USA Basketball cruises to exhibition win over Puerto Rico with final roster cuts looming

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NEW YORK — Team USA put together a sharp second half to pull away from Puerto Rico and comfortably cruise to a 112-86 victory in its final stateside exhibition, before heading to Spain in advance of the FIBA World Cup which is set to begin on Aug. 30.

There were some fine overall performances, most notably by Stephen Curry (20 points on 6-of-7 shooting) and Kenneth Faried (12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, two blocked shots in just over 12 minutes of action). But they were locks to make the final 12-man roster all along.

With final cuts looming and likely to come officially by Saturday morning, this exhibition was about looking at the players who were questionable. And a couple of interesting names, though unlikely to ultimately be cut, worked their way into the conversation by way of below-average performances.

Let’s start with what appears to be likely, which is that the four players who received DNP-CDs in this one — Andre Drummond, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, and Damian Lillard — could have been a way of Krzyzewski foreshadowing what many believed would be happening all along.

But Drummond and DeRozan played well when they got their chance on Wednesday, so there’s at least a possibility that one or both could remain on the roster, especially with the team seeming to valuing size and scoring ability above all else.

Two guys that should make the team didn’t do much to impress against Puerto Rico, but that doesn’t mean that they’re now automatically candidates to be cut. DeMarcus Cousins was underwhelming defensively, and missed some easy buckets inside. It was a relatively rough outing from him, despite finishing with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting, to go along with four rebounds (and four personal fouls) in just over 12 minutes of action. It appears as though the USA brain trust is waiting to see the best of what Cousins has to offer, but he has yet to show it in any of these games this summer.

And then, there’s Derrick Rose.

Rose started in the Chicago exhibition, and though his performance was uneven, he did put up a couple of signature highlights. He sat out of Wednesday’s contest and the practices leading up to it due to knee soreness, and came off the bench in this one, with Coach K opting to give Kyrie Irving the start at the point instead.

Rose made some nice passes and attempted to apply pressure on the perimeter defensively, but he has yet to show an ability to impact these games the way most were expecting. Rose finished with six points and four assists in just over 13 minutes of action off the bench, and though it’s unlikely he’d be cut due to this recent turn of events, it’s a definite possibility that Irving’s strong play may have placed him ahead of Rose on the depth chart at this stage of the proceedings.

We shouldn’t have to wait very long to hear who made it and who did not, and there will undoubtedly be those who second guess the decisions — which is something that Krzyzewski knows is just how this works.

“Like in anything, whatever we decide, we’ll be questioned,” he said, when asked about final cuts earlier this week.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).