The Extra Pass: Ranking all 28 2016 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team candidatles

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Some names leaked yesterday for inclusion on the 2014-16 USA Basketball men’s national-team roster – the pool of players who will be considered for upcoming international events. That includes the World Cup of Basketball this summer, possibly 2015 Olympic qualifiers  – and, of course, the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Marc Stein of ESPN beat today’s official announcement with the full list:

Four years ago, USA Basketball added four more players to its pool a few months after the initial release, and the same could happen this cycle. John Wall, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, DeAndre Jordan and Michael Carter-Williams are among the players who would make sense as late additions. (Kobe Bryant, the lone 2012 Olympian not selected, has already announced his retirement from international play.)

Those 28(-plus?) will be parsed to 12 for each international event, but of course the biggest prize is a spot on the 2016 Olympic roster.

So, who has the best chance? Ignoring possible late additions to the expanded roster, some of whom would rank highly, here’s how the 28 already selected stack up for making the 2016 Olympic Team (age at the beginning of the Rio Games is listed in parentheses):

28. David Lee (33)

Lee was never good enough to make the Olympic team in his prime. He’s not getting there at age 33.

27. Tyson Chandler (33)

Chandler was an important piece of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, giving the Americans a center when they had no other decent option. He was likely aging out of contention anyway, but the emergence of other young centers really pushes out Chandler.

26. Deron Williams (32)

Another 2012 Olympian, Williams has already begun to look over the hill. Because he’s slipping from such a high peak, he’s still a helpful NBA player. But an Olympian now, let alone in two years? I don’t see it.

25. Andre Iguodala (32)

The third straight 2012 Olympian in these rankings – I’m sensing USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and crew picked a few players for the talent pool more to thank them for their previous service than in anticipation of 2016 – Iguodala was Team USA’s glue player in London. He’s a good passer and smart player, but too much of his game relies on athleticism to have a good chance of making the 2016 team.

24. Kyle Korver (35)

Korver clearly made the pool because of one skill: 3-point shooting. He’s a real wildcard, the only player on this list who wasn’t part of the 2010-12 U.S. Team or the 2013 minicamp (though, he did participate in the 2009 minicamp). That USA Basketball selected him anyway suggests they’re really intrigued by him. But he’s also the oldest player on this list. Even if outside shooting ages better than other skills, Korver still needs athleticism to run around screens and rise on his jumper. By the time he’s 35, I bet there are better shooters available – or at least similar ones with better complementary skills.

23. Kenneth Faried (26)

Once people got over Faried being a big steal in the draft thanks to his rebounding and offensive hustle, they began picking apart the holes in his game. Turns out, Faried is a pretty bad defender. He has a couple years to fix that major issue. Otherwise, Team USA won’t consider him strongly for a backup role.

22. Bradley Beal (23)

Beal is a good athlete with a smooth shooting stroke, making him a reasonable bet to grow into the type of player who fits at the end of the U.S.’s bench. But the second-youngest player selected to the pool, he might not be ready by 2016.

21. Klay Thompson (26)

Thompson is a better-developed Beal, a top-shelf 3-point shooter who doesn’t do anything else at a star level. Both belong on this list, because either could fit as a role player in Rio, but it’s unlikely either nudges out a deep group of stars, some of whom can shoot 3s themselves.

20. Gordon Hayward (26)

Hayward is a candidate to fill the Iguodala role. He’s a versatile offensive player, but his defense is lacking.

19. Kawhi Leonard (25)

Leonard is a better candidate to fill the Iguodala role. He’s an excellent spot-up shooter whose offensive game is expanding, and his perimeter defense is already remarkable. Depending when the Spurs hand over the reigns from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to Leonard, we could learn a lot more about the San Diego State product before the 2016 selections.

18. Andre Drummond (23)

Drummond is the youngest player on this list, and in a couple years, it might look foolish for him to be ranked so low. Just look how far his game has grown in the last two years, from the time he was underwhelming scouts at Connecticut to now. Drummond has the physical talent to skyrocket into the top three of this list. He’d just have to pass a deep crop of big men, including a few power forward who could play center internationally. Drummond’s size doesn’t separate him as much as it does in the NBA, and his defense needs major polish or else he’d be fouling out of every Olympic game.

