Kobe in for 2012 Olympics; USA roster remains dynamic

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Team USA Basketball — as both a B-side to the NBA brand and a prestigious, standalone entity — exists in a strange place, lockout or no.

Participation in the program brings its own potential reward, but a gold medal will never be an NBA title. It’s an achievement that is entirely separate from the highest domestic accomplishments, and to most NBA players, is by definition lesser than hoisting the Larry O’Brien. Winning in international competition is great, but it just isn’t the same; it’s a nice way to train and play basketball deep into the summer, but to most, involvement in the Team USA program is considered a career supplement — and little more.

Selling the league’s biggest stars on their continued involvement in Team USA basketball has proven difficult enough since Beijing. Though there were handfuls of valid and semi-valid excuses for the almost full turnover of the roster between the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 FIBA World Championships, one can’t help but wonder if Team USA’s reboot has already exhausted its opening salvo. The biggest marketing opportunity on the horizon is gone, the nation’s basketball dignity has been returned, and the league’s best have their Olympic gold. That could mean that most of Team USA Redux’s first generation is more or less done with international competition, a reality made clear by the younger squad that took gold in Turkey in 2010.

The incarnation of the team that takes the floor at next year’s Olympic games could again be significantly different from the previous model, but the roster will assuredly be filled with NBA talent, regardless of the possibility of a prolonged lockout. According to David Aldridge — in a column posted on the skeletal remains of NBA.com — a few notable program alumni can be penciled in to lead the charge, even if the entire team probably shouldn’t be expected to return:

Still, the 2012 roster will be comprised solely of NBA players. Kobe Bryant is a yes whatever happens, according to a source close to the 34-year-old; Bryant badly wants a second gold medal to go with the one he won in ’08. Kevin Durant, who led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, would probably go if selected even if the lockout were still in place, a source close to him said Sunday. The source added, though, that circumstances could change in the next year. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have yet to have discussions about what they would do in case the lockout is ongoing, according to a source; ditto for LeBron James, according to another source with knowledge of James’ thinking.

James and Wade were dominant in the 2008 Olympics, but the USA Basketball program is deep enough to compete without them. USA Basketball was structured with this kind of flexibility in mind; even if James, Wade, and Bosh opt to stay home, a squad spearheaded by Durant and Bryant would still be the clear favorite in 2012, bolstered by other rising NBA stars hungry for their first Olympic competition. Derrick Rose, Andre Iguodala, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay, Kevin Love, Steph Curry, and Eric Gordon could all look to follow up their FIBA World Championships success with another round for Team USA, and that’s to say nothing of the oodles of other talented players who weren’t included on the 2010 roster.

The beauty of USA Basketball’s new (if you could call it new, at this point) infrastructure is its continuity, an attribute which has less to do with the players’ continued involvement and more with the sustained system in place. The players aren’t going to be able to return for every competition, but the program remains, young talent continues to flow in, and the roster renovations come in stride.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.