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James Harden, Anthony Davis headline invitees to USA Basketball training camp

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Some of the biggest stars of the NBA decided to take this summer off…

And Team USA is still going to be STACKED for the World Cup this summer in China.

Ridiculously stacked. USA Basketball has released the names of the 20 players invited to take part in its training camp this August in Vegas, as part of the run-up to the FIFA World Cup this August and September in China. By the time of the World Cup at the end of the month, this group will be narrowed down to 12 players who will represent the United States.

The Invitees are:

Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)
Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Eric Gordon (Houston Rockets)
James Harden (Houston Rockets)
Tobias Harris (Philadelphia 76ers)
Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)
Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)
CJ McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers)
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
Paul Millsap (Denver Nuggets)
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
P.J. Tucker (Houston Rockets)
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)
Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets)

Notice that only one player from these NBA Finals is on that list, Lowry, but no Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard. USA Basketball reached out to each of them, but in the case of the three Warriors they have put a lot of miles on their bodies in recent years with five straight Finals appearances, and they wanted the summer to recover. Leonard is coming off a season where he and Toronto made the term “load management” famous (or, infamous), so it’s not a surprise he didn’t accept (it is more than any issues with coach Gregg Popovich from his Spurs days).

LeBron James also decided not to play to rest his body (plus the timing of the event could push up against the shooting of “Space Jam 2” this summer). Russell Westbrook and Paul George also did not accept invitations, although both have represented the USA in the past.

Still, there is a lot of talent on the roster, and balanced talent at that.

“The flexibility of positions and roles was very important, so you go through this roster you see a lot of ones who can be twos, threes who can be fours, fives can be fours, things like that,” Popovich said.

Even without those stars, this list has the potential for a roster that can play the attacking, up-tempo style coach Gregg Popovich wants. There’s an abundance of athleticism for plays in transition, plus plenty of shooting, including from the big men. Also, there are a handful of grinders who can play a physical game and crash the boards (the international game tends to be more physical, and the referees let more go than in the NBA).

Popovich will follow the model Mike Krzyzewski had before him with Team USA — not merely a collection of stars, but a balanced roster that can play as a unit. The USA’s athleticism can overwhelm all but a couple of teams in this tournament, the goal is an aggressive defense that leads to a lot of transition points, just overwhelming teams with that athleticism and depth. There’s a reason the USA has gone 88-1 in major men’s international competitions since 2006. The couple of teams that can hang with the USA (Spain the past couple of Olympics, for example) require more strategy and matchups.

That athleticism and potential are why three young, first-time USA Basketball performers were in the mix — Tatum, Kuzma, and Mitchell.

“Each of the three have already made their mark during this early part of their career,” USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo said of their inclusion. “You need to have some kind of balance and youth as we develop our infrastructure and as you develop your national team rosters.”

This World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Players who take part here, or have a history with Team USA, will have priority for making that roster.

At the training camp, these players will go against a USA Select group of up-and-coming stars who are being groomed to represent the USA in future years. Zion Williamson will headline those 10 players. Those players will be coached by Jeff Van Gundy, it was announced. Van Gundy also will provide some international scouting help to Popovich and staff as it was Van Gundy that coached the USA select team, made up mostly of G-League players, who qualified the USA for the World Cup.

The U.S. 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.

Sixth Man of the Year predictions: Sweet Lou Williams for three, or new blood?

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With the start of the NBA season just more than a week away — it’s predictions time. We’ll be covering most of the postseason awards between now and the opening tip of the NBA season.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks. Today…

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn Nets). It’s hard to go against the duo with the Los Angeles Clippers — Lou and Trezl rum the smoothest, sweetest pick-and-roll in the league — but this is the year Dinwiddie gets it done. He was absolutely in the mix for Sixth Man through the first half of last season, until he needed thumb surgery and came back not quite as efficient. Before the injury, he averaged 17.2 points per game, had a 59.8 true shooting percentage, and was a key part of the Nets push to the playoffs. He’s a tall guard at 6’6″ but has the quickness to blow by people and get to the rim, and he plays with a confidence that stands out on the Nets second unit. Dinwiddie will come off the bench behind Kyrie Iriving and when the drop off isn’t that steep people will notice.

Dan Feldman: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers). Last year’s winner (both deserved and in actuality), Williams has name recognition for this award. He has won Sixth Man of the Year three times, tying a record with Jamal Crawford. With Kawhi Leonard‘s and Paul George‘s health issues and pedestrian playmaking relative to their other supreme skills, the Clippers might once again lean heavily on Williams’ scoring off the bench — especially in the regular season, when these awards are decided.

Dane Delgado: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers). You wouldn’t be wrong if you thought that the addition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers would make it harder for Lou Williams to win a fourth Sixth Man of the Year award in 2019-20. The team in L.A will be much better, and so it might be harder for Williams to win the award based off of the performance of his superstar teammates. But the Clippers will need to use load management throughout the entirety of the regular season, and so smart NBA fans will take note of just how important Williams will be to a hopeful championship run for the Clippers this season. That could be the thing that puts Williams over the edge, and past Jamal Crawford for most 6MOY wins. If the Clippers are clearly reliant on Williams when both Leonard and George are resting, that will only boost his profile this season.

Rockets focused on basketball after fallout from Daryl Morey’s tweet

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HOUSTON (AP) The Rockets are back home in Houston, looking to leave behind the distractions from their trip to Asia.

Their two games in Japan were overshadowed by the aftermath of a tweet by general manager Daryl Morey in support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, angering fans and officials in China.

In their first practice since returning, the Rockets insisted they wouldn’t let the fallout distract them from preparing from the season.

