Kurt Helin

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Coach K: “Klay (Thompson) is one of the great, complete players on this planet”

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LAS VEGAS — After the USA shooting drills that closed out practice were over Tuesday — drills where Klay Thompson outshined the other guys in his group — Thompson stayed on the court. He wasn’t leaving until he hit 10 left corner catch-and-shoot threes in a row. He got frustrated with himself when he missed, but he kept working at it. His form refined, he eventually hit the number.

It is that work ethic that has Thompson looking like the starting two-guard for Team USA — and getting the praise of coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“Klay is one of the great, complete players on this planet,” Coach K said. “He’s more than a shooter, he’s an outstanding offensive player who loves to play defense — and never really seems to get tired. He has a great motor.”

“Wow, that means a lot,” Thompson said with some genuine surprise. “Coach K’s words, he’s seen so much basketball it means a lot. He’s a joy to play for, especially how prideful he is to be the coach of the USA — he doesn’t have to do this, but he wants to. That pride of will trickles down to everybody else on this team.”

After the end of the NBA season, Thompson said he was exhausted and mused about skipping the Rio games to rest. That didn’t last long.

“Mentally and physically it’s a long season, the way it ended was very taxing,” Thompson said. “But you take a couple weeks off, and you’re itching to get back on the court. And this is too great an opportunity to pass up. I always dreamed of playing in the Olympics; I’d rather do it when I’m 26 not 30. I’m fresh, I’m young, and I’m having a lot of fun.”

“Fun” was a word that came up a lot when Thompson spoke — he’s clearly enjoying himself, the camaraderie, and the great players pushing one another.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Thompson said. “It’s fun beating up on the select team because I was in that position years ago, and the Olympic team used to beat the crap out of us every day. So it’s fun to be on the Olympic team and do that to them now and getting each other better.”

Sometimes the biggest challenge for great shooters going from the NBA to FIBA is adjusting to the international ball — it’s made of leather but feels synthetic and slick. When guys get a sweat on it can slide off hands easier. In the words of Kyle Lowry, “you just can’t get a sweat on it.” Thompson, who has played with the ball before as a select team member and on the World Cup team that won gold in 2014. Still, it’s an adjustment.

“I’m used to it by now,” Thompson said. “It takes some getting used to, it’s different from an NBA ball. It’s tough to going from an NBA ball to try and catch and shoot this ball, but it just takes a couple days, and once you get used to it, it feels normal.”

The way he shoots, that’s bad news for the rest of the world when the games tip-off in Rio.

Rumor: Despite big-name dreams, Celtics more likely to land Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor

Associated Press
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The Boston Celtics have been in the middle of the swirling vortex of NBA trade rumors this summer: Danny Ainge has been reaching out to Oklahoma City about Russell Westbrook, the Sacramento Kings about DeMarcus Cousins, the L.A. Clippers about Blake Griffin, and any other star he could pair with just signed Al Horford.

Except, none of those are likely if you talk to people around the league. The Kings are not moving Cousins in the short-term — certainly not before they move into a brand new building, plus they want to make it work and are counting on new coach Dave Joerger to pull the pieces together. The Thunder want to rebuild around Westbrook and bring in another star, they just can’t get him to commit to an extension. The Clippers are a win now team that is only going to move Griffin if they get another star back, someone who will help keep Chris Paul in house next summer when he can opt out.

Despite all their assets, the Celtics do not have the pieces to get those guys right now, despite what some Celtics fans think. The fantastic A. Sherrod Blakely laid out both the reasons and a more likely scenario at CSNNE.com.

“You win with players, not picks,” one assistant GM told CSNNE.com. “Boston has lots of picks and some good players. But there’s not a great player on that roster. And the players you (media) guys keep writing and talking about that they’re interested in, are great players. [Celtics president Danny Ainge] will tell you, it’s not easy making trades. And when it comes to great players, it’s even harder to acquire them no matter how many picks you offer up.”

The consensus among league executives spoken to by CSNNE.com is that the most likely trade for Boston will be one in which they wind up with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor.

“From the moment Philly drafted Ben [Simmons], everyone around the league knew that they would have to trade a big, either Okafor or Nerlens [Noels],” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com. “Okafor is the better scorer; it’s not even close really. But Nerlens has that ability to run the floor and can protect the rim. Those two qualities . . . you can’t have enough guys in the frontcourt who call those two skills, strengths. That’s why Okafor is the more expendable player.”

That potential and rare skill set are why more teams are asking about — and willing to give up more for — Noel.

Does Boston want Okafor? Depends on the price. The Sixers, if they are not blown away by an offer, may go through training camp and into the season with all those bigs (including Joel Embiid, who is expected to play in the fall), put them together in different pairings, and see what works. Then they will trade the guys that don’t fit as well. The Sixers are not under pressure to get a deal done now.

