Predicting Team USA’s 12-man roster for 2016 Rio Olympics

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The Rio Olympics are less than one year away — opening ceremonies are Aug. 5, 2016. Set your DVR now.

In preparation, USA Basketball opens its 2015 mini-camp in Las Vegas Tuesday and players who wants to make the 2016 cut have to at least show up. It’s an embarrassment of riches — you could make a second team of 12 guys from the couple dozen that will not make Team USA’s roster for Rio and win a medal comfortably.

There are only 12 spots on the roster and two-thirds of it seem all but locked in right now. That leaves some interesting battles for a few spots. Obviously, injuries and the coming season will alter the roster, but we have a pretty good idea of what it will look like.

Who makes it to Rio?

THE LOCKS

• LeBron James: A three-time Olympian and the leader of the 2012 gold medal team in London. He is still the single best player walking the face of the earth. The only question here is, does he want to play? He will be at mini-camp in Las Vegas to keep his options open, but no decision has been made.

• Kevin Durant: When healthy the best pure scorer on the planet (he just has to stay healthy enough to play). A member of the 2012 gold medal team in London who begged out of the 2014 World Championships after the Paul George injury.

• Anthony Davis: Maybe the new face of Team USA, and he has already a gold medal from his time in London. He is central to what Team USA likes to do — he’s a big man who can protect the rim on defense but can get out and run on offense, plus has a shot that can space the floor.

• Russell Westbrook: He won gold in London in 2012, and he’s the kind of athlete Coach K loves to use to overwhelm opponents — other countries do not have a guy like him.

• James Harden: He won gold in 2012 and was part of the 2014 FIBA team that won the World Cup, he will be there in Rio. The man can just flat-out score the rock.

• Stephen Curry: The reigning MVP and the best shooter in the game was with Team USA in 2014, and his ability to both catch-and-shoot or create his own shot off the bounce makes him invaluable. Plus in Rio his shooting range starts about Copacabana beach.

That’s six. Half the roster is done.

THE LIKELY

• Kawhi Leonard: Coach K likes to have one defensive-minded, shut down wing on the roster. Kobe Bryant played that role brilliantly in 2008, Andre Iguodala was there in 2012, now it is Leonard’s turn. Plus he gets them buckets in transition.

• Blake Griffin: Not only can he overwhelm teams with athleticism and finish in transition, but also he has shooting range now to the arc and in international ball bigs have to stretch the floor.

• DeMarcus Cousins: The USA will likely start with Anthony Davis as the center (as they did in 2014) but you need some more traditional size behind him, and that’s where Cousins comes into play. He can body up other bigs, he runs the floor well (when he wants to) and he has a reliable outside shot.

That makes nine guys: three are three guards, three wings, and three bigs. We need one more of each to round out the roster.

THE FINAL GUARD SPOT

• Chris Paul: It’s his if he wants it — there still is no better floor general in the game, he has gold from 2012,. Plus he is a better defender than the guys below him on this list. Coach K trusts him, but will CP3 want to go to Rio after his 11th NBA season?

• Kyrie Irving: If it’s not CP3 it’s likely Irving, who played for Coach K at Duke, then did a good job for him at the 2014 World Cup (he played more minutes per game than anyone else on the team in Spain last year).

Missing the cut: John Wall, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Michael Carter-Williams, DeMar DeRozan.

THE FINAL WING SPOT

• Klay Thompson: Go ahead and argue he’s a guard not a wing if you want (it’s splitting hairs), but he fits perfectly in the international game. He is a great shooter, runs the floor well and can defend multiple positions. He’ll be in Rio.

• Rudy Gay: He was on the 2014 roster at the World Championships and Coach K likes his versatility, this is a possible fallback if there are injuries.

• Paul George: He’s a feel good story and certainly brings defense and scoring — if he’s healthy and good to go. I don’t expect him to make the cut, but if he has a strong regular season he’s a guy to watch.

Missing the cut: Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Draymond Green, Tobias Harris, Chandler Parsons.

THE FINAL BIG MAN

• Dwight Howard: His game isn’t a perfect fit internationally, but there is not going to be a more athletic big man or rim protector in Rio than Howard. It’s hard to leave him off the roster.

