, Holiday, George, Faried and Jordan. Blue team starters are Lillard, Waiters, Hayward, Monroe and Davis.

 Chris Paul, with Lil’ Chris by his side, is headed to the arena to see the action as well.

PREGAME

 George takes home top honors in the unofficial dunk contest during pregame warmups. He nailed his signature windmill cuff dunk three different times, each one better than its predecessor. Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Holiday   joined him on the White team’s spectacular warm up line with some crazy dunks of their own.

USA Basketball: It’s Too Early To Count LeBron James Out For The 2016 Olympics





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – As LeBron James said during the playoffs when asked about his potential participation in the 2016 Olympics, “that’s a long time from now.”‘

That’s three years from now to be exact, which is why it is far too early to count James out of competing in a fourth straight Olympics with the USA Basketball program he helped rebuild.

Despite reports to the contrary, James hasn’t informed anyone at USA Basketball about his intentions for 2016. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made it clear during this week’s mini-camp that he will give James and the other veteran stars who have competed previously space between now and then, the door will remain open for the future.

James, who already owns two gold medals and one bronze, could play in his fourth Olympic games that summer. But that would be after three more rigorous years of trying to add to his championship haul in the NBA. James has led the Miami Heat to back-to-back titles, earning consecutive Finals MVP awards, and will have endured considerable wear and tear to his body if he continues on his current and torrid pace.

There is also the potential for an exhausting free agent summer after the 2013-14 season, provided James opts to test the market after next season.

But again, so much can go on between now and 2016 that it’s nearly impossible to speculate about who will or will not be willing, able and available in three years. No U.S. male has ever played on more than three Olympic teams ( LeBron is one of only three players to participate three times. Carmelo Anthony and David Robinson are the others.)

“I’m sure all of these guys think they know what’s coming down the line and what they’ll be doing,” said an Eastern Conference executive who is in town this week for USA Basketball’s mini-camp for the Men’s Senior National Team. “But they should know better. Derrick Rose is the cautionary tale for all of these guys. It all depends on where [LeBron] is that year. How healthy is he? How tired might he be from grinding his way through the playoffs? You just never know.”

Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have already committed to participate in the World Cup of Basketball next summer in Spain and will surely be a part of the pool for 2016, provided they are healthy. Durant said there are several other stars from the team that won gold at the London Olympics last summer, he mentioned Russell Westbrook and James Harden specifically, who are interested in joining them.

When asked specifically about James, he said he hadn’t spoken to him about it. “Those guys are older,” he said and then laughed. “Their time is precious.”

Colangelo’s declaration that Durant is the “face of the program going forward” was acknowledgement of the obvious; he’s just 24 and has a larger window than James or any of the other older and more established stars. It was not an indication that James, Anthony and any of the other veteran stars are done with USA Basketball.

In 2016 James could very well play a role similar to what Kobe Bryant played in London. Bryant served as the elder statesman of the group and its leader, while stepping aside offensively and allowing Durant, Anthony and James to serve as the catalysts on the floor.

In the immediate aftermath of last summer’s gold medal run, the rumblings about U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s run being over began percolating. Months later an announcement on his replacement was expected. But he had a change of heart and reaffirmed his commitment to the program and the process for the long-term. Simply put, things change. And Coach K’s influence on James in three years could be significant, if they decide his services are vital to the U.S. cause.

Plus, it’s hard to walk away or even take a step back when the U.S. is in the midst of reestablishing its dominance on the world stage. And the fact is, no one has a crystal ball. No one knows for sure who will be available for competition three years from now.

There is a ton of talent on display here this week and there will be even more NBA stars vying for spots on next summer’s team that will compete in Spain. There’s no doubt that the competition for roster spots will be fierce three years from now in an Olympic summer.

USA Basketball’s pool of talent should be as deep as its ever been, given the way the program has been reconstituted under Colangelo and Krzyzewski. New faces will pop onto the radar as more established ones move on or fade out of the program. There are All-Stars involved in the program that might never make a 12-man roster for a competition. But the surplus of talent will remain, with or without James included.

“The [three] things for all these guys; it’s contract, family and health. And any personal stuff is the reason we have the pool [of players],” Krzyzewski said. “Because anything that can happen human, can happen to Kevin Durant or Kevin Love. That’s why you need more than the main 12 guys. It’s worked well, it’s worked very well, so far.”

USA Basketball: Durant, Love On Board For World Cup Of Basketball 2014





LAS VEGAS – If they only had the 28 players on this week’s mini-camp roster to choose from, the decision makers at USA Basketball would have plenty of talent for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball competition in Spain.

The beauty of what’s been built under the watch of managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski is that they have plenty of other NBA superstars eager to claim a spot on the roster for the summer of 2014. All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kevin Love were the first two do so, making it official at the end of Wednesday’s mini-camp practice at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

Durant and Love won gold medals in Turkey in 2010 and in London in 2012. They’re aiming to repeat that feat in Spain next summer and will do so as cornerstones of a team that won’t take complete shape until a year from now. They are the first of what could be several other returnees from London to make the commitment for next summer, though Miami Heat four-time MVP LeBron James is not expected to join them.

“I’m excited for this opportunity, to play for Coach K again and to get to play with some of these guys I’ve played with in the past,” said Durant, who suggested that Russell Westbrook and James Harden have also expressed interest in joining the crew that will play in Spain next summer. “This whole program is first class. And I want to be a part of it. We’ll see, hopefully we get some more names added to the list and some of these great young guys out here as well.”

There was a buzz in the gym from the start Wednesday with Durant and Love, two seasoned All-Stars, observing all of the 25-under mini-camp stars from seats between the two courts. Colangelo and Krzyzewski knew Tuesday night that Durant and Love were on board.

“Kevin [Durant] told us [Tuesday night], ‘Coach I wanted to come here and look you in the eye and tell you what I’m doing.’ I get chills thinking about it … a guy of his stature and his accomplishment, for these two guys to come here shows what they think of the program and the people involved. To do it face-to-face, we appreciate that very much.”

Colangelo referred to Durant as “kind of the face” of the USA Basketball program going forward, a distinction Durant will likely carry through to the 2016 Olympics as well.

“Kevin Durant coming out like he has and saying I’m going for it and I want to play, is a tremendous statement,” Colangelo said. “He’s his own man. I understand guys talk and influence one another. But Kevin is going to be the face, he’s going to be a leader going forward and I think others are going to respond because of his presence.”

That’s why the, the impact of Wednesday’s announcement, speaks to the continuation of Colangelo’s larger plan, which was to turn national team work into a privilege and a duty that all players covet and not the drag or burden it appeared to be for many members of the previous generation of stars.

“It starts with infrastructure,” Colangelo said. “You have good leadership in place and then you lay the ground work and then you ge the guys to buy in and then it starts to snowball. And right now, I mean where it was,no one really cared. So it’s totally flip-flopped to a point now where I get calls from guys during the [NBA regular] season from guys saying, ‘How am I doing? How am I playing?’ And that’s kind of neat. My job is to keep encouraging all of them.”

Peer pressure works as well. When the elite stars invest their time the way James, Durant, Love and so many others have in recent years, it becomes a movement among the players. There is a prestige involved with the program now that wasn’t there as recently as a decade ago. An invite to a mini-camp this summer could turn into a roster spot one day, if not next summer maybe in a few years.

“Listen, not everyone is going to be on our team,” Colangelo said. “That’s impossible. It’s a numbers game. But I think these guys that come through our program, at every level and certainly the Select Team, they are better players for it and better people for the experience because they are being exposed to this environment, which I think is very healthy for all of them.”