Team USA ready to begin track meet to London against Dominican Republic

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LAS VEGAS — Any good coach plays to the strengths of the guys on his roster. And Mike Krzyzewski is a very good coach.

He looks at a roster of elite players entering their peak, a roster deep with great athletes no other team in the world could match. He and assistant coach Mike D’Antoni know what they want with this roster:

They want a track meet.

“The one thing we do have right now, we have a lot of speed,” LeBron James said Wednesday. “Coach K., Coach (Mike) D’Antoni, they put in some (offensive) sets, but ultimately they want us to defend, rebound and run. Because we have the ability to do that. It’s kind of similar to what I do in Miami. Coach (Erik Spoelstra) always says let’s defend, and if we can get a rebound let’s get up the floor fast and not face a (set) defense.

“In international ball we know we’re going to face a lot of zone. They’re going to dare us to shoot jumpers and we’re going to face all these zones, but a zone can’t be set up if we get stops.”

Starting tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas against the Dominican Republic, Team USA is going to use pressure defense to create turnovers and missed shots, then convert those into fast breaks. They have big rebounders — Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler — who are great outlet passers, they have unstoppable forces in the open court like Lebron, and this team is loaded with guys who can finish at the rim.

We’re going to see some massive Blake Griffin dunks.

But Krzyzewski knows he has that. Right now he’s got the USA Select Team out there running zone against the Olympians, trying to grind the game down. Dealing with zone in the half court has been one of the focuses of practices.

“We figure that we’re really going to see that, teams are really going to pack the paint against us, so we have to be able to shoot it and knock down shots,” Kevin Love said.

For Krzyzewski, it’s about the team really coming together as a unit, that’s what this team is going to need against Spain or when challenged.

“We have 12 really good guys that over the next couple weeks we have to develop into a team,” Krzyzewski said, adding that it was a process.

The key part of that process is to have them be individuals within the system.

“All these guys want to fit in, they have great attitudes, but as their fitting in we want them to be the players they were with the roles they had with their parent team…” Coach K said. “I’ll give you an example. In ’08 (Beijing Olympics) Wade came off the bench, but when he came off the bench he didn’t come off the bench like an off the bench player, he came off the bench as Dwyane Wade.”

Tonight against a decent Dominican team — they have Al Horford and Francisco Garcia, and the team finished fourth at the recent Olympic Qualifying Tournament (the top three teams got invites to the games) — we’ll get a first look at how the process is going.

Raptors hire Spurs video coordinator, who just happens to be Kawhi Leonard friend

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Jeremy Castleberry played his high school ball in Riverside, California, on the same team as Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard went on to San Diego State for college, Castleberry went too and was a walk-on for that team.

When the Spurs drafted Leonard, it was not long before Castleberry was a video coordinator and on the staff in San Antonio. Now Leonard is a Raptor so… you know what’s coming. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explained it well.

The Toronto Raptors are hiring San Antonio Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry — a close friend of Kawhi Leonard — to a position on their coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Castleberry has worked with Leonard as a Spurs staffer and played with Leonard in high school and at San Diego State, where he was a walk-on.

Is this alone going to keep Leonard a Raptor next summer when he’s a free agent? No. But this is how the game is played — make the star player you’re recruiting feel comfortable, wanted, a key part of everything. Bringing in a friend to a new city for him fits right into that plan.

The smart money is still on Leonard bolting next summer to go to Los Angeles, but if the Raptors are able to change his mind — ala Paul George — it will not be one big thing but a thousand little ones. And a lot of wins. But hiring Castleberry is a start.

Brandon Jennings signs to play in Russia next season

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Brandon Jennings has just never been the same since his 2015 torn Achilles. He hasn’t shot over 40 percent from the floor for a season since then, he hasn’t moved well defensivly, and he had a PER of 19.3 the season it was torn and it’s never been above 13.7 for a season since then. In the past couple of seasons he has played in the G-League and China, and he played 14 games at the end of the season for the Bucks last campaign.

This summer, there were no offers. He is now headed to Russia, according to multiple reports, including EuroHoops.net. He will play for Zenit St Petersburg.

He’s only 28 years old, there is time for him find a way to make his game fit into the NBA landscape again. He’s just not there yet, and maybe the opportunity in Russia will lead him there. If not, he’s still getting paid to play at a high level.

Some owners reportedly want access to mental health files of players

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If you read one thing NBA related today, it should be the first installment of Jackie MacMullan’s brilliant series at ESPN on the mental health of players and staffs in the NBA, and how the league is handling it. MacMullan not only got Kevin Love and Paul Pierce to open up about their challenges, but she also got into the challenges the league faces in confronting this issue head-on.

One such challenge: Owners wanting access to players mental health “files.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, players union executive director Michelle Roberts and their respective teams are reportedly working on a new mental health policy for the league. Privacy is going to be a big part of that. From MacMullan:

Yet there remain many obstacles to confront, chief among them the stigma attached to mental health that prompts many players to suffer in silence. The union also insists that mental health treatment be confidential, but some NBA owners, who in some cases are paying their players hundreds of millions of dollars, want access to the files of their “investments.” That is not, however, the league’s position. “The NBA fully supports protecting the confidentiality of players’ mental health information and, accordingly, committed to the players association that any mental health program we undertake would do so,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass says.

Confidentiality, says Love, has to be non-negotiable. Without it, he says, he never would have become comfortable enough to announce from that All-Star dais that he was seeking treatment.

Those files must be private. This is different from a torn knee ligament or sprained ankle (and on those we have HIPPA laws for good reason). For one, this is something more unpredictable in treating. Second, it comes back to the stigma of mental health issues and how the information about them might be used.

That stigma still exists, both in society and the NBA — McMullan gets into the players and their wives talking behind Love’s back All-Star weekend, and the players currently seeking treatment who do not want it public. The “real men don’t talk about this” mentality is everywhere, but it has fertile ground in professional sports locker rooms where players see themselves as invincible.

That mentality, that stigma will be the hardest thing to change in altering the culture of mental health issues in the NBA. There are no easy answers here. Does anyone think the owners who want access to those files wouldn’t use against the player in negotiations (never underestimate an owner’s effort to gain leverage)?

The players’ union will not allow that in whatever the framework is for the leagues’ new mental health policy. Nor should they.

Love, DeMar DeRozan, Royce White and others broke barriers stepping forward into the spotlight to discuss their challenges. But there are a lot of barriers still up, and a lot of work for both the NBA and society to do on this front. And privacy must be part of that.

Rebuilding Hawks add depth by signing Daniel Hamilton, Alex Poythress.

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ATLANTA (AP) — The rebuilding Atlanta Hawks have added depth by signing guard-forward Daniel Hamilton and forward Alex Poythress.

Poythress was signed to a two-way contract, so the former Kentucky player will split his time with the Hawks’ G League Erie team.

Hamilton is on a fully guaranteed one-year contract after impressing the Hawks playing for the Thunder Summer League team. He averaged 2 points in six games with Oklahoma City last season while on a two-way contract with the Thunder. He spent most of the season with the G League Oklahoma City Blue.

Poythress averaged 1 point in 25 games with Indiana last season. He began the season on a two-way contract.