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US men’s basketball enters a new world – without its stars

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The jerseys say USA, though that’s about all that will be recognizable.

When the U.S. men’s basketball team returns to action later this month, fans might be left wondering, “the red, white and who?”

The Americans are cautiously entering a whole new basketball world, one in which not only are the best U.S. players not available, but neither are any in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the stars might show up in a few years for the Basketball World Cup and Olympics, but only if a group of minor leaguers can get them there.

It’s all part of FIBA’s new qualifying format and the road starts at the AmeriCup 2017. It’s a tournament the Americans don’t need to win – and aren’t sure they can – but one they have to play to make themselves eligible for the events that will matter.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford said. “We don’t know. We’re flying blind a little bit.”

Even the Americans’ best-known commodity is a bit of an unknown now.

Jeff Van Gundy coached in the NBA Finals and is analyst for them every year on ABC, but he’s leading the U.S. team as an international basketball rookie. He is busy brushing up on the nuances of a game that can be played and officiated completely differently than in the U.S.

He begins Thursday in Houston for training camp, where he will seek the 12 players who will travel to Uruguay and possibly Argentina for the AmeriCup and the potentially better-prepared opponents who wait.

“What we have to do is match and exceed their passion, how hard we play, how together we are as a group,” Van Gundy said, “because when the U.S. has not succeeded in international competitions, it’s because there wasn’t as much maybe sacrifice as you need, or maybe you were deficient in one skill that was important.”

It’s the Americans’ first appearance in the former FIBA Americas tournament since 2007. Their starting lineup in that romp to gold – James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard – was one of the strongest the U.S. has ever assembled.

The 17 players in camp with Van Gundy include Kendall Marshall, Reggie Williams, Darius Morris and Marshall Plumlee, players good enough to play in the NBA but not stick.

The Americans haven’t needed to play in their zone championship since because they’ve won every Olympic and world title, exempting them from qualifying. But FIBA has revamped its qualification system to look more like soccer’s, where national teams will play home-and-away games against teams in their pool.

But some of the windows are during the NBA season – the opening games are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend – and players under NBA contract won’t be permitted to play. So the Americans plan to primarily use players from the NBA G League, with perhaps some who have been playing overseas.

“Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. But we know that this is different and we’re going to have to figure out how to be successful in a different model,” Ford said. “There’s always unknowns, but there’s probably more unknowns because No. 1, we don’t know how good we need to be. We don’t know how good we can be.”

Ford considers the prospective players a notch below the NBA, calling them “survivors, grinders, competitors.” That’s far from the level that suited up for Mike Krzyzewski for a decade or would play for Gregg Popovich in 2019 and 2020, but Van Gundy is eager to work with them in his first coaching assignment – not counting his daughter’s youth league – since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007.

“There’s very few LeBron James of the world – obviously one – or great players who have it easy. These guys’ careers have not been easy and so I really admire their persistence, their grit and their determination,” Van Gundy said. “To get to work with them and coach them, that was part of the pull for me.”

With limited time and options, the Americans know the AmeriCup could be a challenge. Ford said they hope to reach the semifinals in Argentina and see what happens from there.

They will need to start winning come November, when they open their first-round pool that includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

The U.S. has to finish in the top three there, playing their other windows of games in February and June-July, to advance to another pool that will include three teams among Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, from Sept. 2018 to Feb. 2019.

Another top-three finish then would clinch their spot in China in 2019.

They will have a deeper field of candidates later who will be in shape from playing with their G League teams. But, they also could lose a player they like if he plays well enough for them in August to get a contract in the NBA or overseas.

There are many uncertainties, though Ford said there is one constant.

“From a USA Basketball standpoint,” he said, “if we’re going to put a team together, we’re going to try to put the best team together that we can and go out and try to win.”

LeBron James calls President Trump a “bum”

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LeBron James isn’t going to stick to sports.

The way the president isn’t sticking to politics.

Donald Trump pulled his White House invitation to the Warriors Saturday after Stephen Curry said he would vote not to go to make.a statement.

LeBron James came to Curry and the Warriors defense on Twitter.

LeBron endorsed and campaigned for Hillary Clinton in the last election.

LeBron has been more outspoken on social and political issues in recent years, which has worked for him in an era where fans want players to be authentic and themselves.