• Kevin Love: The Cavaliers may be struggling with how to use him but Coach K is not — bigs who can stretch the floor are key in the international style game. Plus the USA wants to run and he has the best outlet pass in the game. He won gold in 2012. He could make the team.

• LaMarcus Aldridge: He has a rocky history with USA Basketball, but for all the reasons Love is a good fit on the team and in the international game, Aldridge works just as well.

• Carmelo Anthony: He’s got multiple gold medals (2008 and 2012), and when used as a four he becomes a dangerous weapon in the international game. Coach K likes and trusts him, but it’s a tough numbers game for him to get to Rio.

Missing the cut: DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried.

Nuggets: Mason Plumlee out at least 2-4 weeks

Mason Plumlee
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Mason Plumlee got hurt in the first half, underwent x-rays he said were negative then returned in the second half to help the Nuggets beat the Timberwolves on Monday.

But he and Denver will suffer a much bigger loss.

Nuggets release:

Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee has been diagnosed with a right cuboid injury and his status will be reevaluated in approximately two to four weeks.

The injury occurred during the Nuggets game at Minnesota on Monday, January 20th.

Obviously, this raises questions about whether Plumlee should have returned against Minnesota.

This is another key setback for Denver, which already has Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris sidelined.

The Nuggets (30-13) are locked in a high-stakes battle with the Clippers (31-13) and Jazz (30-13) for the Nos. 2-4 seeds in the Western Conference. The No. 2 seed would get home-court advantage in the second round and avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. The No. 3 seed would avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. The No. 4 seed would do neither.

Nikola Jokic is now Denver’s only healthy center. Expect Jerami Grant to play the position more often. He’s versatile enough to do it, and he can be effective there in certain matchups. But the Nuggets lose selectivity in when to deploy Grant at center, a lineup they were already reluctant to use.

Denver has played just 24 minutes all season with Grant on, Jokic and Plumlee off. (The Nuggets are a not-encouraging -11 in that time).

The trade deadline is just over two weeks away. Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez already looked like prime trade candidates. Could this push Denver toward moving one of those youngsters for immediate help? The Nuggets shouldn’t overreact to losing a backup center who should return well in advance of the playoffs. But they also don’t want to overburden Jokic/slip in the standings over the next month.

The All-Star break begins in three weeks. If Plumlee is still sidelined, that’ll at least give him longer to recover without missing games. But with the trade deadline looming, Denver has bigger decisions to make before then.

Report: Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald buys share of Phoenix Suns

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Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sat in on the Phoenix Suns’ basketball-executive interviews last year.

Now, he’ll have a more formal role within the organization.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers bought a share of the Bucks in 2018.

The NBA reportedly mandates that all new minority owners buy at least a 1% share. Forbes’ last estimate valued the Suns at $1.5 billion. That’d put Fitzgerald’s minimum buy-in at $15 million.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he got in cheaper, though. Widely panned Suns owner Robert Sarver can boost his image by aligning himself with the well-liked football player. Having a local sports hero involved can also help with things like getting taxpayers to fund arena upgrades.

Three things to expect in Zion Williamson’s debut

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Finally.

At Summer League in Las Vegas, the Thomas and Mack was full but fans got just nine minutes of Zion Williamson, one half of basketball, before he was shut down following a knee-to-knee collision with another player. Zion was done for the summer as the Pelicans were overly cautious.

Preseason saw Williamson get into four games and start to look like the force of nature that he was at Duke, the franchise-changing player who was the runaway consensus No. 1 pick, and he averaged 23.3 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting. Then Williamson tore his right lateral meniscus, needed surgery, and ultimately was out far longer than the original 6-8 week projections as the Pelicans were overly cautious.

Wednesday night, Williamson finally makes his NBA debut, lacing up his Nikes against San Antonio at home in New Orleans.

What should we expect in Zion’s debut (with him likely on a minutes limit)? Here are three things to watch for.

1) Dunks. A lot of dunks.

Zion Williamson is an incredibly gifted athlete but right now his game is not filled with subtlety and craft — the manchild attacks the rim and finishes. With authority.

Look at Williamson’s shot chart from the preseason: He took just four shots outside the paint.

