Players at USA Basketball mini-camp trying to impress with minimal guidance from coaches

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LAS VEGAS — The USA Basketball roster is not only at capacity, it’s overflowing with talented players who all want to represent their country on the world stage.

This week’s mini-camp in Las Vegas on the campus of UNLV is an opportunity for 28 additional players to make an impression on chairman Jerry Colangelo, head coach Mike Krzyzewski, and assistants Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams before playing in their next NBA season.

But through the first two days of camp, they’ve been playing with little to no guidance or instruction from the coaches in attendance.

It’s by design, as Thibodeau explained on Tuesday.

“Right now we’re starting a new pool,” Thibodeau told NBCSports.com. “Yesterday we put a little structure in just so we could get to playing, and we wanted to have an opportunity to watch each team compete against each other. We feel that’s probably the best way to evaluate. So that’s where we are right now, but each day will be a little bit different. We’re putting parts of a new system in, giving them the opportunity to play with each other so they can learn each other, and it gives us a better understanding of who fits well together. And that’s what we’re trying to evaluate right now.”

In talking to some of the players, they had a sense of what was being valued on the court, even if it was mostly qualities of the intangible variety that could be seen without guys being given a structured environment to participate in.

“They’re just letting us go a lot right now,” Klay Thompson said, after putting on an impressive shooting display in scrimmages on Tuesday. “I haven’t been getting that much feedback, I’m just playing as hard as I can.”

And does he have an idea of what the coaches are looking for?

“Just how hard we play, how focused we are, and playing defense,” Thompson said. “Playing with energy, diving for loose balls — all the little stuff. They know we can all score and play, so it’s just the little stuff.”

Damian Lillard said essentially the same thing.

“They’re looking for us to play hard,” Lillard said. “For guys to have each other’s backs, to be team players and do what it takes to help your team win.”

And how about that lack of hands-on coaching?

“They’re pulling guys aside giving pointers, and when we huddle up they’re saying things to the team,” Lillard said. “But for the most part, they’re not turning us into robots. They’re letting us have a lot of freedom and seeing what we can do and what guys can bring to the table.”

It’s been all scrimmaging, all the time, with Krzyzewski, Colangelo, Thibodeau, and Williams sitting on the center court sidelines, taking the games in seemingly without any reaction to what’s transpiring in front of them, and in complete silence.

That might be tougher for some of the younger players to deal with, but considering that this event is geared toward evaluating who is capable of fitting into a team that will eventually be playing for the literal title of World Champions, it’s completely understandable.

“It’s how you function with the team,” Thibodeau said, when asked what he and the rest of the coaches have been communicating to the players. “You’re not really looking for individual play. We’re trying to give everyone a fair opportunity — you just evaluate each and every day, you try to prepare well. They have to learn a new system, they have to learn each other. The most important thing is how it all fits together.”

NBA 2K20 ratings released, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard earn 97s to lead way

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How do NBA players measure respect? There are a few ways, with the size of the paycheck being at the top of the list. Awards and accolades fit in there.

However, few things rile guys up like their NBA 2K rankings. Most play the game, and their ranking (out of 100) is seen as a measure of status among fellow players and fans.

2K Sports unveiled the top rankings for NBA 2K20 in a live-streamed show on Monday night, and LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard got the top honors. Here’s the top 20:

1. LeBron James 97
2. Kawhi Leonard 97
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo 96
4. Kevin Durant 96
5. James Harden 96
6. Stephen Curry 96
7. Anthony Davis 94
8. Paul George 93
9. Damian Lillard 92
10. Joel Embiid 91
11. Kyrie Irving 91
12. Nikola Jokic 90
13. Russell Westbrook 90
14. Klay Thompson 89
15. Karl-Anthony Towns 89
16. Jimmy Butler 88
17. Kemba Walker 88
18. Donovan Mitchell 88
19. Rudy Gobert 88
20. Blake Griffin 88

The highest-rated rookie: Of course it was Zion Williamson (81).

Anthony Davis is on the cover of NBA 2K20, which will be released on Sept. 6. Sorry, you’ve got to wait until then to play it, but here is an early teaser video.

Report: Chris Paul trade to Miami hung up on picks moving with him

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Chris Paul is making a stopover in Oklahoma City. The Rockets sent him there for Paul George, but the competitive 34-year-old point guard doesn’t want to be part of a long rebuilding project. He wants to be traded again before the season starts.

