Kurt Helin

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Team USA sticking with system that has worked: High-pressure defense, get out and run

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LAS VEGAS — The core of the Argentinian team have played together since they were young teens. Same with the Spanish side. And Lithuania. And Croatia.

“A lot of other teams, other countries, have been playing together since however long,” Team USA’s likely starting point guard Kyrie Irving said. “For us, we all have our regular season games, then of course the playoffs, and after that we go straight into (Team USA camp). So we have to come together a lot quicker than other teams.”

While USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski have put in a culture and a structure — eight of the 12 Team USA members played on the USA Select team that grooms potential future Team USA members — developing chemistry is still the challenge of the Las Vegas camp and ensuing tour and practices in the run-up to the Rio Olympics tip-off Aug. 6.

“I’m not sure it’s a challenge, it’s an opportunity,” Krzyzewski said, using some classic coach-speak. “Bringing in a lot of guys that want to do well and play for their country, to find a chemistry. Today was a really good day for us. We got a lot done today, the guys love one another, they are very unselfish, we got a lot done today.”

The players are a little more realistic.

“We’ve got to make adjustments, we’re all playing different styles of basketball right now…” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s going to take a little work to get some chemistry down, you’re not going to get the full chemistry down (of an 82 game NBA season). You’re just not going to get it. But we’ll get enough to be one team. We got some guys who can play; who can get up and down and make plays.”

That’s where Krzyzewski’s system works — the USA can just overwhelm every other country’s team with depth of athleticism. Coach K puts that to use: A high pressure, aggressive defense designed to force turnovers and rushed shots, which become transition opportunities for those USA athletes going the other way.

It’s worked to the tune of a 75-1 record for Krzyzewski as the USA coach, and that includes a couple of gold medals.

“Basketball is fun when you’re getting stops,” Irving said. “You’re getting out, just playing a free motion basketball. For me, I love it, because I know I’m out pressuring the ball and I know I’ve got Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins — I have all these guys behind me on defense. That’s just an exciting game to watch and play.”

Two guys who have looked good through the first days of camp — and could have monster games in the Olympics, is the big men Cousins and DeAndre Jordan. No other country in the world has athletic seven footers like that (France is probably closest with Rudy Gobert in the paint).

“DeAndre is incredibly unique,” Krzyzewski said. “One, he’s a great teammate. Second, he’s seven feet tall, keeps balls alive on the offensive end, he’s a willing screener, everybody loves playing with him. And he’s a heck of an athlete, not just going up and down, he’s a heck of an athlete going sideways, and so his defense of the ball screen is incredibly important. He reminds me a little bit of how Chris Bosh defended the ball screen in Beijing, where he really comes out and he’s so athletic and moves his feet well.”

Those bigs make everyone else’s jobs easier.

“(Cousins and Jordan) can move,” Lowry said. “It’s going to help us a lot that they can get up and down, move, pace their game and we can throw the ball into them. It’s always a challenge when you got DJ runnin’ the floor like he do, it’s a problem (for opponents).”

The entire USA team is a problem for opponents with their talent and athleticism. As long as they can all get on the same page.

Kyrie Irving on what drew him to Facetime with Kobe: “In terms of a mental approach… I’ll always go to Kobe”

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LAS VEGAS — Kyrie Irving has had great mentors he trusts around him his entire basketball career. It started with his dad, who coached him for years. Then there was Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. There were pro’s pros in Cleveland such as Anderson Varejao. Now he’s playing next to LeBron James.

But throughout these latest playoffs, Irving was reaching out to Kobe Bryant — including Facetiming with him right after the Finals.

Why Kobe?

“In terms of a mental approach, as well as some technical stuff about the game, I’ll always go to Kobe, because he’s as polished as they come,” Irving told NBCSports.com, taking a break from shooting his latest ad for Kids Foot Locker, of which his is a primary spokesman. “If you’re talking about a who literally just physically imposed himself on the game every single day, and that mindset, oh I definitely going to talk Kobe.”

