Dominican Republic v USA

Coach K had DeMarcus Cousins as USA’s backup big long before final cuts


Team USA’s rotation seems to be this heading into the FIBA World Cup (starting Saturday against Finland).

Starters: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried, Anthony Davis

Key rotation guys: Derrick Rose, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins

Specialists hoping for minutes: DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee

That Cousins is going to be the first true big off the bench (Gay is your backup four, welcome to international basketball) is a sign of how far he has come in the eyes of Team USA. And despite reports that Drummond and/or Plumlee had moved ahead of him on the depth chart at points during training camp, Cousins didn’t seem worried. Especially when it came to cut down time for the final cuts.

Now we know why — coach Mike Krzyzewski already had Cousins as. ESPN’s Mark Stein talked with Coach K and with Boogie about making the team.

Insisting he had zero worries about making the 12-man squad, Cousins brushed off the doubters last Friday night in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, telling assembled reporters: “Y’all will see.”

Turns out Cousins had plenty of justification to be so self-assured: Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told this week that Cousins has cemented himself as the backup to starting center Anthony Davis….

For all the skepticism about his ability to win over Team USA staffers who haven’t forgotten his poor first impression in 2012 — as well as the questions that linger about how he’ll get along with FIBA referees — Cousins is clearly ahead of fellow bigs Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond. (Ditto for 10th man DeMar DeRozan.)

Coach K substitutes a lot more freely than Cousins may be used to, using Team USA’s ridiculous depth to keep fresh legs on the courts at all times so the U.S. can play a relentless style of pressure/up-tempo basketball. Cousins will adjust (and run the floor more, which he should do anyway).

Then there will be moments Cousins’ will really be needed for his size. Such as if the USA gets Lithuania in the single-elimination games (as expected) and has to face Jonas Valanciunas and Dontas Motiejunas (two quality NBA bigs). Or, obviously, a gold medal game showdown with Spain which boasts Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

What he has done with Team USA shows Cousins is moving up the ladder fast, becoming one of the best big men in the NBA.

Now we’ll see how this confidence transfers to the Kings.

It’s time: Russell Westbrook looks to fill void after Durant’s exit

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4), head coach Billy Donovan, guard Russell Westbrook (0) and center Steven Adams pose for a photo during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — There were few indications before August that Russell Westbrook would be so willing to be the hero downtrodden Thunder fans needed.

For years, the sometimes combustible Westbrook toiled in Kevin Durant‘s shadow. He often was viewed as the talented, selfish player who was as likely to get in Durant’s way as he was to make a winning play. His flashy style seemed at odds with small-market Oklahoma City so when Durant, who seemingly was a better fit in OKC, left for rival Golden State, fear that Westbrook would bolt for a larger market increased.

He didn’t. He chose to re-sign with the Thunder and now that he has answered the call, it’s time to deliver.

“We know a few things about Russell at this point,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “He’s going to bring his lunch pail every day. He’s going to compete. He’s going to inspire. He’s going to show great conviction and courage to his teammates, to the city, to the organization. And from there, we have to figure out how that comes together.”

That trek begins Wednesday in Philadelphia when Oklahoma City officially tips off the post-Durant era in its season opener against the 76ers.

Westbrook is now the unquestioned leader of the Thunder and player folks behind the scenes knew – the thoughtful, humble, giving man – has more readily come to the surface. He has gone to great lengths to connect with Thunder fans in recent months.

Among other things, he unveiled his new line of True Religion clothing near downtown Oklahoma City and he attended an Oklahoma home football game against Louisiana-Monroe wearing a custom-made Sooners jersey. When he was introduced to the crowd before the Thunder’s preseason home opener, he got the kinds of cheers normally reserved for a return from injury.

Westbrook seems more at ease on the court, too. His preseason play seemed more effortless than electric, with an occasional flourish.

“I want the team to play how they want to play,” Westbrook said. “I mean, it’s not totally up to me how we play. You have to adjust to the team you have and adjust on a night-in, night-out basis on how you want to play. You want to play fast some nights and you want to play slow. I think it depends on the game, on the situation, who is on the floor.”

He is poised to put up astronomical numbers this season as he tries to keep the Thunder among the NBA elite.

Last season Westbrook averaged 23.5 points and career highs of 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds. He posted 18 triple-doubles, the most for a player since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. The two-time All-Star MVP and former scoring champion could do more damage without Durant, but the Thunder don’t want too much pressure on him.

“I think we have to be able to play in a way that’s not just relying on him to do everything and create every single shot, whether it’s him making the shot or making the play for another guy,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said.

Westbrook already has left an impression on his new backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in the trade that sent defensive enforcer Serge Ibaka to Orlando.

“After working with Russ, I can see the intensity in how serious he was about his craft,” Oladipo said. “But one thing that I realized that after guarding him for three years – I can see why he’s so effective at what he does. I definitely stole that from him, and I’m going to take it and run as fast as I can with it.”

How Oladipo and the rest of the Thunder do in keeping up with Russell will determine how much success the team will have. Oklahoma City is no longer considered the team to beat in championship conversations, and that’s fine with Westbrook. He said the team embraces the underdog role.

“I love it,” he said. “I love it, man. I think it’s a great challenge, not just for myself, but for our whole team. I think just from talking to the guys throughout the summer, they understand that. They want to win. They want to get better.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP .

Memphis’ Chandler Parsons says he’s playing 5-on-5, hopes to be on court soon

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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When the Memphis Grizzlies get their full starting five on the court, that lineup is going to be a handful.

But the Grizzlies enter their opener Wednesday night likely without Tony Allen and certainly without Chandler Parsons.

Parsons is being brought along slowly following his latest knee surgery, but in an update on the team’s Twitter account notes he is now playing 5-on-5 and hopes to be on the court “soon.”

Parsons also says he hasn’t lost a step. We may need to see that before we fully buy in.

Memphis needs him — and Allen — on the court as soon as possible. While their starting five can be a force, there is not a lot of depth on the Grizzlies’ roster. Plus Parsons provides the floor-spacing shooting and second shot creator the Grizzlies desperately need.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant


You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee


This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.