Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis shine in USA Basketball showcase

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LAS VEGAS — The White team beat the Blue team 128-106 in the USA Basketball intra-squad showcase that put a bow on a four-day mini-camp held in Las Vegas this week, but the event was about anything but this game’s final score.

The powers that be were looking for mostly intangibles from players in terms of how hard they worked, how well they adapted to the team dynamic, and how quickly they were able to pick things up and make an impact in the short time they were here.

In Thursday night’s showcase, there were two players’ efforts that stood out above the rest.

Kyrie Irving was the game’s best player, and had no trouble showing why he is one of the top overall talents on the 28-man mini-camp roster. He dazzled from the very start, going head-to-head with Damian Lillard in an entertaining first quarter back-and-forth, before pulling away from Lillard to dominate the rest of the game.

Irving got to the basket from the perimeter seemingly at will, and finished at the rim in traffic on more than one occasion. He finished with a game-high 23 points and seven assists in just 19 minutes of action.

Anthony Davis was the other standout performer, and by all accounts had one of the better showings of any player in the camp’s attendance. Davis was active inside defensively and on the boards, but his mid-range jumper and the high percentage with which he shot it all week long, both in scrimmages and in Thursday’s showcase, were huge signs of improvement in his game.

Davis finished with 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds in his 23 minutes on the floor.

“As good as he was last year, he’s just stepped it up another couple levels,” Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Davis afterward. “And that was exciting to see. He got better throughout the week, and put on a heck of a performance tonight.”

Davis didn’t speak too much about his own game once the event had finished, but instead took the opportunity to talk up the camp and the way the other guys competed — a sign he gets what the USA Basketball message is all about.

“A lot of guys showed up and competed,” Davis said, in recapping the four-day camp. “Usually when you go to camps, not just USAB, but guys just don’t take it as seriously. For guys to show up and actually compete the way they did and make each other better, it was an excellent thing. And you could see it on the floor tonight — guys were playing hard, sharing the ball, weren’t complaining about any fouls, hustling, and playing defense. You don’t see that, especially in the summertime.”

No decisions will be made as to which players will make the official Team USA rosters based off of this week’s camp; Jerry Colangelo made it clear that this was just one step in the process, and that they’ll be monitoring players throughout next season, as well as looking to start a pool from scratch with 25 or so more individuals — a list they’ll hope to finalize sometime after the first of the year.

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A few notes to wrap things up from the showcase here in Las Vegas:

– DeMarcus Cousins got a second chance to impress at this week’s mini-camp, and from an attitude standpoint he seemed to do just fine. He was underwhelming, however, in the glimpses we got of him during scrimmages, and didn’t do much to write home about on Thursday, finishing with six points on 2-of-7 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds in just over 12 minutes of action.

– Damian Lillard started off extremely strongly on Thursday, going toe-to-toe with Irving early in an entertaining first quarter. He had seven points, two assists and no turnovers in the game’s first four minutes, keeping pace with Irving’s eight points and two turnovers in the same amount of time. Except for finishing a two-handed dunk off of a baseline cut in the second half, however, Lillard was unable to sustain his tremendous start. He finished with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, to go along with three assists in 19 minutes of action.

– The USA Basketball brain trust likely was thinking the same thing I was at one point during Thursday night’s showcase: Why is Dion Waiters here? He did nothing to shake his reputation of being a chucker, getting up 10 shots in just 15 minutes, while making only two. He also committed some silly fouls defensively, and while he’s obviously still young and shooting is at a premium in international play, he’ll need to do a lot better in the future than he showed in this one to be seriously considered for the squad.

– Kenneth Faried had a strong camp, impressing observers all week long with the activity level and athleticism he brings to the floor.  He was active on the boards and got loose for some high-flying dunks in the showcase, finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds in just 12 minutes of action.

– Paul George was largely “meh” in the showcase, but his overall skill set and the way he performed throughout the four-day camp is still likely to land him a spot on the roster for the Worlds if he’s interested.

– Pistons big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond played on opposite teams, but each showed some signs on both ends of the floor during the limited minutes they saw.  Drummond finished with 11 points and six rebounds in just nine minutes, and Monroe had 10 and six in 14 minutes.

– Overall the showcase was something that those who watched the Lakers closely last season could completely relate to, in that there was a ton of talent on the floor that simply had no idea how to play together. Chemistry is real on the basketball court, and in a game like this, there’s a reason that essentially all the guards shined a bit — from Irving and Lillard to Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, and Mike Conley. Guys with the ball in their hands have the advantage when no one is quite sure what the plan is, and that was certainly the case in more than one of the half-court sets we saw guys attempt to run through in this one.

USA Basketball Showcase – Final Box Score

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.