Irving admitted Kobe was one of his idols growing up, someone he patterned parts of his game after.

“I never got a chance to play with Kobe, I always watched from the outside like everyone else did — and I’ve been watching Kobe for however long,” Irving said. “I mean, me and my dad used to watch Lakers games and I was just specifically watching his footwork. I’m just studying that dude constantly, constantly, constantly. And once he became a mentor of mine, it was just great.”

Irving said it has been a good balance for him having both Kobe and LeBron as mentors, because they have different leadership styles and very different personalities. LeBron’s influence is felt daily, in a million little ways and some big ones. Kobe provides another perspective.

“I’m very, very thankful to have those two guys in my life in terms of my development because it’s just been great…” Irving said.

“A lot of things that I feel separates (Kobe and I), from an individual standpoint, is very similar. I’m thankful that I have that from both of them, LeBron and Kobe, because they are two totally different guys, and they bring so much to the team, and so much as individuals, I just want to pick their brains on everything.”

DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand Kings’ offseason moves

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LAS VEGAS — Out of the NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings first picked up Georgios Papagiannis (via trade), a big, play-in-the-paint center out of Greece. Which turned heads because this is a team that already had DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein in the paint. Clearly Papagiannis was on top of the Kings’ draft board at the time, but for the record still available were Denzel Valentine, Henry Ellenson, and Wade Baldwin. (Valentine and Baldwin showed out well at Summer League; Papagiannis looked like a guy who needed work averaging 5.2 points a game on 35.7 percent shooting, plus pulling down 4.8 rebounds a night, in more than 20 minutes a game.)

That led to this tweet from Cousins (who later said it was about his hot sculpting yoga class).

How does Cousins feel now about the Kings’ offseason?

“I don’t really understand what’s going on. I just control what I can control; I let them do their jobs,” Cousins said as USA Basketball opened up training camp in Las Vegas Monday.

He reiterated other statements along the same lines of “just doing his job.” It wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the front office.

With Team USA, Cousins played with what appeared to be the starting five in scrimmages — Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Cousins. He looked like he’d dropped weight and was moving well in what will be an up-tempo, high-pressure system that USA Basketball likes to run.

In Sacramento, the Kings went on to make some solid, if unspectacular, moves in free agency. They added veterans Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, and Anthony Tolliver. Later in the draft, they picked up Skal Labissiere, who in Summer League showed promise as a potential four to play next to Cousins, one who can stretch the floor and be a better fit than Cauley-Stein (eventually, Labissiere has a lot of developing to do). They traded for rookie Malachi Richardson, who showed promise in Summer League (and defended well). The Kings also let Rajon Rondo go without a fight and will turn the point guard duties over to Darren Collison, who is an upgrade at the spot.

Mostly, the Kings are counting on new coach Dave Joerger to fit all these pieces together in a way that has the Kings defending well and fighting for a playoff spot as they open their new building. We’ll see about that. I think most people are still on board with Cousins — we don’t really understand what is going on in Sacramento.

Report: Denver Nuggets re-sign Mike Miller on two year deal

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Last season, Denver coach Mike Malone said on several occasions he liked what veteran Mike Miller brought to the locker room in terms of leadership. This is a team with some quality young players — Emmanuel Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and in this draft they added Jamal Murray — having solid veterans to show them how to be a true professional matters.

On the court, Miller got in just 47 games, played just 373 minutes total, and averaged 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds per game when he did get in.

Apparently, the leadership was enough because the Nuggets are bringing him back at age 36, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Miller had been hoping to land somewhere he would get more time on the court, but he also understood that wherever he landed it would include a significant mentor role. He’s decided to continue that in Denver, where Malone has started to build a very nice culture. We will see how that translates on the court.

Denzel Valentine’s overtime buzzer beater gives Bulls title at Summer League

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Denzel Valentine put a thrilling finish on the NBA Summer League.