His preference? Miami, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. There, CP3 would team up with Jimmy Butler. Miami is open to the idea, but what has hung the entire thing up is the discussion of picks, Windhorst said on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Monday night (hat tip NESN).

“When you talk about him potentially going to the Miami Heat, which is his preference, one thing I’ve been told in the talks; the fact that the Thunder hold the two of the Heat’s first-round picks in the future — unprotected 2021, protected 2023 — makes this a difficult conversation because the Heat want those picks back,” Windhorst said. “The Thunder have expressed an interest in giving one of those picks back but they would want another pick farther off into the future. So I do think that these teams have a lot to talk about.”

Oklahoma City is rebuilding and the mountain of picks they have compiled through trading George and Westbrook — 16 potential first rounders through 2026, including their own, enough to make Danny Ainge think they have too many picks — is at the heart of that plan. While the Thunder can afford to give one or two up, they don’t want to.

Miami is saying that to take on Paul’s remaining three-years, $124 million, they want a sweetener. Which is what every team would ask for.

Which brings us to another problem for the Thunder: There is not much of a market for Paul. Miami is the only name really mentioned in negotiations. There is speculation about other potential landing spots, and no doubt some feeler calls have come into Sam Presti in OKC, but the Heat seem to be the only team going down the road of serious talks.

There are other challenges to getting this trade done. For example, the Thunder would love to shed salary (they are still $3.7 million into the tax) but the Heat are hard-capped after the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade and cannot absorb any more salary.

The Heat may be the place Paul ultimately lands but finding a deal that works could take some time to bring together.

Brandon Clarke named Summer League MVP, leads Grizzlies to Vegas title

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Brandon Clarke made his mark in Las Vegas.

The No. 21 pick in June out of Gonzaga, he averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in leading the Grizzlies to the championship game, and for that he was named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP.

(That award has been won by Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin and John Wall, but also Josh Shelby and Glen Rice Jr. Most winners of the award had good careers as role players — Randy Foye, Jerryd Bayless, whatever Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart become — but it’s a mistake to think it’s a precursor of NBA dominance.)

Clarke wasn’t done, he had 15 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game, leading the Grizzlies past the Timberwolves 95-92. Memphis is your 2019 NBA Summer League Champions.

Memphis raced out to a 15-point lead early in the title game.

In the end, it was a balanced attack that won Memphis the game. Grayson Allen led the way 17 points, but Clarke, Bruno Caboclo, and Dusty Hannah’s all had 15 points, while Tyler Harvey added a dozen.

Minnesota was led by Kelan Martin with 19 points.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban fined $50,000; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25,000

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The first rule of NBA ownership: Don’t talk about NBA ownership.

Or the business you do as an owner until it becomes official, even if by then everyone else has known for days and already moved on from the topic.

Monday was an expensive day for two of the NBA’s owners of teams in Texas. Mark Cuban was fined $50,000 for leaking information from the league’s Board of Governor’s meeting about the new coach’s challenge  — even though everybody knew what was going to happen — before the meeting officially ended. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported this story and had maybe the best quote of the summer to go with it.

The NBA office fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $50,000 after he admitted to leaking information from last week’s Board of Governors meeting to a reporter, sources told ESPN…

“I appreciate the irony of your reporting on a fine that someone should, but won’t, get fined for leaking to you,” Cuban told ESPN.

Sources said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expressed concern that information about the vote to allow coaches’ challenges was being reported while the meeting was still in session. Cuban immediately admitted that he had leaked the information, sources said.

Well played, Cuban.

This is a letter of the law fine, but was it a big deal that this got out? The vote was all but assured, a formality, but Cuban gets fined for telling people? Thanks, Vivek.

From the same “is this really a big deal” file we have the fine Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta got on Monday, $25,000 for talking about the Russell Westbrook trade before it was official. Even though everybody was talking about it. From Mark Stein of the New York Times.

Here is the oh-so-damaging quote:

Again, I get Fertitta crossed the official line because the trade had not gone through yet, but does that line really need to exist in these cases? It feels like the silly hat thing at the NBA Draft.

Damaging or even interesting information was not divulged in either case. The fines were not steep because of it, but the NBA’s process of what is and is not allowed around trades and free agency — and the odd Board of Governors meeting — seems behind the times.