Author: Kurt Helin

Team USA Practice Session

Team USA opens camp in Chicago with a lot of questions


The last time we saw Team USA at practice, they looked like a team starting to come together to make a run at the gold medal in Spain at the World Cup — they had a team that could play the international game well and the only question was what specialists would make the roster.

Then Paul George had a horrific, fluke accident that shattered his leg and ended not only his Team USA involvement but also his entire next season.

The Kevin Durant pulled out of Team USA citing mental and physical exhaustion.

Team USA opened camp again this week in Chicago and now there are a lot of questions.

Who moves into the starting lineup? Both Durant and George were going to start and not only did they bring a lot of scoring they also brought a lot of length and some good defense. Now who fills those roles? The USA was going small already with George at the two and Durant at the three and the likely even go smaller now (Anthony Davis is locked in as the five and looks good in the role). Rudy Gay has been added to the Team USA roster and he likely gets minutes if not starting ones, but look for versatile guys like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward also to get more run.

With the scoring, the USA should be okay — they will still play an aggressive defense looking to force turnovers then turn those into easy points in transition. Think about it this way: With Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and James Harden on the roster (just to name a few guys likely in the final 12) scoring is not going to be the issue.

How do they deal with big teams? That will be the issue. Because at the end of all this, the USA is still very likely going to play Spain in the Gold Medal game of the World Cup. (The USA lucked out and is on the easy side of the bracket, neither their group play or games in the single elimination rounds should be that big a threat, the best team they see may be Lithuania.)

Spain is a different animal, rolling out Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Combine that with quality guards (Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez) and you have a challenge.

We should get a sense on the size question from the Saturday exhibition game in Chicago when the USA takes on Brazil, which sports Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao.

How many centers do you keep? Anthony Davis is going to start and play the bulk of the minutes at the five for Team USA, but because of teams like Spain and others with size Team USA needs at least one and maybe two true centers. They have DeMarcus Cousins, Miles Plumlee and Andre Drummond on the roster. All three are not staying, but two might. Maybe just one. And where does Kenneth Fraried and his energy and rebounding fit into the equation?

Cousins had a pretty good week of practice but looked strong in the exhibition game in Las Vegas. Miles Plumlee surprised the coaches with his play (which is saying something, Mike Krzyzewski had him for four years at Duke) and they like how his versatility makes him easy to play with. When Coach K talked bigs in Vegas, Drummond was almost always the first name mentioned. It’s going to be interesting to see where the line gets drawn.

Who gets cut from the group of wings? There are four point guards on the roster — Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving — but all for very well may make the finals roster. Especially when you consider that Curry and Lillard can both play the two (maybe even Rose can in a pinch).

Also as wing players you have James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons. Some players have got to go and it’s not going to be an easy line to draw.

Until we see how Coach K shakes out his rotations after the Durant/George departures, it’s very difficult to guess who makes the cut.

Boris Diaw gets his insurance, will play for France in World Cup

Boris Diaw, Dwyane Wade
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The San Antonio Spurs were able to keep Manu Ginobili out of the FIBA World Cup this summer — when he started trying to train for it he felt pain where the stress fracture was in his leg, so they shut him down. Rightfully.

But Boris Diaw is going to play.

He was being held up by insurance issues with the French national team — they didn’t have enough of it — but that has been taken care of, the French team said, reports Project Spurs.

“The matter is settled. It is being finalized, it is a matter of hours,” said Thursday the national technical director Patrick Beesley.

Diaw is the captain of the French team but had sat out an exhibition game recently due to the insurance situation.

The Spurs wanted that insurance because they just re-signed Diaw this summer to a three-year, $22.5 million deal. Diaw is key to what they do on offense, his versatility as a ball handling forward who can score or facilitate and always seems to make the right play flummoxed the Heat defense in the playoffs. Chris Bosh called him crafty and one of the harder guys to guard in the league.