Valentine hit the tying 3-pointer with the final second of regulation, then made a jumper at the buzzer in overtime to give the Chicago Bulls an 84-82 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.

Valentine was scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting through three quarters, but he proved that fortunes change quickly in Las Vegas. His 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds forced the extra period after Tyus Jones had just given Minnesota a 77-74 lead on a 3 with 3.6 seconds to go.

It was tied again on Xavier Silas’ 3 with 11.7 seconds remaining in OT, but Valentine, the college player of the year from Michigan State, worked the clock down before making his spinning jumper in the lane as the Bulls finished 7-0.

That ended the NBA portion of summer basketball after leagues in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas over the last two weeks. Rookies got their first looks, some veterans got their last shots, and it ended with a play that had Twitter buzzing like a game that took place in June instead of July.

And just as the NBA stops, USA Basketball starts. Right on the same UNLV campus just hours before the summer league championship game, the U.S. Olympic team held its first training camp practice. The Olympics start on Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro and the Americans will hope to be playing for a third straight gold medal on Aug. 21.

Then, finally, the “offseason” will finally start.

A look back at the summer:

MVP! MVP!

OK, it’s actually Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, so technically Tyus Jones would be MOP, MVP. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ point guard won Summer League MVP honors and finished with 27 points in nearly leading the 24th-seeded Wolves to the championship. He won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award after leaving Duke past Wisconsin for the 2015 national championship.

THIBODEAU BOWL

That’s what the Summer League championship game was dubbed, with coach Tom Thibodeau’s new team (Minnesota) facing the Bulls team he coached for five seasons before he was fired. Thibodeau, an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s U.S. Olympic team staff, took in the championship game from a baseline seat near Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine.

SIMMONS’ STOCK

Ben Simmons showed off the versatility that made him the No. 1 pick in the draft. The freshman from LSU played in four games for the Philadelphia 76ers in Las Vegas, averaging 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists. If the 76ers do someday get the forward from Australia along with recent high picks Joel Embiid and Dario Saric on the court with second-year forward Jahlil Okafor, the future could be bright after a dismal recent past.

ALL-SUMMER LEAGUE HONORS

Besides Jones, the rest of the All-Summer League team, as voted by a panel of media members:

First team: Jordan McRae (Cleveland), Bobby Portis (Chicago), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia) and Alan Williams (Phoenix).

Second team: Jaylen Brown (Boston), Thon Maker (Milwaukee), Kelly Oubre Jr. (Washington), Normal Powell (Toronto) and Tyler Ulis (Phoenix).

BULLS’ BACKCOURT

Chicago figures to have a starting backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo after signing both players earlier this month, and there’s some good young talent behind them. Valentine showed he’s a clutch performer, while Jerian Grant, acquired from the Knicks in the trade for Derrick Rose, was MVP of the championship game with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

PACKING THEM IN

The summer league broke two attendance records in Las Vegas, including the overall attendance mark with 108,931. The previous mark was 99,437, set last year. Over 11 days, the summer league averaged 9,902 per day.

The event also broke the single-day mark on July 9, when 16,208 visited both the Cox Pavilion and Thomas and Mack Center. The spotlight game that night featured the top two draft picks in last month’s draft, Simmons and the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram. The previous mark was 12,422, set last season, also on the day the top two draft picks met, with Towns and D'Angelo Russell facing off.

RISING SUNS?

Phoenix got a look at a promising young core while going 4-2 in Las Vegas. All-Rookie selection Devin Booker averaged 26 points in his two games, top-10 picks Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss both showed potential and guard Tyler Ulis looked like a second-round keeper. Ulis averaged 14.5 points and had 10.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Bender, the No. 4 pick from Croatia, shot just 27.5 percent from the field but managed 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in his five games.

Freelance writer Willie Ramirez contributed to this report.