2014 USA Basketball Men's National Team Practice

Kevin Durant withdraws from Team USA, will not play at World Cup in Spain.

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Kevin Durant was the real lynchpin of Team USA this summer — he was going to play the four while Tea USA went very small with three guards on the perimeter. He was going to be the perfect international stretch four and likely the team’s leading scorer.

However, he has withdrawn his name from consideration after going through the first round of training camp in Las Vegas last week, USA Basketball announced.

“This was an extremely difficult decision as I take great pride in representing our country,” said Durant. “I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience. After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint. I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. I will be rooting for USAB and look forward to future opportunities with them.”

This is a punch to the gut for Team USA and their chances at gold in this tournament (and with that an automatic berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics). If Team USA doesn’t win gold in Spain it will have to send a team good enough to the FIBA Americas tournament next summer to qualify (not that hard, but we can’t just ignore it like four years ago).

Durant gave no hint of this in Las Vegas last week, speaking at the time about enjoying the challenge of leadership.

A lot of people will say this is because of the horrific injury that happened to Paul George, something Durant denied through reports. However, he is on the cusp of a huge $320 million new shoe deal with Under Armour and that seems a far more likely reason to withdraw. Why risk injury with that much money on the line?

“Kevin reached out to Coach K and myself this afternoon and expressed that he is just physically and mentally drained from the NBA season and his attention to his many responsibilities. He tried to give it a go at our recent Las Vegas training camp but felt coming out of camp that he was not prepared to fulfill the commitment he made to the team,” said USA Basketball Presidet Colangelo. “Coach K and I fully support Kevin. His well being is the most important thing to us and we support him taking the time to get ready for next season. He’s been part of the National Team program for eight years and a big part of the success we have achieved, and we look forward to him being part of our success in the future as well.

“We are excited about the opportunity ahead of us and to getting back to work in Chicago on Aug. 14. All 15 players are committed to the USA Basketball standard, which is to come together to win gold medals.”

It’s going to be a lot harder to win gold — which means beating Spain in Spain — without Durant. Remember Kevin Love is not on this team and will not be joining it according to confirmed reports earlier today, and they also are without guys they could use at the four such as Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge.

This could mean good things for guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond, who can play the five if Mike Krzyzewski wants to shift Anthony Davis over the four spot. What also could well happen is Chandler Parsons and/or Gordon Hayward will get a lot of run at the four spot.

All those options are a considerable drop off from what Durant brings. This is a big blow to Team USA’s chances this summer. The USA will have the best, deepest collection of guards and perimeter players in this tournament and that is going to have to carry them.

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tears labrum

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
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October:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s shoulder injury?

It’s bad.

Now:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s shoulder injury?

It’s bad.

Hornets:

Kidd-Gilchrist tore his labrum in the preseason, and the injury was expected to sideline him for the year. But he returned a couple weeks ago and helped Charlotte go 5-2.

Now, another setback. This is just awful news for Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets. He had worked so hard to get back.

Hopefully, this injury isn’t as severe and Kidd-Gilchrist can play again this season.

Report: Rockets working with Dwight Howard’s agent on trade

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JANUARY 29: Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets leaves the game after he was ejected during the third quarter of a NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on January 29, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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The Rockets have a lot of problems.

One of them is Dwight Howard.

Howard plans to opt out this summer, and he could command a max contract. Does Houston want to pay the 30-year-old center that much?

That question has become increasingly essential as Houston – losers of three straight and six of eight – has sunk out of playoff position. If Howard can’t help the Rockets achieve anything of note this season, determining his place past this season takes priority.

On that note…

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Houston Rockets have started contacting teams about trading eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard, league sources told The Vertical.

The Rockets are working with Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, on possible destinations, league executives told The Vertical.

Working with Fegan is imperative. Because Howard can become an unrestricted free agent, teams will fear him walking in free agency and propose trades to the Rockets accordingly. That could sink Howard’s value below the threshold where Houston would trade him.

But Howard and Fegan can assure certain teams Howard would re-sign, which would make Howard more valuable to them – and boost their trade offers. The NBA forbids under-the-table agreements, but these discussions happen.

Teams could also look at Howard as a rest-of-season rental, but it’s tough to find win-now teams that need a center. And again, it’s less likely a team would value Howard as a rental enough to appease the Rockets’ trade demands.

For Howard, this could be a chance to secure a larger contract. His max projects to be about $170 million over five years if he re-signs or $128 million over four years elsewhere. Ideally for him, he’ll finish the season with a team he wants to re-sign with.

Is that Houston? He’s reportedly unhappy taking a backseat to James Harden, though he denies it. The Rockets’ dismal record certainly doesn’t engender confidence from anyone.

The Celtics and Rockets reportedly talked Howard trade, and the notion Houston won’t trade Howard looks outdated.

It’ll still take multiple sides to make a deal happen – the Rockets, a trade partner and, depending on the details, probably Howard. Those are a lot of hurdles.

But it seems Houston is ready to try clearing them.

Report: Patrick Beverley to drop from All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge title

Patrick Beverley
Associated Press
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Last season, the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley won the NBA All-Star Saturday skills challenge because of his jump shot. In head-to-head battles with the Hawks’ Jeff Teague and the Bucks (now a Sun) Brandon Knight, Beverley fell behind on the passing part of the competition but made up the ground by knocking down his jump shot at the end.

He was set to come to Toronto to defend his skills title but has been forced to back out due to injury, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

After tweaking his ankle Wednesday night in a loss to Portland, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley will not travel to Toronto to defend his skills competition title at All-Star Weekend, league sources told The Vertical.

Beverley wants to rest the ankle over the All-Star break for the Rockets’ final push to make the Western Conference playoffs.

This has yet to be confirmed by the NBA, nor has a replacement been named, but no doubt Woj is accurate on this. No player would risk further injury for a skills competition.

The Rockets have lost six-of-eight, and with the loss to the Blazers Wednesday night have fallen out of the playoffs in the Western Conference. They will need all their players healthy, including Beverley, but they will also need a lot more than that to climb back in the race — they need to start playing defense, they need to stop becoming disinterested for large stretches of the game, and they need someone in that locker room to step up and be a serious leader of men.