This is not a knock on Williamson’s game — the dunk is the most efficient shot on the court, f you can get it, take it. Williamson has skills — a crossover he uses in transition, an inside-out dribble, and more — that he uses to get to the rim, and he wants to finish every play the same way.

Which is exactly what the Pelicans need.

New Orleans has good shot creators — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram — and they have shooters such as J.J. Redick. What New Orleans could use is a threat that goes to the rim and forces defenses to collapse a little, opening up space (Derrick Favors has provided some of that). The Pelicans could use a player who can draw fouls and attacks the rim. That’s Zion. He should fit in beautifully on offense.

One scout I talked to (and he wasn’t the only person to make this comparison) said Williamson’s early career could resemble Blake Griffin’s in this sense: When he entered the league, Griffin was a high-flying dunking sensation who got his points at the rim, but eventually he developed an outside shot and a passing game that made him a much more rounded, All-NBA level player. Williamson has work to do on his other skills, but the man is going to dunk the ball in his debut.

2) The start of a playoff push in New Orleans.

Williamson’s injury was not the only one that hit the Pelicans: Derrick Favors, E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Lonzo Ball have all missed significant chunks of time. Combine all of that with a newly formed roster, and the Pelicans got off to a dreadful start.

However, the rest of the bottom half of the West was equally dreadful. The result is that while New Orleans is just 17-27, Williamson’s return finds the Pelicans only 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West. What’s more, the Pelicans have hit a groove going 11-5 in their last 16 with Ingram playing at an All-Star level to lead the offense and Favors providing a defensive anchor. Ball is starting to find a comfort zone in Alvin Gentry’s offense, which is allowing Holiday to work more at his natural two-guard spot.

Now enter Williamson and the Pelicans are thinking playoff push — they have pulled back on trade talks to see how things shake out over the next couple of weeks.

One other thing in its favor: New Orleans has the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the Western Conference (only Atlanta is easier overall). Only one team New Orleans faces in its final 15 has a winning record — that’s a schedule set up for a closing kick.

With Zion back in the fold, the Pelicans are going to make a run at it.

3) How well do Zion and Brandon Ingram mesh?

This is the $168 million question for the Pelicans.

(It’s less expectation than a question, one that could be a five-year $202 million question if Ingram can play his way onto an All-NBA team this season, which may not be likely but certainly is possible.)

Ingram has played his way into that size max contract this summer and if the Pelicans don’t give it to him another team will (the most another team could offer is four-years, $125 million). David Griffin has talked about keeping Ingram, the team is expected to back up the Brinks truck for him, but that doesn’t change the question:

Can Ingram and Zion coexist on the court?

Before the season — and still in a lot of minds — there are doubts about how well the games of the slashing, attacking Ingram and Williamson would fit together. Could this be another version of the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid concerns in Philly, where two elite players want to operate in the same space and it clogs things up?

Ingram has developed a reliable jump shot this season — 39.9 percent from three on 6.2 attempts per game — and that has opened up his game. It also means he should fit better next to Williamson. However, the Pelicans likely want to see how all this works before they pay Ingram all that money this summer.

Williamson and Ingram may become the cornerstones of an outstanding New Orleans team in the future, but the questions about fit will linger until the players answer them. Those are not questions that are going to be answered in Williamson’s debut, but it’s something to watch.

Officer suspended for shooting video of ex-NBA player Delonte West

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OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — A Maryland police officer has been suspended for shooting a video that shows former NBA player Delonte West as he was being questioned while shirtless and handcuffed, a police department said.

One of two videos circulating on social media shows a thin, shirtless man with tattoos sitting on a curb with his hands cuffed behind his back. Police say that man is West and that an officer shot the video.

Prince George’s County Police said they learned on Tuesday that an officer shot video of West sitting on the curb and that it was circulating on social media. An investigation followed and the suspension was announced on Tuesday.

The other video shows a man being beaten in the middle of a road.

Police said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that they responded to a call about a fight near the MGM National Harbor casino, located just across the border from Washington. When officers arrived, they saw a man bleeding from the face and “made the decision to handcuff” West.

Police said they learned that West and the second man knew each other and that they had argued earlier that morning. The men refused medical treatment and refused to press charges, police said.

The 36-year-old West played for the Boston Celtics, Seattle SuperSonics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks. He spoke in 2015 about having bipolar disorder.