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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.

Is this the final series for the Warriors as we know them?

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The Golden State Warriors are trying to complete a three-peat. The NBA championship is there for the taking, if they can only get rid of those pesky Toronto Raptors. But the result of the Finals is not the only thing up in the air come June. With Kevin Durant‘s decision looming, and several players needing to be paid, the question is whether these Warriors will open next season intact.

Who Golden State will be next season — and if this iteration of the team will come to an end — requires us to start with a begining question: who are “The Warriors” to you?

Time has the effect of smoothing out the bumps and ridges, the detail that make up the storylines of every NBA season. Ask a Warriors fan and ask a Lakers fan this same question, the question of The Warriors, and you will get two different answers. But there is a core that isn’t debatable: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green.

The characters surrounding this core have changed over the year, and so too has the dynamic of Golden State stars and their importance to the squad. In 2014-15, Golden State won its first NBA title in this era. Everyone remembers the onslaught of Curry and Thompson from the 3-point line, the beginning of a revolution in the NBA. But what some folks forget is the impact that other players had. Marreese Speights, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston, Harrison Barnes… all these players were once also considered core supporting members of what made this team great.

To that end, storylines for that supporting cast have changed as time has gone on. For instance, Speights played a significant amount of minutes for the Warriors in ‘14-’15 but posted a negative VORP for the season. Livingston, seemingly back from the dead after early knee issues in his career, had not yet found his stride with the Golden State. That wouldn’t come until the next year.

But time has a funny way of finding a narrative and running with it. For some it’s been “Speights was a great floor spreader” and “Livingston was instantly dominant for GSW” even though those things aren’t really wholly true. Time allows us less nuance.

Players have gone from important to overlooked during a Golden State’s run over the past half-decade. This season is no different than that first Finals appearance, and the Warriors have done what teams in the “Big 3” era do. That is, surround their stars with low-level players who can be a part of the system, do their job, and not commit crucial mistakes. Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell… the names change, but the roles remain the same.

The point is, supporting cast comes and goes in Golden State like it does for just about any championship squad. But now the Warriors are faced with real questions. Questions about whether they should re-sign their stars (Green); about whether they can re-sign their stars (Durant); and about how much they should re-sign their stars for (Thompson).

These are not easily answered for GM Bob Myers, either. Thompson seems like a no-brainer, even at a max deal that will put a serious crunch on the Warriors’ cap in a couple years time. But Green, who is 29 and will probably want a huge payday, is a riddle harder to answer. Will he decline in ability? Is Regular Season Draymond who you get on the next contract, or are you getting Playoff Draymond? Can he survive in five years without being able to shoot?

Then, hardest of all, is that of Durant. Never mind the fact that Golden State will have to weigh whether they want to spend the next half-decade assuaging Durant’s delicate feelings — Durant might not want to stay with the Warriors if he wins another championship. To change might not be up to Golden State to decide.

But in trying to answer these questions, it ultimately comes back to the most important factor of all: Curry. The superstar point guard is under contract for three more seasons after this one ends, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, with Durant out with a calf injury during this postseason, Curry has shown that he still is who he was before KD flew in from OKC.

For that reason, there’s hope we will see “Golden State” — this Golden State, the Golden State we think of right now — in 2019-20 and beyond if major changes come to this roster.

The Warriors might not be inevitable in the coming seasons. If Durant leaves, the seismic shift that tilted the NBA off its foundation in 2016 might finally be repaired. Parity, however slowly, will come to the Western Conference. We’ve already seen what the vacuum left by LeBron James has done to the Eastern Conference. But just as Golden State adapted to Durant’s arrival, they will respond in kind if he happens to depart. The same will be said if Green takes a big payday elsewhere next year.

Because really, the Warriors have always adapted. They made up for Barnes when the Dallas Mavericks signed him in 2016, mostly with Durant but also with the minutes from Matt Barnes, Ian Clark, and better output from Livingston. They replaced Bogut with Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, and David West. Then Looney was added, and Omri Casspi, and Cook. The list goes on.