Trump on Friday night at a rally in Alabama slammed the NFL for its increased focus on concussions saying it was ruining the game, and said regarding national anthem protests in the league:

“We respect our flag. Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a b—h off the field, right now, out? He’s fired.”

This may resonate with some NFL fans, but LeBron will resonate more with NBA fan base, which is younger, more urban, and much more multicultural. The NBA fan base leans left of the NFLs, plus is far more international (where Trump bashing plays well).

Saturday morning, after being told the NBA was going to vote on whether to come to the White House, he pulled his invitation.

Now we know how LeBron feels about that.

President Trump withdraws Warriors invitation to White House after Curry’s remarks

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As tends to happen with presidential decrees in this administration, the announcement came via Twitter — the Golden State Warriors are no longer invited to the White House.

Curry had been clear Friday at Warriors’ media day that he planned to vote no when the Warriors discussed visiting the White House.

“We have an opportunity to send a statement that hopefully encourages unity, encourages us to appreciate what it means to be American, and stand for something.”

Curry, along with coach Steve Kerr and other members of the Warriors organization had been openly critical of President Donald Trump and his policies. They were expected on Saturday to vote to decline the invitation. The NBA had let the White House know what was coming.

Trump decided to be proactive.

The tradition of championship teams going to the White House for a PR photo-op — it is nothing more than that — goes back many administrations. Some sports figures have skipped the White House event in the past when Barack Obama was president (even if Tom Brady wants to deny that’s why he bailed), but teams have not skipped it. Of course, now the Warriors aren’t skipping it, they are not invited.

 

Russell Westbrook to miss start of training camp after PRP injection in knee

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There is a physical price for the historic, MVP season Russell Westbrook had last go around.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder open training camp next week, Westbrook will be sidelined for a couple of days to rest his knee after getting a platelet-rich plasma therapy injection, Thunder GM Sam Presti told the media (as reported by Royce Young of ESPN).

PRP therapy was made popular in the NBA by Kobe Bryant and now a number of players have used the treatment. It involves the player giving some blood, which is then spun in a centrifuge to separate the platelets, which are then injected back into the area where the person wants to promote healing.

Westbrook is the heart and soul of the Thunder, averaging a triple-double last season with 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. With the off-season addition of Paul George, the Thunder are a dangerous team in the West, one that will have a very strong defense and a couple of elite scorers now.

Westbrook also has a max contract extension sitting in front of him from the Thunder, as he has since July 1, which he has yet to sign. That should make Thunder fans a little nervous. George is in the last year of his contract, and there have been not-so-subtle hints out of his camp he is headed to the Lakers next summer. If this year goes well in Oklahoma City — such as the Thunder reaching the Conference Finals — maybe George reconsiders, and with that Westbrook would stay (he has professed and shown loyalty to the city so far). Maybe they stay anyway. However, both men seem to be using the LeBron James playbook of keeping all their options open.

Report: Carmelo Anthony “heavily considering” adding Portland to trade list

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If he could choose his destination, Carmelo Anthony would be playing this coming season alongside Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston. However, since that seems dead, Anthony has told the Knicks he also would waive his no-trade clause for Cleveland or Oklahoma City.

What about Portland, a team hot on the rumor mill?

Anthony has yet to tell the Knicks he would waive his no-trade to head to the Pacific Northwest, but he’s seriously considering adding the Blazers to the list, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The source told The Post that Anthony is heavily considering putting the Trail Blazers on his list as well.

Portland’s stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been very public in their recruitment of Anthony. That seems to be having an effect.

Portland has the pieces to get a trade done, much more so than the Thunder or Cavaliers. The Knicks would certainly ask the Blazers for the just drafted Zach Collins, and Evan Turner with his $17 million salary would be part of the deal to match up the numbers, then after that there would be other players and picks needed to round everything out. However, there are multiple ways to get that deal done.

Anthony just added Cleveland and Oklahoma City to his list of acceptable trade destinations, he likely lets Cleveland negotiate with them for a while to see if a trade can be reached. However, if no deal is reached — and it will not be easy to find a trade the Knicks like with those rosters, plus both of those teams are already paying the luxury tax so there are financial considerations — then the Trail Blazers could be in luck.