Team USA opens camp in Chicago with a lot of questions

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The last time we saw Team USA at practice, they looked like a team starting to come together to make a run at the gold medal in Spain at the World Cup — they had a team that could play the international game well and the only question was what specialists would make the roster.

Then Paul George had a horrific, fluke accident that shattered his leg and ended not only his Team USA involvement but also his entire next season.

The Kevin Durant pulled out of Team USA citing mental and physical exhaustion.

Team USA opened camp again this week in Chicago and now there are a lot of questions.

Who moves into the starting lineup? Both Durant and George were going to start and not only did they bring a lot of scoring they also brought a lot of length and some good defense. Now who fills those roles? The USA was going small already with George at the two and Durant at the three and the likely even go smaller now (Anthony Davis is locked in as the five and looks good in the role). Rudy Gay has been added to the Team USA roster and he likely gets minutes if not starting ones, but look for versatile guys like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward also to get more run.

With the scoring, the USA should be okay — they will still play an aggressive defense looking to force turnovers then turn those into easy points in transition. Think about it this way: With Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and James Harden on the roster (just to name a few guys likely in the final 12) scoring is not going to be the issue.

How do they deal with big teams? That will be the issue. Because at the end of all this, the USA is still very likely going to play Spain in the Gold Medal game of the World Cup. (The USA lucked out and is on the easy side of the bracket, neither their group play or games in the single elimination rounds should be that big a threat, the best team they see may be Lithuania.)

Spain is a different animal, rolling out Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Combine that with quality guards (Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez) and you have a challenge.

We should get a sense on the size question from the Saturday exhibition game in Chicago when the USA takes on Brazil, which sports Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao.

How many centers do you keep? Anthony Davis is going to start and play the bulk of the minutes at the five for Team USA, but because of teams like Spain and others with size Team USA needs at least one and maybe two true centers. They have DeMarcus Cousins, Miles Plumlee and Andre Drummond on the roster. All three are not staying, but two might. Maybe just one. And where does Kenneth Fraried and his energy and rebounding fit into the equation?

Cousins had a pretty good week of practice but looked strong in the exhibition game in Las Vegas. Miles Plumlee surprised the coaches with his play (which is saying something, Mike Krzyzewski had him for four years at Duke) and they like how his versatility makes him easy to play with. When Coach K talked bigs in Vegas, Drummond was almost always the first name mentioned. It’s going to be interesting to see where the line gets drawn.

Who gets cut from the group of wings? There are four point guards on the roster — Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving — but all for very well may make the finals roster. Especially when you consider that Curry and Lillard can both play the two (maybe even Rose can in a pinch).

Also as wing players you have James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons. Some players have got to go and it’s not going to be an easy line to draw.

Until we see how Coach K shakes out his rotations after the Durant/George departures, it’s very difficult to guess who makes the cut.

Lakers president Magic Johnson: I get fined every time I talk about other players, but nobody else does

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Magic Johnson got the Lakers fined for tweets he sent while holding a ceremonial executive title. Once he started running the front office, his blinking at Paul George on national TV contributed to the Lakers getting fined again for tampering. Johnson’s praise of Giannis Antetokounmpo drew yet another tampering fine.

So, though he escaped punishment for his recent comments on 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Johnson refused to answer a question about Hornets guard Kemba Walker.

Carolina Blitz:

Johnson:

You know I can’t answer any questions about no players, because every time I do it, I get fined. But anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So I’m going to stay away from that one.

I don’t blame Johnson for feeling that way.

Other teams’ owners, coaches and executives have repeatedly publicly discussed rival players without facing announced punishment.

To be fair, the NBA doesn’t reveal every fine. Bucks owner Marc Lasry reportedly just got fined for tampering, but the league never announced it. But, at minimum, there’s an inconsistency with how the NBA exposes Johnson’s transgressions.

Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last year there’s a spotlight on the Lakers due to prior tampering. That strikes me as unfair. The Lakers already paid for their prior violations and should now be held to the same standard as everyone else.

And for what it’s worth, I wish that standard allowed an all-time great point guard like Johnson to publicly share his thoughts on Kemba Walker.

In wake of Rudy Gobert snub, Jazz propose changing All-Star-selection process

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Jazz center Rudy Gobert and many in Utah were upset about him getting snubbed from the All-Star game.

Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey is doing something about it.

Lindsey on The Zone Sports Network:

This examination of the process is just long overdue, and Rudy frankly highlights this. So, therefore we would recommend the following things and measures to the league:

A: Form an All-Star-selection committee, by former players, by former NBA coaches, by former management, by former scouts, by former NBA media and using current, but unattached, analytic personnel to consult with that group. In our opinion, the committee should be rotated, share a little bit of the love. In our opinion, the committee should be paid for their time and expertise.

B: The selection process should be an ongoing education process. Head coaches don’t have time to get a weekly update on who’s doing well, even in raw per-game numbers and much less in advanced numbers on who’s impacting what. Their job is to organize their own group. So, let’s make this something where’s there’s an ongoing process of who’s having a good game, who’s having a good week, good month and driving winning as much as anything. So, that would be B.

C: There’s a committee. There’s a selection room. There’s a process. There’s a criteria. And the vote should be made public. Let’s open it up, a little bit like NCAA teams do now for the tournament. And I think you could monetize it. I think it’d be compelling TV. There’s no conflict of interest by the committee, because ex-coaches, ex-management people, ex-media – they’re hopefully voting their conscience and voting to the facts.

