Notes from Team USA Camp in Las Vegas: Nobody is a fan of the FIBA balls

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LAS VEGAS — After a couple days of Team USA training camp I had a few things in my notebook, things that didn’t fit in stories, so I’ve slid them in here.

• For the practices Team USA is using the FIBA-issue balls and nobody is a fan. From Kevin Durant on down guys shake their heads when you ask about the balls and getting used to them, it’s the most animated a few guys got. These balls are much more slick and slippery than your standard NBA ball. It led to a few issues on the first day of practice and has been an adjustment for the shooters and ball handlers.

“They’re brand new and really slippery, and a lot of guys sweat a lot so a lot of sweat gets on the ball, it makes it hard to handle and shoot,” Anthony Davis said. “Once they get broken in they’ll be fine.”

For the record, pretty much everyone finished their comments with “that’s just part of the game.” But don’t confuse that with liking these balls.

• The other adjustment is the more physical style of play — referees let a lot more contact go in international ball. A few guys have driven the lane trying to draw calls that did not come. There has been a lot of staring at the refs… so like a regular NBA game.

• I mentioned this before but it is worth repeating: For two straight days now Mike Krzyzewski has ended practice with a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis on the floor, and that is likely the USA’s starting five.

• With all the talent in the room guys are bringing the effort. “You can sense it,” Damian Lillard said. “Guys that don’t have a reputation for playing hard defense are picking up full court. You’ll see guys doing stuff that basically shows you they will sell themselves out for the greater good of the team.”

• Derrick Rose says he expects some down days on his road back: “I think physically, just seeing if I can hold up (with high level practices every day), just seeing if I can hold up. I know I can but just seeing how my body feels.” He added that Bulls officials are calling and texting him daily to keep tabs and see how he’s feeling (plus Tom Thibodeau is one of the Team USA assistant coaches).

• Kevin Durant on Rose: “It’s is confidence man. That’s what it’s about in this league. You experience things and you go through and you gain confidence.”

• Former Bull Kyle Korver talking about new Bull Doug McDermott: “All the expectations on him and he handled it with such class. A lot of the learning curve when you come into the NBA is learning emotionally how to deal with everything going on. He has to learn how to deal with Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) every day, that’s a lot.”

• Durant on if he was disappointed Blake Griffin and Kevin Love dropped out of Team USA this summer: “No. As a player you know exactly what those guys are going through. We understand. As players we understand.” I’ll add that a number of players were asked that question and responded with some variant of “we just have to go with the guys in the room.”

• Gordon Hayward on the upcoming season in Utah where they have a lot of young talent: “We’re going to learn a lot. We’re going to take our lumps but I think it will be a good, exciting year. Hopefully we can get better from last year.”

• Coach Mike Krzyzewski on whether he knew when he was recruiting Kyrie Irving to Duke if he could turn out to be this kind of special player: “Oh definitely. I kew that in high school. That’s one of the thinks I did know — there were things I didn’t know, but I knew he was destined to be a great player because he has not only ability but he has character and great intelligence.”

• DeMar DeRozan took an elbow from Klay Thompson that ended with DeRozan on the floor with a bloody nose. DeRozan was up on Thompson pressuring him out high, Thompson tried to swing his arms through holding the ball to create space and caught him clean with the elbow. There was blood on the floor, but DeRozan was fine.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”