The Warriors are about Curry and Thompson, and how the offense Steve Kerr has built for them operates. On the other side, Golden State is about how those same players are able to thrive thanks to Ron Adams’ defense, Green’s excellent play notwithstanding. Losing Durant would be big. Losing Green is inevitable, either to age or to free agent poachers. But Curry is the engine that makes this Warriors team go. Would losing both of them in the same offseason mean this team has a fundamentally different identity? I don’t think so.

It’s evident when you watch the team play, and it’s certainly exemplified in Golden State’s advanced statistics — Curry is the favorite son in the Bay, and as long as he is in blue and gold, the Warriors will stay The Warriors.

Ranking the biggest NBA draft lotteries of all-time

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The 2019 NBA draft lottery appears particularly important.

Where does it rank all-time?

Here are the five biggest lotteries, based on what we knew entering the drawing:

1. 1997 (Tim Duncan)

Duncan looked like a ready-made superstar coming out of Wake Forest, where he played for four years. That gave NBA teams plenty of time to salivate over him.

The Celtics tanked their way to a 15-67 record and traded Eric Montross to the Mavericks for another lottery pick. Boston had a 36% chance of getting the No. 1 pick and treated it as a likelihood.

Instead, the Spurs got the top pick and built a dynasty around Duncan. Boston settled for and made little use of the No. 3 pick (Chauncey Billups) and No. 6 pick (Ron Mercer).

2. 1985 (Patrick Ewing)

The NBA’s first lottery came just in time. Ewing looked like a generational prospect at Georgetown. Teams would have tanked hard for him.

At first, every lottery team had an equal chance at each pick in the lottery. So, this was an important experiment for determining how, and how not, to structure the drawing.

The Knicks won the lottery that sparked a thousand conspiracies, and Ewing manned the pivot in New York for a decade and a half. Every team saw the importance of getting a high pick – and just how fickle attempting to land one could be.

Ewing was the clear prize, but the next few picks – Wayman Tisdale, Benoit Benjamin, Xavier McDaniel, Jon Koncak – retroactively made clear the importance of getting No. 1 this year.

3. 2012 (Anthony Davis)

Davis was a special prospect, but at this point, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also impressive. At least everyone was right about Davis, whom New Orleans got. (Kidd-Gilchrist went No. 2 to Charlotte).

In addition to the big name at the top, a couple protected picks had lasting ramifications.

The Warriors, with the No. 7 lottery seed and a top-seven-protected pick, stayed at No. 7. They used that pick on Harrison Barnes, who became a starter on their 2015 title team and 73-win team the following year.

On the other hand, the Nets stayed at No. 6 and conveyed their top-three-protected pick to the Trail Blazers. Portland took Damian Lillard and have since built a conference finalist around him. Brooklyn soon entered a dark period it’s now just escaping.

2003 (LeBron James)

LeBron was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school… as a junior. The hype was palpable, especially with his hometown team – the Cleveland Cavaliers – having the best odds of getting the No. 1 pick.

But by the time of the lottery, Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony had emerged as great consolation prizes. Chris Bosh was working his way into an impressive fourth prospect. The draft appeared to remain deep throughout the lottery with a strong group that’d later be headlined by Dwyane Wade. So, as coveted as LeBron was, it was also important just to have a pick in this lottery.

That’s why two protected selections loomed so large.

The Grizzlies kept their own pick only on the 6% chance they got No. 1. So, it was LeBron or bust. Memphis busted, though its conveyed pick – No. 2 to the Pistons, who took Darko – was also the rare bust in this draft.

The Hawks, the No. 8 seed in the lottery, owed the Bucks a top-three-protected first-rounder. Atlanta stayed at No. 8 and gave Milwaukee the pick used on T.J. Ford.

5. 2019 (Zion Williamson)

See here.

