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.

LeBron James rips AAU workload, “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid”

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Last week, during the pointless debate about Kawhi Leonard missing a game for load management, the most salient point came from former Suns coach Earl Watson.

He echoed a must-read story (from Baxter Holmes at ESPN) that reverberated around the NBA this summer (but for many fans got lost in the shuffle of player movement): How NBA team medical staffs — as well as just doctors working on young athletes — were noticing the extreme wear and tear on the body of AAU basketball players. The volume of games, often without enough training and conditioning to properly strengthen their young bodies or let them recover, sets young players up for injuries later in their playing career. NBA teams and doctors, with their load management techniques, are trying to make up for damage that started long before.

LeBron James, with two sons playing AAU ball right now, is in full agreement.

LeBron ripped the volume of games played in the youth basketball culture, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a f***,” James told Yahoo Sports. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through…

“I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f- – -ing out of control. That’s just too much… So, I’m very conscious for my own son because that’s all I can control, and if my son says he’s sore or he’s tired, he’s not playing.

“Because a lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man. I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

It is an issue. A big issue. The NBA can talk about reducing the number of games — they are, and they should, the season is too long, but cutting the number of games becomes a complex financial issue — but it goes beyond just the NBA level.

There needs to be fundamental changes in youth basketball in the NBA, down to the AAU level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about this.

“So, where historically it’s been an area, particularly AAU basketball, that the league has stayed out of, I think these most recent revelations (from the NCAA scandal) are just a reminder that we’re part of this larger basketball community. I think ultimately, whether we like it or not, need to be more directly involved with elite youth basketball,” Silver said a couple of years ago. Since then, the league has taken steps in that direction.

However, like shortening the NBA season, there are a lot of competing interests in a complicated situation. A lot of people are making money the way things are now and don’t want them to change.

For the health of players, it needs to.

 

Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton to miss 3-4 weeks with thigh contusion

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Khris Middleton, coming off a summer with Team USA, has quietly continued his All-Star level play this season — an efficient 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three but also finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

However, he’s not going to be on the court for a few weeks due to a deep thigh bruise, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In the third quarter of the Bucks win over the Thunder Sunday, Middleton suffered the thigh bruise, which sent him to the locker room. While he returned to the bench, he did not return to the game. Afterward, in the locker room, Middleton didn’t seem to think it was that serious.

It turned out to be a little more than that, it has to be a deep bruise to have him out for up to a month.

Kyle Korver would be next in line to get those minutes, but he sat out Sunday with a “head contusion.” Behind him look for smaller lineups with Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, and Wesley Matthews to get more minutes, plus maybe a little Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

After 0-6 start, Raptors coach Nick Nurse celebrates successful challenge like he won a championship (video)

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After the Raptors won the 2019 NBA title, Toronto coach Nick Nurse hugged Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Masai Ujiri.

Some of the hug recipients changed, but Nurse’s celebration didn’t look that different last night.

Nurse missed his first six coach’s challenges then finally got one right during the Raptors’ win over the Lakers. He responded by hugging everyone – including a Los Angeles fan – around him.

This was a long time coming. Even after a couple early failed challenges, Nurse sounded exasperated.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

Maybe Clippers coach Doc Rivers, a noted challenge critic, will eventually experience this euphoria.

Report: Gordon Hayward to have surgery on left hand

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How good would Gordon Hayward be if he could just stay healthy?

Hopefully we will find out someday, but probably not for the next couple of months after his agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Hayward will have surgery on his non-shooting hand to repair a broken bone.

There will be no official timeline for recovery until after the surgery, but after going under the knife Hayward is likely out at least six weeks. Stephen Curry is out three months after surgery on his non-shooting hand (that is a different injury, but it shows how long the timeline can be).

The play where the injury happened was innocuous.

Even so, it has left Boston with some big questions to answer through New Year’s Eve, or whenever Hayward returns. Hayward was having a bounce-back year, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. He’s been a critical playmaker for the Celtics.

For Boston, this likely means a lot more Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, and maybe Javonte Green.