Brooklyn Nets taking training camp to Duke campus

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Well, Durham is much greener` than Brooklyn this time of year.

No team may have more eyes on them this preseason than the Brooklyn Nets, who went out this summer with a “luxury tax be damned” attitude and added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko to a roster that already had 49 wins (but was bounced in the first round by a more disciplined, tougher Bulls team).

To get out of the glare of that spotlight a little, the Nets are moving the start of their training camp to the Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina, the team announced. They will be there from Oct. 1 to 5.

If you’re wondering the connection, Nets GM Billy King played for Duke (he was the captain of a Final Four team). Well, unless you think the Nets are doing this just to make Mason Plumlee happy.

“With many new players and a new staff, going on the road for training camp will offer a unique opportunity for our players to bond and focus solely on basketball as they prepare for this season,” King said in a released statement.

But it makes some sense, the university has world-class facilities and it lets them get out of some of the spotlight glare that will be on them this season.

The Nets went to great expense to put together a roster they think can compete for a title — they have a current payroll of $102.2 million (according to SHAM Sports), which means under the new escalating luxury tax they will owe $87.2 million on top of that. It’s a grand total of $189.4 million for just the roster.

A roster that is on the edge of contention but needs a lot of things to go right (I would still have them a step behind at least the Heat, Bulls and Pacers). It really comes down to how much Garnett can help turn the defense around (and if he can stay healthy to do it). The Nets are going to score plenty — they had the ninth best offense in the NBA in points per possession last season — and guys like Garnett will be a big upgrade on that end over Reggie Evans. The Nets will have a top five offense.

But their defense was 18th best in the NBA. Can KG, playing less than 30 minutes a night with a number of days off, lift that defense to the top 10 in the league or higher? Can first-year coach Jason Kidd put in a system that can lift the defense way up the ladder? If so, the Nets are dangerous. If not… wow that’s a lot of money to spend to make the second round (at best).

Whatever happens, it all starts at Duke.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.