Winderman: Team USA's core may be playing themselves out of jobs

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Thumbnail image for teamusa.jpgFile this one under “conundrum” when it comes to USA Basketball and those at the back end of the Mike Krzyzewski’s roster at the World Championships.

Should the United States win its final two games this weekend, it punches a ticket to the 2012 Olympics, with only the gold-medalists earning an automatic bid.

That would make life easy for Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Chris Bosh to parachute in to London for a couple of weeks two years from now and work toward another Games gold.

But should the United States lose either in the semifinals or championship game in Istanbul this weekend, it would then mandate regional Olympic qualifying next summer in Argentina.

And that might be a burden (lockout permitting) the league’s prime stars, especially those planning to play deep into the NBA playoffs, might not choose to accept, essentially 24 months of round-the-clock basketball.

Ah, not-so-sweet irony.

But offering their “A” game this weekend, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Lamar Odom and Eric Gordon could be hastening their own Olympic demise.

We’ve seen it before on the Olympic platform, those in successful qualifying heats pushed aside when it comes to the championship glory of the race for the medals.

Of course, Jerry Colangelo’s master plan never was supposed to offer this grim reality. To play in the Olympics meant playing in any qualifying round needed, similar to the model leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games.

With a U.S. loss over the weekend, the NBA’s leading men will have to decide whether to participate in Olympic qualifying next summer. That could lead more than a few to declare their retirement from international play, what with NBA championships now Kobe’s defining measurement, with the Heat’s Big Three pledged to make mid-June basketball a South Florida staple, with Paul and Carmelo facing the same types of contract concerns that kept Wade, LeBron and Bosh away this summer.

But with a pair of U.S. victories this weekend, London becomes a more manageable exercise for the NBA’s elite, able to push aside those who took their spots in basketball’s preliminary relays, so to speak.

Sunday in Turkey, gold will go to the victors.

But for several, if not most, members of this current U.S. team, outside of, say, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and, perhaps, Chauncey Billups, those medals also could wind up feeling like consolation prizes, accompanied not with tickets to London, but rather merely with heartfelt thanks.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s first points as a Laker (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball‘s welcome to the NBA was a bit rough. Patrick Beverleyas he said would happen before the game — was in Ball’s space and physical with him from the start. Clippers defenders got back and cut off those push the ball ahead passes Ball loves. In his first quarter as a Laker Ball 0-of-3 from the floor, missed two free throws, and didn’t pick up an assist.

But in the second quarter, Ball got his first bucket as a Laker. After Beverley and Blake Griffin miscommunicated on a screen, Ball got a clean look at a three and knocked it down. The Staples Center crowd erupted.

It was a rough first night for Ball in the NBA, with the defense focused on him. He’s got game, he can adapt, but there are going to be some rough learning experiences this season.

Fake Klay Thompson, James Harden, and Kobe Bryant emerge (PHOTO)

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Tuesday night was the start of the new NBA season and with the games came more of what we love from the NBA sphere: weird stuff you only see from the best fans on earth.

During the Golden State Warriors’ home opener against the Houston Rockets, a fan behind the bench came dressed as Klay Thompson complete with uniform, beard, and haircut.

This did not go unnoticed on social media, and Steve Kerr was even asked about the doppelgänger after the game. For the record Kerr said, “I thought it was a perfect metaphor for our conditioning level.”

Yikes, sweet coach burn.

In case you missed it, this is what that fan looked like:

Warriors would have won if coach put me in the game.

A post shared by Daws (@bigdawstv) on

That is YouTuber Big Daws, who of course was given free tickets to the game by SeatGeek. That video now has more than two million views and comes complete with a SeatGeek discount code. As is everything in 2017, even something you think is just a fun Halloween costume is actually an ad.

Culture begets culture and soon followed a new doppelgänger in Sacramento. Again, the Rockets were involved in this one as as a fan came dressed up as Houston guard James Harden. No word yet on whether this guy has a popular YouTube channel or what his offer code is, but here’s what he looked like:

This cultural phenomenon had folks looking for other NBA lookalikes around them this week, and someone came up with this Kobe Bryant twin:

This really is the best league. I can’t wait for that Big Daws guy to shave his goatee and cosplay as Ryan Anderson at a Rockets game.

Anyway, please stop by in the comment section below to get 15% off your next visit to NBCSports.com/NBA by using the code DOPPELGÄNGER at checkout.

LeBron James: “I’m out of shape” (VIDEO)

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LeBron James looked good in the opening night ceremony against the Boston Celtics. The Cleveland Cavaliers star put up a stat line of 29 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists in the win over the Eastern Conference rival.

That doesn’t mean that James is done dealing with a nagging ankle injury that kept him out of all five of Cleveland’s preseason games. Speaking to reporters after practice on Thursday, The King said that he will indeed play on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks, but he won’t do it under the circumstances he prefers.

Specifically, LeBron said that because of his injury, he’s been unable to get into the kind of shape he’d like to be in heading into the season.

Via ESPN:

“I just want to get to where I should be,” James said after participating in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice Thursday. “The ankle and the foot injury just kind of kept me out and set me back further than I would like, but I got some time now along the course of these games that we got. We got two back-to-backs coming up, so that’s going to help and we have some opportunity to get some practice time in as well.”

“I’m out of shape, very out of shape for my expectations,” James told TNT’s Kristen Ledlow during his on-court postgame interview Tuesday.

No doubt it will be tough to keep one of the most durable stars in NBA history out of of the regular season games they need to start this season off right. However, this is the kind of thing that slows down the careers of aging stars, and if I can play devil’s advocate here for a minute, this is what we’ve been looking for from James for some time.

I’m not saying this is the beginning of the end for LeBron, but it is an important enough thing to note and to keep a pin in for future reference.

Meanwhile, James is still doing great stuff off the court like this:

Aww.

Lakers without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for opener due to DUI suspension

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LOS ANGELES — This isn’t new news, but a lot of NBA fans forgot it.

Last June the NBA suspended then Pistons now Lakers guard two games for “pleading guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, in violation of the law of the State of Michigan.” Those were to be the first two games of next season — the Clippers game Thursday followed by the Suns Friday.

Lakers coach Luke Walton played it close to the vest, not revealing who would start at the two in KCP’s place. The most logical answer may be Jordan Clarkson, but Walton likes him creating shots with the second unit. Other options are limited, Luol Deng is possible, they could go small with backup point guard Tyler Ennis or bigger with Corey Brewer. (Josh Hart might have been the best call, but the rookie is out with a sore Achilles.)

Whoever starts it will be a blow to the defense-starved Lakers to be without their best perimeter defender.

This summer, after landing Avery Bradley, the Pistons chose to renounce the rights to Caldwell-Pope, setting him free into what was a difficult market. Even for a good wing defender who hit 35 percent from three last season, when the market dried up so did the chance for a decent multi-year deal. The Lakers grabbed him for one-year at $18 million.

Caldwell-Pope’s agent is Rich Paul, who happens to be LeBron James‘ agent (and he’s a free agent next summer), but whatever the ulterior motives this was a good signing by the Lakers. If KCP works out this season for them they would be in the driver’s seat to re-sign him next summer (although the Lakers would not have his Bird rights).