2014 USA Basketball Men's National Team Practice

Kyrie Irving’s world looks pretty good right now


LAS VEGAS — Kyrie Irving was doing what he does at Day 1 of the Team USA training camp Monday: bring the ball up the court, call for the high pick and then tear apart the defense no matter what it attempts to do to slow you down. Leave a little sliver of daylight and he blows by the big and is at the rim. Switch and he backs out to isolate the mismatch. Don’t stick with the roll man and he finds him with a clean pass (this worked a couple times with DeMarcus Cousins Monday in the final scrimmage). Go under the pick and pull back and he just buries the three over the top of you.

Pretty much everything he does works out well.

That’s pretty much how Irving’s entire summer has gone — it’s good to be Kyrie Irving right now.

He signed an almost max contract extension (it’s still a lot of cash). LeBron James decides to return to Cavaliers and Kevin Love may join the two of them. Now Irving is in Las Vegas where it looks as if he will be a key part of Team USA’s plans heading into the World Cup in Spain starting in late August.

It’s good to be Kyrie Irving right now.

Of course, that LeBron thing pretty much tops it all.

“At first you were speechless because you couldn’t believe it,” Irving said of finding out LeBron was indeed coming to Cleveland. “I’ve been watching LeBron for a while now and it’s nice to be going to run along side of him and be his point guard.”

The two are planning.

“I talk to him every once in a while, I talked to him just a week ago about different pieces on the team and the things we want to do and the kings we want to accomplish,” Irving said. “It’s exciting, it’s an exciting time.”

What about Kevin Love?

“We all know, on and off the floor, how great of a player Kevin is,” Irving said. “He’s just a great player to be around, he knows the game. You watch him on film and he does a ton of things well and obviously he would add a lot versatility out there at the four and five spot for our team. But like I said if it happens great, if it doesn’t we’ll go with the pieces we have.”

A number of fans looked at Cleveland, looked at NBA rookie coach David Blatt (a name they don’t know) and wonder why LeBron would choose to go there in the prime of his career. But Irving was in Las Vegas for Summer League and has talked to Blatt about the offense — and he’s excited.

“I’m very optimistic about the things that he does,” Irving said. “The Summer League was just the icing on the cake for me, just seeing the way he ran the offense and the way he coached. He’s not too hands on. He obviously is the dictator of our offense and what needs to be done, but he obviously lets players play. That’s what you want as a player….

“(There’s) a lot of movement, and he also gives the players that deserve it the iso-motion and a lot of screen and rolls, his offense is tailored to the players he has.”

And he has elite players.

It’s a lot to take in, but right now Irving is just trying to soak up and enjoy the experience with Team USA.

“It’s not every day you have Kevin Durant running your wing or Paul George as your two or DeMarcus Cousins posting up or players like that running along side you,” Irving said. “You have to cherish this opportunity.”

It’s good to be Kyrie Irving right now.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.