“Guys can handle it,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We still got good work in. Everything’s fine, but you know what happened (is) regrettable, and it happened, but as I said, our work will get done.”

Veteran P.J. Tucker denied that dealing with this situation has been a distraction to this team trying to contend for its first title since winning back-to-back championships in 1994-95.

“Not really, honestly,” he said. “This time of season, everybody’s getting in shape, getting ready for the season, focusing in. So with all of the things that go on in life, and whatever, this is still our job, so we still come in and do our job every single day.”

The Rockets were in Hawaii on Oct. 4 to play a preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers on the first leg of a trip that included two games in Japan when Morey tweeted an image that said: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” His tweet was in reference to pro-democracy demonstrations in the semiautonomous Chinese territory that has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement.

The tweet was deleted soon after it was posted, and Rockets owner and billionaire casino and restaurant owner Tilman Fertitta quickly rebuked his GM with a tweet saying that Morey does not speak for the team. He added: “Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization.”

Despite the swift response from Fertitta, the damage was already done. Former Rockets star Yao Ming took offense to Morey’s support for the anti-government protesters and as president of the Chinese Basketball Association, suspended its ties to the Rockets over the tweet.

Events in China promoting the Lakers-Nets series were canceled, NBA media partner Tencent said it was evaluating its plans to cover the league, and China state broadcaster CCTV did not air either preseason game.

The tweet also caused some Chinese corporations to suspend relationships with the NBA and it is unclear what can be done to mend the relationship.

D’Antoni was asked if there is anything the coaches and players can do to help repair things with China.

“We’ve just got to keep playing and keep trying to be good ambassadors for the game, that’s all the players can do,” he said. “And then we’ll let the NBA and the Houston Rockets sort things out.”

Morey hasn’t spoken publicly since the tweet, with his only comments on the issue coming in two more tweets on Oct. 6. In those tweets he did not apologize for his initial tweet but did say that his tweets “in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver backed Morey’s right to express his opinion and said: “We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”

Morey was at the Toyota Center on Sunday but did not speak to reporters and was not at the small portion of practice that media was permitted to attend. While Morey stayed out of the spotlight it was up to the players and D’Antoni to address how the Rockets can move past what happened.

James Harden understands that as the face of the team, people want him to be a spokesman for the Rockets in all issues, but right now he wants to keep his comments on basketball.

“We’ve just been focusing on us and getting better,” he said. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. We focus on what we can control in this locker room … we had an unbelievable road trip, a great experience in those cities, and now we’re back and just trying to get better.”

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tacko Fall reportedly earns two-way contract with Celtics

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Internet goobers can now rejoice, Tacko Fall will be joining Boston Celtics on a two-way contract this season.

The 7-foot-6 Fall, who played college ball at USF, has quickly become an internet darling based on his sheer size. His lanky frame and ability to shoot the 3-pointer hasn’t hurt Fall’s reputation as a fan favorite, either.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Fall will be signed to a two-way contract but is expected to spend most of his time in the NBA G-League.

Via Twitter:

Who knows if Fall will spend how much time with the Celtics this season. It’s not clear whether he’s actually ready for an NBA role just yet, particularly for a team in Boston that is looking to take over the Eastern Conference in the absence of Kawhi Leonard with the Toronto Raptors.

The Celtics are looking to make an NBA Finals run in 2020, and PFallaul will be an unlikely candidate to play a factor in that goal. Still, it’s a fun story and great to see a fan-favorite make it through and earn a contract.

Jayson Tatum doesn’t think Kobe Bryant taught him any bad habits

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There have been a lot of jokes about how Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum worked with Kobe Bryant two summers ago, and how that may have affected his performance in 2018-19. Tatum increased his shooting in segments between three and 16 feet by a combined 8% last season over his rookie year. Those midrange shots were largely attributed to Bryant’s influence by the social media sphere.

This regression went so far that Tim Bontemps recently wrote a story at ESPN about trying to de-Kobe-ify Tatum this year in Boston. But Tatum has heard those rumors, and he doesn’t believe that Bryant gave him any bad habits. To that end, Tatum said he’s still going to shoot the midrange jumper and he’s not putting Kobe at fault for his lack of progression last year.

Tatum’s comments were… well, just read them below.

Via MassLive:

“I’m still going to shoot the mid-range,” Tatum said after the Boston Celtics blowout of the Orlando Magic. “I seen all the people talking about the de-Kobe-ing. No, Kobe didn’t teach me anything bad. Everything we talked about and he showed me was great.”

“Last year, the jump that I didn’t make that everybody expected was not his fault,” Tatum said. “He’s one of the greatest ever. Everything he taught me was — I’m very grateful and it helped me. I gotta take responsibility for how I played last year and not being that big a jump that people thought. I’m still going to shoot mid-range.”

“I got better last year. Just not what people expected, not what I expected, and I take full responsibility,” Tatum said. “That’s why I’m excited for this year. But Kobe didn’t teach me any bad habits. I didn’t say that.”

Tatum’s problem wasn’t just his shot distribution, it was his shot selection. Not only did he shoot more buckets from three to 16 feet, but Tatum performed significantly worse from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, where he dipped by seven percentage points. He also saw a six percent drop in his 3-point shooting.

Combined with his shot distribution, Tatum’s percentages dropping in key areas made him a much less effective offensive player. Then again, if you watched any of the Celtics the last year — or paid attention to Boston pans online — you would know that they were fed up with some of the forced, Kobe-ish buckets Tatum would take at inopportune moments.

Even if Tatum ends up being a very good midrange shooter, that would cap his potential at DeMar DeRozan. That’s not what Danny Ainge and Boston are looking for, so perhaps someone can talk some sense into Tatum before it’s too late.

Leave it up to a former Laker to ruin the Celtics from within.