Diaw’s game fits well internationally. He will play in three exhibitions before the World Cup comes at the end of the month.

Tony Parker will not be playing for France, having decided to take the summer off to rest.

Report: Raptors add Jordan Hamilton for wing depth, one year contract

via YouTube screen capture

The Toronto Raptors have a nice starting group at the wing, with the improving DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross (at least the Raptors are baking on them improving). Behind them you can play Lou Williams at the two and you have James Johnson and Landry Fields.

Now you can add Jordan Hamilton to the mix.

He has signed a one-year deal with the Raptors, reports the well connected Shams Charania of Real GM. This is likely a minimum contract one-year deal, and I’m curious how much of it is guaranteed.

That said, Hamilton is nice pickup at that price and in that role. He can score, although he does almost all of that from the perimeter last season in Denver and Houston, and not always efficiently — last season 52.7 percent of his shots were threes while 16.5 percent were at the rim. Hamilton shot a decent 35.4 percent on threes, and he did a good job limiting his long twos last season.

The problem is he doesn’t bring any defense to go with those points.

He’s not a difference maker for the Raptors, but in a limited role off the bench for a minimum salary this is a decent pick up.

NBA denies it asked Raptors to remove Drake to avoid fine


We’re talking about $25,000 here. To you and me, that’s a lot of money. To an NBA team, that’s nothing. A slap on the wrist. At best.

So the idea that the Raptors would have dropped Drake as their “Global Ambassador” after they threw a big press conference to promote him last year, all over $25,000, was crazy. Drake is tied to the team as they try to rebrand it, his popularity and being a Toronto native make him a great fit as spokesman for the team.

The idea the Raptors would drop him is crazy that the league didn’t even ask, according to league spokesman Tim Frank, speaking to the National Post.

“As the Raptors’ global ambassador, Drake must follow our anti-tampering rules,” Tim Frank, the league’s senior vice-president of basketball communications, said in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “At no point did we suggest his title be removed but we were clear that as long as he acted as a representative of the team, he is subject to the league’s rules.”

When you go back to the original story where this rumor started, the tone of it is to make the Raptors as the poor, picked on victims of a secretive NBA agenda. Frankly, it was kind of sad. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the writer (or sources trying to sell this same sad story) would exaggerate what the league actually told Toronto.

The NBA likes having big name celebrities like Drake associated with it. The agenda would be to get his face in front of more people talking about the league, not less.

Was the fine silly? Sure. But I don’t have the space here right now to list all the silly fines the NBA hands out because someone violated the letter of its laws. And this did violate the letter of the league’s bylaws. And the Raptors are probably good with that, part of the reason to have Drake on the masthead is to recruit players. Just not directly in public.

The fact is the NBA is fond of Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and the guy who helped bring in Drake to the Raptor family. Leiweke is a guy who dreams big and pushes the big picture. He was part of getting Los Angeles’ Staples Center (and the very successful LA Live center around it so many other teams want to mimic) built. He came closer to bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles than anyone.

Heck, the NBA gave him and Toronto an All-Star Game. There is love there.

More than that Raptors fans, you have a good team, an improving team that could be top four in the East and make it past the first round of the playoffs. A team that plays hard and is entertaining. Savor that, enjoy it. Don’t get sucked into a “woe is us” mentality. You’re better than that.

Paul George bought all his old 24 gear, donated it to his high school

via Twitter

Paul George is switching numbers when he returns, he will go to No. 13. So then we can all call him PG-13. It’s all about the marketing.

Because of when he applied (and the fact he is likely out for all of next season) George was not required to buy all the old 24 gear on the marketplace. But he did anyway.

Then he donated it to his high school, Pete Knight High School in Palmdale, California (an hour north of Los Angeles). Darren Rovel of ESPN first noticed it and’s All Ball blog collected some of the tweets from the high school that got the gear, and from George himself.

Well done Paul George. Classy move.

Now recover so you get back on the court.