USA Basketball president on Paul George: “The stanchion is not the issue here”; Coach K talks Rose, roster

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USA Basketball had a huge blow Friday night when Paul George went down with a scary, horrific injury that will keep him out next season.

After the game USA Basketball’s president Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski said they wanted to take a step back and gather themselves. But when they spoke with the media on Wednesday they had to deal with was the remnants of that injury. Both how it happened — was the stanchion being too close to the court the problem? — and how they move forward on the court.

Colangelo reiterated that the USA Basketball’s relationship with Las Vegas and the Thomas & Mack arena are fine, and that this was a fluke situation about big players moving fast, not the arena or stanchion. He said USA basketball plans to be back in Vegas.

“The NBA All-Star Game was played on that court with those stanchions. The NBA Summer League is played there…” Colangelo said in a media conference call. “The stanchion is not the issue here. Some people want to make it an issue, but it’s not.”

Coach Krzyzewski said he had planned to play George heavy minutes — which makes sense because of what he would bring defensively — and what you can expect to see now is Team USA get even smaller.

“We have to look at how we will do the perimeter, and it means that some of the guys who play the two will have to play the three. We will be a little smaller without Paul,” Krzyzewski said.

Team USA is down to 16 players now in the pool that will eventually be whittled down to 12: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn Nets), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets), Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Chandler Parsons (Dallas Mavericks), and Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors). Bradley Beal, John Wall and Paul Millsap were released from the team. 

• Krzyzewski was effusive with the praise for Derrick Rose: “(Rose) He was sensational all week… fast, strong and decisive… He really created an air of excitement at practices. We were all anxious to see who he was. And who he is is very, very good…

“The first defensive exchange in camp, he was all over the ball-handler. There was a buzz right away. He wasn’t just saying, ‘I’m back.’ He was saying, ‘I’m back at a level that’s elite.’”

• Krzyzewski on whether Gordon Hayward’s chances of making the team just went up with George being out: “We think Gordon is one of the really good young players in the league and is very versatile. With Paul’s injury, losing a guy who is an All-Star who is 6’8”, Gordon is 6’8” also.”

• Krzyzewski on Lillard: “We’re heavy with outstanding talent at the guard spot… Damian had a good week, I think he can play even better. But part of it is growing accustomed to playing with these guys and playing a different role.”

• Krzyzewski on Durant and how he is different than two years before: “I think he’s stronger physically, I think he’s stronger emotionally and wants to assert him in that leadership road.”

• Krzyzewski on DeMarcus Cousins: “Cousins gives us a big that is different than Anthony Davis. We’re looking at the big position, the five, kind of separate from the other four spots. Cousins had a good week…

“His attitude is tremendous in that he wouldn’t come back if this didn’t mean something to him…. He made a huge impact on all of us, during the week but especially at the scrimmage.”

• Krzyzewski on Irving: “Kyrie was one of the better players in the camp, he has one of the unique skill sets at the guard because he can run a team but can also play off the ball because he’s such a good shooter. He’s going to have to do that in Cleveland, too.”

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.