In our opinion, and point D, the criteria should be a combination of per-game stats, advanced stats, win-loss records, player decorum and player behavior. In our opinion, these measures should be of the highest-possible standards, both tangible and intangible.

Imagine a world where Lindsey’s committee was already in place. Now imagine that committee picked the same All-Stars this year – including Gobert getting snubbed – as in reality.

In that alternate universe, Lindsey might be proposing NBA coaches choose All-Star reserves. After all, who’d be more likely than coaches to reward a dominant defender and excellent screen-setter like Gobert?

Lindsey’s proposal is needlessly complicated. The current system gets some picks wrong, but it mostly works. Lindsey’s system would also get some picks wrong but mostly work. That’s just the inevitability of the setup. There will always be debate about the final spots on an All-Star roster.

The feasibility of Lindsey’s plan is also questionable. Who are these former coaches and former management without aspirations of re-entering the league? Who qualifies as former media in a world where it’s increasingly easy to remain somewhat involved? Are any of those people still connected enough to the game to make good choices?

Besides, everyone has biases. Even people removed from the game still have biases.

The NBA’s new voting system for choosing All-Star starters – 50% fans, 25% players, 25% media – has worked well. Maybe the simple solution is adding a coaches component and using that for reserves, too.

As front office looks toward free agency, starless Clippers winning now

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CHARLOTTE – The Clippers have no All-Stars here.

Not Danilo Gallinari. Not Montrezl Harrell. Not even Tobias Harris, who spent most of the season with L.A. before getting traded to the 76ers.

Heck, nobody who has played for the Clippers this season – including Gallinari, Harris and Lou Williams – has ever made an All-Star team.

No Clippers are participating in All-Star Saturday Night events, either. Their only representative here is rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Yet, the Clippers are an impressive 32-27.

“When you just have a bunch of guys that are selfless and just want to play for each other and just want to ultimately win,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “things like that happen.”

The Clippers are on pace for one of the best-ever records for a team with no past or present All-Stars. Here all the all-time leaders (counting only seasons with an All-Star game):

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The Clippers’ success is particularly surprising because this was supposed to be a transitional year for them.

They moved on historically quickly from the Chris PaulBlake Griffin-DeAndre Joran Lob City era. Everyone from the Clippers’ 2012-17 teams was gone before the season even began. Since the early 1950s, only these Clippers, the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely turned over their rosters within two seasons.

The Clippers have made no secret of their interest in Kawhi Leonard. They’re also reportedly pursuing Kevin Durant. Jimmy Butler could be in the mix.

“The front office and coaches and teammates are all competitive guys and want to be good for a long time,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

Here’s the rub: Many of Gilgeous-Alexander’s teammates might not be around for that ultimate goal.

To open a projected $57 million in cap space this summer,* the Clippers had to stock their roster with expiring contracts.

*Based on the Clippers renouncing all their free agents and not having a first-round pick. L.A. owes the Celtics a lottery-protected first-rounder.

Beverley will be a free agent this summer. So will Harris and likely Avery Bradley, who got dealt to the Grizzlies shortly before the trade deadline and has just $2 million of his $12.96 million salary next season guaranteed. So will Marcin Gortat, who got waived around the trade deadline.

Yet, these players put aside personal agendas to help a franchise that’s transparently looking past them. It’s a tribute to the players. It’s a tribute to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too. This team has played hard and shown great camaraderie.

It won’t get easier even after moving Harris, L.A.’s top player this season who’s entering free agency. Ivica Zubac, JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler – acquired before the trade deadline – also have expiring contracts.

Don’t assume the Clippers will fall off now. They added solid vets who could fit this culture.

The Clippers’ identity – starless, transient – remains intact. The winning could, too.

It’s not that the Clippers got snubbed. I thought none deserved to be an All-Star.

That’s the beauty of this team.

Pelicans reportedly fire GM Dell Demps

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Dell Demps has been on the hot seat for a few years now, just scraping by while making short-term moves that appeared more about keeping his job and winning games now over planning for long-term success around Anthony Davis.

This season that all seemed to catch up with him — Davis demanded a trade and the Pelicans are well out of the playoff chase in the West.

That has cost Demps his job after nine seasons, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Frustration with Davis leaving the building is more the last straw that cost Demps his job rather than the sole firable offense. Demps has been on thin ice for a while, what happened Thursday was just enough for New Orleans to pull the trigger now rather than wait until after the season. But the sense around the league is this was coming no matter what.

If Demps had traded Davis to the Lakers at the deadline he would have been fired anyway. Also, sources have told me that it wasn’t Demps’ call, that ownership and upper management (the people above Demps) did not want the Laker trade and he couldn’t have pulled the trigger on the deal even if he wanted to. Ownership and upper management didn’t want to feel “bullied” into a deal.

It was thought by many around the league that there would be a housecleaning in New Orleans after the season and that the new GM, whoever he or she is, would be the one making the call on the trade and the direction the team takes next. The question is, will coach Alvin Gentry be out, too?

Expect the Pelicans to move reasonably quickly on finding a replacement, whether it is internal or external. They want someone in place to have a strategy for the team heading into the draft, a strategy that includes what to do about a Davis trade.