17. DeMarcus Cousins (25)

Nobody doubts Cousins’ talent. The biggest question was his attitude, but Cousins making this list speaks volumes to how U.S. Basketball officials perceive him now. If Cousins keeps his nose clean, it’s going to be very hard to keep him off the team in 2016. He’s already elevated his game on the court, and even maintaining his current level of production might make him the NBA’s best center in two years as older players decline.

16. Carmelo Anthony (32)

Melo played well for the National Team, even when other stars weren’t meshing, and he could get a 2016 bid out loyalty. Or maybe he’ll just be deserving. For a player like him, 32 is hardly washed up. But either he will have expanded his repertoire to make a deep playoff run (increasing the odds he sits out the Olympics) or he’ll be the shoot-first scorer he’s always been (increasing the odds the committee chooses someone else).

15. Derrick Rose (27)

If it weren’t for injury, Rose would be a lock. For him to make it, obviously, he’ll have to be healthy in 2016. But let’s not ignore how much he struggled in his 10 games between injuries this season. That’s a small sample, yes, but there are a few excellent and younger point guards he’ll be competing with. Even if the slightest loss of athleticism could have Rose on the outside looking in.

14. LaMarcus Aldridge (31)

Aldridge might have the unfortunate timing of having his peak fall directly between 2012 and 2016. Consider him a lock for the World Cup of Basketball this summer in Spain, and maybe that builds up enough goodwill to warrant an Olympic spot two years later. After all, his mid-range offensive game should age well. But Aldridge is also currently a standout rebounder and quality defender, two traits likely won’t work in his favor in 2016.

13. Kyrie Irving (24)

Irving deserves his star status, but when compared to other stars, it’s hard to get over his defensive shortcomings. Plus, his frequent injuries lower his odds of making the Olympic team. Team USA has to catch him at the right – healthy – moment to include him on its 2016 roster.

12. Damian Lillard (26)

Slotting Irving and Lillard was difficult, but Lillard ultimately got the edge because he took such a big step forward from his rookie year. Irving has been running in place, admittedly at a high level, but Lillard seems to have more momentum.

11. Dwight Howard (30)

It’s a big deal that Howard is part of the American Basketball program again for the first time in six years. I suspect both sides are coming into this with the expectation Howard plays in Rio, but the best-laid plans often awry. There’s just no banking on a 30-year-old big man with back issues. Even if Howard can play, injury-related limits on him might make him less effective than Cousins or Drummond. Howard ranks so much higher than those two, though, because his trumpeted inclusion in the talent pool suggests he’ll get the benefit of the doubt.

10. Russell Westbrook (27)

Westbrook played well upon his brief return this season, separating himself from Rose in that regard, but two surgeries on the same knee for a player so reliant on his athleticism is concerning. I’d take the field of point guards behind Westbrook over him, but Westbrook has come up through the USA Basketball system and already reached the pinnacle with a gold medal in London. I think the mutual comfort will buy him a little leeway.

9. Chris Paul (31)

Paul will be old enough in 2016 to be concerned about his desire/ability to play, but not too old where it’s a real worry. He’s already won two Olympic gold medals and has probably earned a swan song.

8. LeBron James (31)

LeBron has a spot if he wants one. The only question is whether he wants one. Wade and Bosh aren’t in the running, at least right now, for a spot on in Rio, and any NBA team with LeBron is going to have a deep playoff run. Does he want to play those extra games without his Heat buddies?

7. Blake Griffin (27)

Griffin would have been an Olympian in 2012 if not for injury, and he’s clearly recovered just fine. Plus, Griffin has improved defensively and expanded his offensive moves. He’ll be an even stronger Olympic candidate in 2016 than when he was a de facto selection two years ago.

