Kurt Helin

Associated Press

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


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.

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.”