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.”

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.