6. James Harden (26)

Best shooting guard in the NBA? Check. At least a few years younger than any other contender for the honor? Check. Even as Harden’s defensive issues become more exposed, it’s hard to find someone to bump him from the Olympic team.

5. Paul George (26)

In a medium sample this season, George has shown himself an increasingly good fit for the international style of play by protecting the ball better and polishing his jumper. But even if those improvements prove to be a fluke and he reverts to his previous levels, he’s still just too darn good to keep off the team.

4. Anthony Davis (23)

Davis was, by far, the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, and he’s just kept impressing since. He should be a fixture on the American squad for the next two to three Games.

3. Kevin Love (27)

Love, a gifted passer and shooter for his size, is an ideal fit for international play. Plus, he’s young and already one of the NBA’s top players. The only question is how much international center he can play – not that it affects Love’s candidacy, but the ripples would be felt lower on this list.

2. Stephen Curry (28)

Curry played for the 2010 World Championships gold-medal team, and that didn’t even get him a spot among the 20 finalists for the 2012 London Games. USA Basketball can – happily – make up for that snub this time. Curry’s shooting makes him ideal for international play. Plus, he keeps toning up the weaker parts of his game as he enters his prime around 2016.

1. Kevin Durant (27)

Not only has he surpassed LeBron as MVP favorite this season, Durant will quite possibly be better in 2016. He’s the easiest pick of the bunch and maybe even the face of the American delegation in Rio.

-Dan Feldman

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Kevin Durant and Tony Parker put on a show:

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Bobcats 95, Clippers 91: The Bobcats may be six games below .500 in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but that’s good enough for the eighth playoff spot there, and Charlotte actually has one of the league’s better defenses. If teams like the Clippers continue to take them lightly on the road, outcomes like Wednesday’s will become predictable rather than surprising. The Bobcats are seventh in the league in defensive efficiency, and held L.A. to just 43.3 percent shooting. Al Jefferson led the way and finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, a more impressive feat than normal considering the matchup with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin inside. — Brett Pollakoff

Bulls 98, Cavaliers 87: The Bulls improved to 7-2 with this victory since trading Luol Deng to Cleveland, and Carlos Boozer sat out with a calf injury while Deng was an ineffective 2-of-11 from the field in almost 40 minutes of action with his new squad. D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson did the heavy lifting with 27 and 26 points respectively, and Joakim Noah was his usually-active self in finishing with 18 rebounds and six assists. — BP

Hawks 112, Magic 109: Atlanta led this game by 19 points in the third, before a furious Orlando comeback required the Hawks to focus once again to finish this one out. Paul Millsap (a likely All-Star reserve in the East, if you haven’t been paying attention) led Atlanta with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals, and five blocked shots. Victor Oladipo led the Magic with 24 points on 13 shots, to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Jameer Nelson missed a deep, tough three-point shot that would have tied it as time expired. — BP

Raptors 93, Mavericks 85: Vince Carter returned to Toronto, which is apparently still a big deal for a franchise with nothing else to focus on all these years later. What Raptors fans should be concerned about is the fact that their team fell behind big once again, this time by 21 points before mustering the strength to come back and secure the victory against a Dallas team that was playing without Dirk Nowitzki. DeMar DeRozan poured in 40 points on 22 shots, but it really shouldn’t have taken that kind of effort to put away these Mavericks. — BP

Celtics 113, Wizards 111 (OT): Gerald Wallace drove for the game-winning layup to give the Celtics this victory, but his teammates gave him no more than cursory congratulations for his effort, largely due to the way Wallace has been shooting his mouth off all season long. On the Wizards side, they seem to have an aversion to getting over .500, and John Wall posted a triple double line of 28 points (on 29 shots), 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in the losing effort. Jeff Green poured in 39 points for the Celtics. — BP

Sixers 110, Knicks 106: This was yet another bad loss for the Knicks, but especially so considering both the state of the Sixers and the fact that this game was within reach in the fourth quarter. New York led by six with under nine and a half minutes remaining, but the team’s inability to get stops (which is seriously unacceptable, given Philadelphia is 29th in offensive efficiency) cost them down the stretch. Evan Turner led the way with 34 points and 11 rebounds for the Sixers, while the Knicks have now dropped five straight. — BP

