Next week in Las Vegas, many of the best basketball players walking the face of the earth — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, just to name a few — will get together under the guidance of Gregg Popovich for the USA Basketball mini-camp.
It is the first workout of the pool of 35 players — which will ultimately be narrowed down to a dozen — who will represent the United States at the 2019 World Cup in China and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It also will be the first workouts for the team under new coach Gregg Popovich. It’s a who’s who of NBA talent.
Except new Laker LeBron James will not be there, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
LeBron James will not participate in USA Basketball’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week, multiple sources familiar with James’ plans told ESPN.
LeBron, who already has two Olympic golds and has competed in three Olympics, may choose to sit out a World Cup at age 34 and an Olympics at 35. He was not part of the 2016 gold medal team in Rio. LeBron certainly has done his service on the Team USA front, and the USA does not need him to win gold in those tournaments.
All eyes in Las Vegas will be on the dynamic between Popovich and Kawhi Leonard, who is expected to be at the workout. Most likely the dealings between them will be civil if a little cold, but it’s worth watching.
This is what should happen with the NBA’s elite players. When the Warriors were thinking about adding DeMarcus Cousins to the roster this summer, they reached out to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant for their opinion, then pulled the trigger after listening to feedback. It’s going to be that way with James Harden in Houston or Anthony Davis in New Orleans or…
LeBron James with the Lakers.
Magic Johnson confirmed as much, speaking to the media, as reported by Bill Oram of the Athletic.
This gets blown up by some fans into “LeBron is the GM” but he’s never wanted to be the final decision maker. Teams defer to his wishes at times, but that happened with Magic (just as Norm Nixon) and virtually every other superstar in the modern NBA. It’s part of the game.
The art is knowing where the boundaries are and when to overrule. Pat Riley did that well (for the most part) when LeBron was in Miami. In Cleveland, there were more misses than hits, although David Griffin (and to a degree Koby Altman) did well within the limitations.
Consulting LeBron is a must. It’s expected. Will Magic and Rob Pelinka be able to tell him “no” at the appropriate times? That remains to be seen. So far they have not impressed with the veterans brought in to go with LeBron (if you want to see executives from other teams laugh/roll their eyes, just bring up the Lance Stephenson/JaVale McGee signings).
Magic won the summer by getting LeBron, but that’s not even half the battle.
DeMarcus Cousins says he received no real free agency offers this summer once the league year rolled over. Instead, according to Cousins, the former New Orleans Pelicans big man decided to reach out directly to the Golden State Warriors to inquire about a short-term deal.
You can take that at face value if you want, but you probably shouldn’t.
Meanwhile, it appears that the Pelicans did try to entice Cousins to stay during the course of the season. In fact, according to the report from The New York Times’ Marc Stein, New Orleans offered Cousins a two-year contract around $40 million after his injury but before the season ended.
There could be several things at play here. First, it could be that Cousins is simply betting on himself next season. He will likely be out rehabbing for the Golden State Warriors for some time, but if he comes back strong from his Achilles injury he is a top salary type of player.
It could also be that there’s some other machinations behind the scenes that we are missing here, including whether Cousins wanted to stay with the Pelicans and play with Anthony Davis long-term.
There hasn’t been any star big men in the NBA that have come back from a torn Achilles injury and played at their former level. Cousins passing up two years at $20 million a piece is a huge gamble on his part.
There won’t be any pressure on Cousins to perform as a member of Golden State, but whether a team feels like paying him a max salary type of contract in 2019 is another thing altogether.
The Lakers like Julius Randle, but what they want more in building a team around LeBron James is flexibility — Los Angeles only wanted to sign him to a one-year contract. After his breakout year — 16 points and eight rebounds a game, using his strength to bully people inside — Randle rightfully wanted more.
The Lakers renounced their rights to Randle earlier on Monday (clearing the way for L.A. to sign Rajon Rondo).
The New Orleans Pelicans jumped in and grabbed Randle, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
That sum is the mid-level exception, which the Pelicans have to offer.
Anthony Davis and Randle with Nikola Mirotic makes a fierce frontcourt rotation that will fit beautifully in the modern NBA. This is a great pickup at that price for the Pelicans.
What does it mean for the future of DeMarcus Cousins? That is more wide open.
James Harden has been chasing this moment.
Harden was second in the MVP voting last season to Russell Westbrook, and in 2015 he was second to Stephen Curry. It bothered him. Harden wanted the recognition he felt he deserved.
This time around, he was second to nobody.
The Beard was named the 2018 NBA MVP.
This was expected, and well earned. Harden averaged an NBA-best 30.4 points per game (he was only the fourth player ever to average 30+ points on a 65-win team), still averaged 8.8 assists per game, and led the best offense in the NBA last season. Usually, the knock on Harden was his defense, but in the switching scheme the Rockets employed all season he held his own.
Plus, Harden was consistently impressive all season long, pushing the Rockets to the best record in the NBA.
Harden is only the second player in NBA history to win the MVP and Sixth Man of the Year awards in their career (Bill Walton was the other).
Harden had 86 first place votes out of the 101 cast by select media members. He beat out LeBron James who was a little ways back in second (15 first place votes), followed in order by Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.