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.”

James Harden broke one of his youth camper’s ankles (VIDEO)

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It’s around the time of summer when NBA players (and coaches, and college coaches, and a whole lot of other people) are holding youth basketball camps.

I went to them as a kid (John Wooden’s was the best) and like me, these youth will have the memories of a lifetime, even if they move away from playing hoops someday. Especially this boy, who will forever be able to look back at this video from camp of James Harden breaking his ankles. (Via Houston Rockets Instagram)

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Meanwhile at @jharden13’s camp…😅

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Meanwhile, over at Dwyane Wade‘s camp, he was reminding some young children he is the best shot blocking guard of all time.

 

Could Anthony Davis someday play for hometown Bulls? ‘I’d definitely consider it’

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Not every player wants to go home.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland (for a while). Kawhi Leonard and Paul George pushed to get back to Southern California. However, plenty of players see the return to their home town as more curse than blessing — it takes a maturity to be the face of the city, to not let hanging with your old buddies get in the way of off-season workouts, to handle everyone you went to high school with asking you for tickets to the game. A player has to be ready for a lot to go home.

Would Anthony Davis consider a return to Chicago to lead the Bulls?

He wouldn’t rule it out. Someday. Here’s what Davis said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

“I mean, (this is) definitely hometown,” he said. “If the opportunity ever presents itself and when that time comes, I’d definitely consider it.”

That does not mean next summer. Technically Davis is a free agent next summer, however, he is all but certain to re-sign with the Lakers (it’s possible things go Dwight Howard/Steve Nash bad in Los Angeles and Davis wants out, but it’s highly unlikely). Davis pushed his way to Los Angeles to win and lead the biggest brand in basketball down the line, to have his name in the rafters with legendary big men (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq). He’s not bolting that after one season.

Could he finish his career in Chicago? Maybe. I’d say the same thing about Stephen Curry with Charlotte, but we are too many years from that to make any kind of prediction.

However, Davis didn’t slam the door shut. Maybe someday that will be good news for Bulls fans.

Newly minted Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard quickly faces Bradley Beal questions

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While ownership danced with Tim Connley in Denver and Masai Ujiri in Toronto, Tommy Sheppard spent the past few months trying to clean up a mess of a Washington Wizards roster and, more importantly, their messed up salary cap situation.

There was only so much Sheppard could do considering John Wall‘s supermax extension kicks in next season (and runs four seasons) and the team will pay Ian Mahinmi $15.5 million. However, Sheppard got Washington below the tax number by trading Dwight Howard and letting three players — Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, and Jabari Parker — just walk. He then tried to add inexpensive and interesting talent to the roster, such as Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, and Moritz Wagner. It was all those moves that ultimately got the “interim” tag taken off his GM job title, reports Chase Hughes at NBC Sports Washington.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a “trial run,” according to a person familiar with the process.

However, the biggest test comes next Friday, and how Sheppard and Wizards ownership handle it will define the course of the franchise for years.

On July 26 (Friday), the Wizards can — and by all indications will — offer Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million contract extension.

Beal likely turns it down.

That’s the growing sense around the league. While part of his motivation may be questions about the future direction in Washington, there are also cold financial reasons to say no — Beal makes more money if he waits. Maybe even to the point of becoming a free agent in 2021. Our own Dan Feldman broke it down this way (future estimates based on salary cap projections by the NBA):

• Sign this 2019 extension: $111.8 over three years ($35.1 million per year)
• Make All-NBA next season and sign a super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Leave Wizards in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

Beal can afford to bet on himself and wait, he just turned 26 and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games each of the last two seasons).

How do Sheppard — and Wizards’ management — react when Beal says no is the question. That is the real test Sheppard faces.

Part of that reaction will be based on what Beal and his representatives say: Do they turn down the offer and say Beal wants to be traded?

Or, do they turn down the offer and say, “Beal wants to stay but will wait because he wants a super-max contract?” (Beal finished seventh in All-NBA guard voting, with the top six making the All-NBA, he is right on the cusp.) This may be the most likely option, Beal cannot get the super-max contract if traded.

If/when Beal turns the Wizards down, Sheppard’s phone will start ringing again with teams testing the trade market waters for Beal. There is tremendous interest in him from across the league.

How Sheppard handles those calls will start to set the tone for what is next in Washington. What the Wizards do with Beal — and John Wall, out for the season with a torn Achilles and already on his super-max — will define Wizards’ basketball for years to come.

Kosta Koufos heading to Europe, agrees to terms with CSKA Moscow

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After spending 11 seasons in the NBA, the last four years in Sacramento, Kosta Koufos has found a new home for next season.

In Moscow. With EuroLeague powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

Koufos struggled to fit in his big-man game with the new up-tempo Kings last season. Add to that the NBA moving toward “small ball” — which is more about skill and mobility than size — Koufos has decided to head overseason. He’s making more than the NBA veteran minimum, which is likely what he would have gotten from an NBA squad.

All but the elite big men in the NBA are finding reduced demand and with that reduced pay scale, so good on Koufos for doing what is best for himself.