Rockets 119, Kings 98: Rudy Gay went down in the first quarter with an Achilles injury. DeMarcus Cousins went down in the second quarter after rolling his left ankle. Hopefully neither of those turn out to be serious injuries (X-rays on Cousins were negative and he is day-to-day). Still, with them out the Kings could not hold off the Rockets, who went on a 14-5 first quarter run to take the lead and never looked back from there. Lots of Rockets players were putting up numbers: James Harden had 24 points and nine assists; Dwight Howard had 26 points and 13 rebounds; Omri Casspi had 20 points and 12 rebounds; and Chandler Parsons finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. — Kurt Helin

Bucks 104, Pistons 101: The Milwaukee Bucks were down 13 in the third quarter but mounted a come-from-behind win thanks to their bench, which was hot and coach Larry Drew rode through the fourth quarter. Caron Butler had 8 of his game-high 30 in the fourth quarter, although the real reason Milwaukee won is the Pistons shot 21.1 percent in the fourth (Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey combined to go 2-of-11 in the fourth). — KH

Thunder 111, Spurs 105: This is what makes me wonder about the Spurs in the playoffs — they struggle with athletic teams. Granted, once Kawhi Leonard had to leave the game with a broken hand the Spurs got less athletic, but this is not a new problem — Kevin Durant had 36 (that’s nine straight with at least 30 points) and guard Reggie Jackson slashed his way to 27 points on 17 shots. And the Thunder did that without Russell Westbrook. I don’t want to read much into one January regular season game, but the pattern of the past couple years leads me to think the Spurs can’t beat a healthy Thunder team in a seven game series. — KH

Suns 124, Pacers 100: You read that score right — the Suns dropped 124 on the best defense in the NBA. Let’s give the Suns some credit here, they started the game 10-of-15 from three, they got a strong game from former Pacer Gerald Green who had 23 points. Also, lets admit that this was just an off night on the road for Indiana — they played terrible defense. This is a team that has been marching through the West with little trouble but they didn’t get back in transition defense Wednesday and the Suns made them pay for it. — KH

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the Kyrie Irving trade

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Is LeBron James more likely to stay in Cleveland now?

Are the Boston Celtics contenders? Are they better set up for the future?

There are a lot more questions that come out of the surprise Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. It’s a deal that is a big win for Cleveland, they got more than they should have expected in return. However, this is in no way a bad deal for the Celtics.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Clippers reach deal with Michael Winger to be new GM

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We knew this was coming, now it’s about to be official.

Former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant GM Michael Winger is about to take over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers. They offered him the job last week, now the sides have agreed to terms, and he will sign a deal soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Oklahoma City Thunder executive Michael Winger has reached an agreement in principle to become the general manager of the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Doc Rivers is no longer the guy with the hammer in Los Angeles, he will just be coaching the Clippers (and still getting $10 million a year paychecks, in case you think he’ll just walk away). The power structure now has Lawrence Frank at the top as the President of Basketball Operations, with Winger doing to work under him. The Clippers are expected to hire Trent Redden, one of David Griffin’s former right hand men in Cleveland, to work under Winger as an assistant GM. The Clippers also are expected to hire another assistant GM soon.

Frank, Winger and crew take over a team in transition. Chris Paul is gone, but the Clippers locked up Blake Griffin on a max deal this summer, they got a good veteran point guard in Patrick Beverley from Houston, and they signed Danilo Gallinari. They picked up some good young players in the CP3 trade such as Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker (who they now need to develop). The Clippers should be in the mix for one of the final three playoff slots in the West next season, but that doesn’t answer the bigger picture questions. Are the Clippers a team rebuilding for the future on the fly? Are they looking to stay good and relevant until they can get their new building in Inglewood constructed? Are they a year or two away from a total rebuild?

Steve Ballmer ultimately gets to make that call. It will be up to Winger to execute it.