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

Adam Silver on trade demands: ‘That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for’

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CHARLOTTE – Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis have taken turns dominating the news cycle with trade requests.

“That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

The NBA even fined Davis $50,000 for his trade request.

“I don’t like trade demands, and I wish they didn’t come,” Silver said. “And I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors.”

I’m sure Silver dislikes all trade demands. But in context, I think he meant specifically public trade requests. Because trade requests are quite common. Deep-bench players often ask to get moved, hoping a new situation will increase playing time. Those requests rarely become public.

But Irving’s, Leonard’s, Butler’s and Davis’ trade requests all did. Yet, only Davis’ drew a fine.

It seems the difference was Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, putting his name behind it. Irving, Leonard and Butler leaked their trade requests through anonymous sources.

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate, that conversations take place behind closed doors, where players or their agents are saying to management, ‘It’s my intention to move on for whatever reasons,'” Silver said.

The distinction is practically nonexistent. Irving, Leonard and Butler could claim only the least-plausible of plausible deniability, and none of those three really tried to deny it, anyway.

Insisting on this level of secrecy is a disservice to fans. If a player requests a trade, he shouldn’t be punished for revealing it. The NBA usually engages fans through openness – but not here.

Silver said he was worried about the worst-case scenario – a player not just requesting a trade, but refusing to honor his contract. However, the Collective Bargaining Agreement already has rules in place for that. Someone who withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins faces suspension and fines, won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent the next offseason.

For what it’s worth, Davis never threatened to hold out. In fact, he repeatedly said he wanted to keep playing if not traded. Unhappy players continue reporting to work all the time. This is not a unique situation.

Silver’s stance also also raises questions about transparency that are particularly relevant as the NBA embraces gambling. Either a player has or hasn’t requested a trade. If he has and the information is kept private, only select people will know it – and those people will have an edge in betting.

Public trade requests aren’t pretty. Neither Davis nor the Pelicans nor teams trying to trade for him appear happy with the fallout.

But I’d prefer that honest uncomfortableness to hidden tension.

Perhaps, Silver disagrees because public trade requests can create tricky situations for him. Right now, he’s still overseeing what Davis and the Pelicans do the rest of this season.

“It creates, understandably, a very awkward position between the team and their player and what their role is with the league in terms of injecting itself in the middle of what a team’s decision on playing that player,” Silver said. “These become very context-specific issues for the league office and not subject to computer programs that spit out answers.”

I agree there’s rarely an easy answer. But I’d rather lean toward transparency.

Davis decided he’d prefer to leave New Orleans. It’s his right to feel that way.

It should also be his right to disclose that to whomever he wants.

Report: Lakers ‘a little concerned’ about LeBron James’ health

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LeBron James could have returned far sooner from his groin injury, according to his agent.

As LeBron sat, the Lakers fell further in the standings. Did he wait until he was fully recovered, anyway? Or did he just wait as long as he felt he could before needing to carry the Lakers back into playoff position?

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron. Is he fully healed from the groin strain that cost him a career-worst 18 games? Is he going to pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs, as he did last year in Cleveland?

This was the biggest concern about LeBron’s injury. It’s possible to play through a groin injury, but there’s a strong possibility of aggravating it. If LeBron didn’t fully recover, he faces that risk – likely heightened by his need to play his way back into shape.

The Lakers (28-29) are three games and two teams out of playoff position. They have little margin for error. They need LeBron healthy and playing at least near his usual elite level.

I’m not convinced we can take either for granted the rest of the season.

More evidence suggests disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy fixed games

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Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy and the NBA have always been aligned on one narrative: Donaghy didn’t fix games.

Provide inside information to gamblers? Yes. Bet on his own games? Yes.

But fix games? No.

That’s the story Donaghy had to tell to avoid more jail time and the story the NBA had to sell to preserve its integrity.

It just never held up to scrutiny. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop led the charge of publicly investigating Donaghy’s claims, and professional gambler (later Mavericks employee) Haralabos Voulgaris reviewed the calls. They concluded the system Donaghy admitted to – leveraging his knowledge of other referees’ biases toward against certain players and coaches – would have lost money. The money was made on his own games.

It just fits common sense. Donaghy was unethical enough to gamble on his own games but drew the line at altering calls to win his bets? C’mon.

Now comes perhaps the most definitive account of Donaghy’s misdeeds yet, including details on the gambling operation and statistical analysis of its outcomes.

Scott Eden of ESPN:

Donaghy favored the side that attracted more betting dollars in 23 of those 30 competitive games, or 77 percent of the time. In four games, he called the game neutrally, 50-50. The number of games in which Tim Donaghy favored the team that attracted fewer betting dollars? Three.

In other words, Donaghy’s track record of making calls that favored his bet was 23-3-4.

If one assumes there should be no correlation between wagers and the calls made by a referee, the odds of that disparity* might seem unlikely. And they are. When presented with that data, ESPN statisticians crunched the numbers and revealed: The odds that Tim Donaghy would have randomly made calls that produced that imbalance are 6,155-to-1.

“He can influence a game six points either way — that’s what he told me,” Tommy Martino said as we sat in the break room of his family’s hair salon, where he’s worked since he got out of prison in August 2009 after serving 10 months.

I highly recommend reading Eden’s piece in full. It is excellent.

I’m intrigued by the idea the NBA leaked the FBI’s investigation into Donaghy to undermine a search into whether more referees were corrupt. Donaghy claimed some were.

Donaghy lacks credibility. I don’t trust him on anything, including that.

But I could also see David Stern’s NBA wanting to stifle a deeper dive into the league’s officials before it got off the ground. That’d prevent wider problems just in case this was a rare time Donaghy was being truthful.

Again, Eden’s full article is worth reading.

Stephen Curry slips three odd phrases into All-Star interviews… for Jimmy Fallon (video)

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NBA All-Stars do so many interviews over the weekend. It can be fun to spice them up.

Anthony Davis did by talking in circles.

Stephen Curry did by using phrases – “energizer bunny,” “flippin’ pancakes” and “wham bam can of ham” – for a segment on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.