The most likely big name to move before the season starts is Westbrook, but he also can be a free agent next summer. If he’s not going to commit to the team where he’s traded — whether it’s Boston or Los Angeles or anywhere else — then teams are not going to give up too much for a rental. It leaves Oklahoma City in a tight spot, one where they may well choose to go into the season with him, let Westbrook rack up insane scoring numbers, and try to plot a future with him and another major free agent like Griffin.

All of which means, Boston fans still need to be patient. Which suck for fans, but it’s reality.

Kevin Durant says Brandon Ingram further along than he was at that age

Associated Press
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LAS VEGAS — It is completely, wildly unfair to compare a top draft pick with one of the better scorers the game has ever seen. Fans and draft evaluators need to stop doing things like saying “Ben Simmons is the next LeBron James” or whatever. Nobody is the next LeBron.

Yet, because he is an incredibly skinny, long and lanky scoring forward, there have been a lot of comparisons of Lakers’ rookie-to-be Brandon Ingram to Kevin Durant.

Kevin Durant was asked about that comparison and was kind to Ingram.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski also praised Ingram and said he loved the kid — who happened to play at Duke.

“He’s strong minded. And he’s stronger physically than people would think,” Coach K said.

Maybe, but after watching him at Summer League where Ingram was buffeted around by physically stronger players, it’s something he has to work on.

Ingram is more polished coming out of college than Durant was — Ingram has a smooth, fluid game — and he is a better three-point shooter than young Durant. But even then KD was a better raw scorer in college — again, we are talking about one of the better pure scorers the game has ever seen. And Durant over the years polished those skills and took them to levels very likely beyond what Ingram is going to reach. That doesn’t mean Ingram is destined to fail — I’m talking to you, overly sensitive Lakers’ fans — but the Durant comparison was never realistic or fair.

One other note on the positive statements: At the USA camp, there is nothing but praise for everybody. Nobody says a negative word about a player publicly — not the coaches, not the guys on the team. Nobody. It’s a love-in. Part of that is that this is as impressive a gathering of basketball talent as you will ever see and so there is a lot of respect for everyone in the room. Part of it is these guys are media savvy and know better, they stick to their talking points.

Judge: Jail for Puerto Rico ex-NBA player Jose Ortiz

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)  — Former NBA player Jose Ortiz has been sentenced to 45 days in jail in Puerto Rico for a probation violation involving community service.

Ortiz was accused of not serving all 600 hours of community service after pleading guilty to drug charges. A judge ordered Tuesday that Ortiz serve the remaining 278 hours after his release from jail. He has until May 2017.

Ortiz was arrested in June 2011 after federal agents seized 218 marijuana plants at his house.

The 6-foot-10 athlete is one of the best basketball players the U.S. territory has produced. He played two seasons with the Utah Jazz, the last in 1989-1990. He was on the Puerto Rican national team for more than 20 years and played in four Olympics.

Gregg Popovich working with Coach K this go around as he prepares to take over Team USA

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LAS VEGAS — This is Mike Krzyzewski’s last go around as the coach of USA Basketball.

Paul George talked about how important it was for him to be here for that — Coach K was by his bedside in Las Vegas two years ago when George suffered a devastating leg injury, then stayed in regular contact with him for the past two years over recovery and return. Kyrie Irving talked about how important it was for him to be part of this — as a former Duke star who never got to win a title in college with Coach K, he had to be there with him now.

More than just a victory lap for Coach K, this is a summer of transition for USA Basketball.

Gregg Popovich, the next Team USA coach, is at these practices — and much more than that.

“It’s not just him being here (at practice), he’s at every meeting. At night we go out to eat and talk,” Krzyzewski said. “First of all, his input on NBA players for me is incredible. And for asking him what is he thinking about what we’re doing, he sees what we’re doing.

“It’s called succession. The fact we’re both military guys, we understand that I have the unit right now, he’s going to take command over the unit, and we both want the unit to do well. So, we understand that. We’ve been good friends, but this has been great for me, and I think for him too, just for us to bond even more.”

Popovich is honored just to be in the building.

“Being a former military guy, if you can represent your country in any way, that’s always pretty important,” Popovich said. “This is one of the best ways to show that. Our country is a little bit divided in various ways, as we all know. And this is a shining example of teamwork and togetherness and people all focused on one goal. And playing together and just being empathetic for each other, understanding each other, loving each other.”

This transition is going to be smooth, in part because both Krzyzewski and Popovich are both consummate professionals, and also in part because they are great basketball minds.

Also, they both possess the two things beyond basketball acumen that are needed to succeed as Team USA coach. One, guys have to want to play for you. Second, you need the stature to push aside the petty noise and pressure from agents/shoe companies/sponsors to do what is best for the team.

Popovich is going to be great for USA basketball.

After Krzyzewski wins one more gold.