What we learned today: Team USA is better than China

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UPDATE Thumbnail image for USA_Logo.jpg8:30 pm: Looks like when Team USA hops on a plane for exhibition “friendlies” in Europe next week, they will bring more than the 12 they can suit up in Turkey.  That’s what Coach K told ESPN:

“The chances of us having more than 12 on the plane Monday are good, but
it may be one more than 12, or two more than 12,” coach Mike Krzyzewski
said. “What we’re trying to do is see how Lamar (Odom) and even (Kevin)
Love do there at the center spot. The 3 spot and the 4 spot with
(Kevin) Durant, (Rudy) Gay, (Danny) Granger and (Andre) Iguodala is
pretty solid, and the 5 with those two guys (Chandler and Odom) is good.

Smart money is JaVale McGee makes the trip only as Tyson Chandler injury insurance. As for what to do at the guard spot, that’s a tough one.

5:37 pm: If this part of the Team USA summer is about building confidence before going to Turkey, mission accomplished on Saturday.

Team USA held a scrimmage against China at Madison Square Garden. While the scrimmage was set up so that the score reset at the end if each quarter, but if you had not done that the final would have been USA 98, China 51. I don’t care if China didn’t have Yao Ming, that’s good work.

I am not in New York for the fun, nor did I get to watch this game live (Sunday’s game against France is televised), but we got good reports thanks to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, Michael Lee of the Washington Post, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and Chris Tomasson of FanHouse. Here are a few notes.

* It was supposed to be Danny Granger and Jeff Green fighting it out for one forward spot on the roster. Well, it’s Granger’s. He led all scorers on Team USA with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting. He was lighting it up inside and out. Green didn’t even get in the game. Granger is the kind of underappreciated player who could break out on the international stage this summer.

* The other guy who did not get in? JaVale McGee. Meanwhile the USA ran some lineups with Lamar Odom at center. All a sign that McGee may also be among the three cuts. Hard to give up the only other real center on the roster but the team may go that way.

* The third cut was long assumed to be Eric Gordon, as he and sharpshooter Stephen Curry are basically fighting for the same roster spot. But Gordon just keeps playing well. Team USA just started Rajon Rondo today and likely will not trim Russell Westbrook. If Gordon goes it’s a pure numbers game, not because of his play.

* The USA started in the first quarter Chauncey Billups, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler.

* The USA’s ball pressure was far too much for China, who coughed it up all game. They had nine turnovers in the second quarter alone.

* The USA was running every chance they got. They must. Defense and transition is how this USA team will win.

* Great note from Schuhmann:

Midway through the quarter, China was in a zone and their coach Bob
Donewald Jr. shouted out “Back off 41! Not a shooter!” No. 41 is Derrick
Rose, and he promptly nailed a wide-open three from the right wing.
Oops.

* China’s best player was former Laker Sun Yue.

* Sunday the USA takes on France in a more traditional scrimmage, starting at 1 pm Eastern.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.

Cornrowed Joel Embiid calls minute limit f—ing BS

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76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.

Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.

Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”

“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”

“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”

“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”

We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.

Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.

Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.

At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.