Team USA opens camp in Chicago with a lot of questions

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The last time we saw Team USA at practice, they looked like a team starting to come together to make a run at the gold medal in Spain at the World Cup — they had a team that could play the international game well and the only question was what specialists would make the roster.

Then Paul George had a horrific, fluke accident that shattered his leg and ended not only his Team USA involvement but also his entire next season.

The Kevin Durant pulled out of Team USA citing mental and physical exhaustion.

Team USA opened camp again this week in Chicago and now there are a lot of questions.

Who moves into the starting lineup? Both Durant and George were going to start and not only did they bring a lot of scoring they also brought a lot of length and some good defense. Now who fills those roles? The USA was going small already with George at the two and Durant at the three and the likely even go smaller now (Anthony Davis is locked in as the five and looks good in the role). Rudy Gay has been added to the Team USA roster and he likely gets minutes if not starting ones, but look for versatile guys like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward also to get more run.

With the scoring, the USA should be okay — they will still play an aggressive defense looking to force turnovers then turn those into easy points in transition. Think about it this way: With Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and James Harden on the roster (just to name a few guys likely in the final 12) scoring is not going to be the issue.

How do they deal with big teams? That will be the issue. Because at the end of all this, the USA is still very likely going to play Spain in the Gold Medal game of the World Cup. (The USA lucked out and is on the easy side of the bracket, neither their group play or games in the single elimination rounds should be that big a threat, the best team they see may be Lithuania.)

Spain is a different animal, rolling out Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Combine that with quality guards (Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez) and you have a challenge.

We should get a sense on the size question from the Saturday exhibition game in Chicago when the USA takes on Brazil, which sports Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao.

How many centers do you keep? Anthony Davis is going to start and play the bulk of the minutes at the five for Team USA, but because of teams like Spain and others with size Team USA needs at least one and maybe two true centers. They have DeMarcus Cousins, Miles Plumlee and Andre Drummond on the roster. All three are not staying, but two might. Maybe just one. And where does Kenneth Fraried and his energy and rebounding fit into the equation?

Cousins had a pretty good week of practice but looked strong in the exhibition game in Las Vegas. Miles Plumlee surprised the coaches with his play (which is saying something, Mike Krzyzewski had him for four years at Duke) and they like how his versatility makes him easy to play with. When Coach K talked bigs in Vegas, Drummond was almost always the first name mentioned. It’s going to be interesting to see where the line gets drawn.

Who gets cut from the group of wings? There are four point guards on the roster — Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving — but all for very well may make the finals roster. Especially when you consider that Curry and Lillard can both play the two (maybe even Rose can in a pinch).

Also as wing players you have James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons. Some players have got to go and it’s not going to be an easy line to draw.

Until we see how Coach K shakes out his rotations after the Durant/George departures, it’s very difficult to guess who makes the cut.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.