Team USA going small ball, but how many bigs do they keep on the bench?

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LAS VEGAS — Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.

For the second day in a row coach Mike Krzyzewski rolled out that five-some out as a unit for scrimmages at the end of the Team USA practice and it looked like the starting group. Behind that guys like Klay Thompson, James Harden, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Bradley Beal and a number of other guards and wing players seem to be getting long, hard looks. Chandler Parsons got run as a stretch four on Monday.

Team USA is going small. Three guard lineups with what would be an NBA three serving as an athletic stretch four.

“Everyone talks about match-ups (with big teams such as Spain), people have to match-up against us, too,” Krzyzewski said. “What you have to do is put your best 12 together and then make adjustments with the best 12. Obviously we’re not going to have 12 guards, but that’s what we’ve done. You try to get eight or nine guys that are going to be the core, then three or four guys who complement them. We’ll see how that works out.”

That small ball has worked out well the last four years with gold medals at the 2010 World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics. Remember on that London team LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were the primary power forwards, and they overwhelmed teams with athleticism and defensive pressure. Yet a lot of talk around Team USA seems to be about the guys not here, such as Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.

“The big men we lost are not centers. We’ve never really had… well in Beijing (2008 Olympics) we did, we had Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh (back when Bosh played more in the post),” Krzyzewski said. “But since then we had Tyson (Chandler) but he didn’t play large minutes. At both the World Championships and in London (2012 Olympics) we had LeBron, Carmelo, Kevin (Love), they were the four/fives. Actually in Istanbul (2010) it was Lamar Odom, who played great, Kevin (Durant), Rudy Gay, Tyson, Kevin Love as a young guy, as a 21 year old. We’re accustomed to (playing small).”

What Team USA is trying to figure out now is who the main rotation guys will be, USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo told ProBasketballTalk. But at some point they need to think about the bigs.

“We talk about having a core group of players, and that number could vary depending on the people you’re working with, could be eight, could be nine, and then looking for individuals who are specialists, if you will,” Colangelo said. “High energy people, three point specialists, defenders, and that will really be determined by who ends up in our core of eight or nine players.

“This is a very deep roster. We don’t have a lot of bigs, we have a lot of perimeter players, terrific guards for sure. That structure, in our case, may be you carry an extra big or two, just because of our strengths — which will be wings, and the point and the two guard — but you need to protect yourself with a couple of bigs.”

DeMarcus Cousins seems to be getting a lot of run with the main units, but Andre Drummond is making plays and getting a lot of praise from Krzyzewski. The question is fit.

“DeMarcus brings a different big man than Anthony (Davis),” Krzyzewski said. “Just like (Andre) Drummond does. And we have to see how we might incorporate that into what we’re doing.”

What team USA wants is versatility — and that includes their big men, which is why Anthony Davis is a lock.

“What you would hope to have is a roster that would be adaptable and can play against whomever the opposition would be,” Colangelo said.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.

Milwaukee Bucks eager to build after strong finish to season

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — With the sting of their frantic but failed Game 6 comeback effort still fresh in their minds, the Milwaukee Bucks returned to their practice facility Friday morning to pack their things and head their separate ways.

The Bucks consider themselves a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference, a belief no doubt reinforced by a furious 14-4 run late in the season that propelled them to sixth place in the East and solidified by a strong, though inconsistent, effort against Toronto in the playoffs.

“We thought we were the better team,” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We thought we could beat the Raptors and go to the second round. We feel like we got the Raptors’ attention so hopefully next year … we can go deeper in the playoffs.”

To get to that next step, which includes gaining home-court advantage and winning a playoff series for the first time since 2001, a lot of work needs to be done. Milwaukee needs Antetokounmpo to continue his rapid development, but will be looking to young additions like Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks’ two picks in last year’s draft, to refine their bodies and their games this summer.

Maker was one of the biggest surprises in the league. The 15th overall pick was a relative unknown and figured, at the outset, to be a draft-and-develop pick. Instead, he made a strong impression on the coaching staff with his commitment to defense and made opposing teams panic with his ability to shoot the 3 and wound up starting all six playoff games.

“It was amazing,” Maker said. “Unexpected. I thought I was just going to be on `Project: Build Maker’ and build my body but that’s (what I’m doing) this summer now. I thought that’s what this year was going to be about but everything turned around. I worked hard and it turned out to be way more than I expected. I don’t like the end results – it could have been way better – but you live with the results and you learn.”

Brogdon might have been an even bigger surprise. He was Milwaukee’s second-round pick and began the season on the bench behind free agent acquisition Matthew Dellavedova. But he, too, put in the work and by season’s end, was not only the starting point guard but a key piece of the Bucks’ core.

“I think it’s strong,” Brogdon said of Milwaukee’s nucleus. “I think it’s going to be one of the strongest in the NBA, as long as we’re able to stay together and as long as we’re able to stay healthy. I think we’re going to be one of the best teams in the NBA.”

The Bucks have been in this position before. They were considered a team on the rise in 2010, when they forced the Hawks to seven games but stumbled the next season and didn’t return to the postseason until sneaking into the eighth spot in 2013.

Two years later, Milwaukee was thought to be a sleeper after the Bucks finished .500 in Kidd’s first season at the helm, but again they faltered the next season and missed the playoffs.

Maintaining the momentum will be a major focus as preparations begin for the next season.

“My first year we had seven or eight free agents, so we knew that wasn’t going to be the same team,” forward John Henson said. “(The) second year we had a new coach, more free agents.

My third year coach Kidd coming in, we knew there was going to be some stability. He’s had the same core guys and this is what happens; not have a letdown like we did the year before.”

Milwaukee should benefit with some roster stability. The team’s young core appears set in place with Antetokounmpo, Henson and Khris Middleton locked into long-term contracts, as are Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic.

Tony Snell, who went on to start 80 games after being acquired late in training camp, is a restricted free agent. Greg Monroe, who became one of the league’s best sixth men, holds a player option for next season.

The Bucks will likely be open to bringing back veteran guard Jason Terry for a 19th season, too.

“I think that’s how you become a team that doesn’t regress next year – keeping some of the pieces together,” Henson said.

General manager John Hammond also faces a tough question with Jabari Parker, who will miss at least the first half of the 2017-18 season after tearing his ACL in February. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft is eligible for a contract extension this summer and was in line to earn something close to the $100 million Milwaukee gave Antetokounmpo last year.