Honorable mention:

2007 (Greg Oden and Kevin Durant): With two projected superstars in the draft, it didn’t feel as essential to get the No. 1 pick over the No. 2 pick – slightly lowering the perceived importance of this lottery. Oops.

2009 (Blake Griffin): Griffin stood alone as the top prospect, but Ricky Rubio was a highly rated second prospect – who surprisingly fell to No. 5.

1987 (David Robinson): As great as Robinson was, there was too much uncertainty about when he’d jump to the NBA from Navy, including whether he’d actually join the team that drafted him in 1987.

1992 (Shaquille O’Neal): Shaq looked awesome and became the (correct) No. 1 pick, but eventual Nos. 2 and 3 picks Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner softened the blow of not landing the top pick, at least in the theory of the time.

Luke Walton reportedly reaches deal to become Sacramento head coach

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Luke Walton was not out of a job for long.

Officially fired After coming to a “mutual agreement” to leave the Lakers on Friday (it was more of the crossed out part than the official line) Walton met on Saturday with Kings’ GM Vlade Divac and quickly came to terms to take over as the Kings’ head coach.

As noted by Cunningham, Divac had interest three years ago but Walton wanted to return to the Lakers organization. Three years later, rumors of Sacramento’s interest in Walton were floating around NBA circles several weeks ago, before Divac fired coach Dave Joerger (as part of Divac consolidating power) or before Walton was out with the Lakers. This time things were lined up for this to come together quickly.

In basketball terms, this seems a good fit. Walton worked well with the young Lakers a season ago, and he wants to play an uptempo, ball-sharing style that would fit well with De'Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, and the rest of the young Kings roster. Walton got the Lakers to play defense, the end of the court the Kings need to work on the most.

The question is can Divac and Walton form a bond and a stable environment for an organization that has been the poster child for disruption and dysfunction for years. The Kings have missed the playoffs for 13 seasons for a reason.

For the first time in a decade, the Kings seem headed in the right direction and Walton can fit with that. If owner Vivek Ranadive and his team can just stay out of the way and Vlade Divac has learned from past mistakes, this team is well positioned for the future.

Kings sign GM Vlade Divac to four-year deal

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Update: Kings release:

Today, the Sacramento Kings announced that the team has extended the contract of General Manager Vlade Divac through the 2022-23 season.

“It is an exciting time to be in Sacramento and I am honored to continue my work of building towards sustained success for this franchise,” said Kings General Manager Vlade Divac. “I believe our team has what it takes to win and make the playoffs. I want to thank Vivek, the entire Kings organization and the fans for all their support.”

“Vlade has been vital to what we are building here and I am so pleased to announce his extension,” said Kings Owner and Chairman Vivek Ranadivé. “Throughout his entire career, Vlade is someone who has always made those around him better, both on and off the court. I look forward to our bright future ahead as we work to make Sacramento Proud.”

 

The Kings were the NBA’s most pleasant surprise. Widely expected to be among the league’s worst teams, Sacramento went 39-43 – its best season in years. The Kings played fast and fun. De'Aaron Fox improved like crazy. Buddy Hield broke out. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley III bolstered a young supporting cast.

Rightfully, the person in charge of the roster will get rewarded.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

According to two​ sources with​ knowledge of​ the​ situation,​​ Kings general manager Vlade Divac has agreed to terms on a four-year deal that runs through the 2022-23 season.

According to the sources, the fate of the Kings’ third-year coach rests solely in Divac’s hands. As part of Divac’s agreement, owner Vivek Ranadive made it clear that the team’s top basketball executive will make the final call on the coach who has one season and approximately $5 million remaining on his current contract.

Divac got off to a rough start as an executive. He has seemingly grown into his role and has absolutely put the Kings on the right track. They’re wise to lock him up.

But dysfunction clearly remains within the organization. There’s no other way to explain Dave Joerger, who deserves serious Coach of the Year consideration, not being certain to return. Joerger is caught in a larger divide, though it’s not as if he lacks his own internal squabbles.

Plenty of challenges remain for Divac. The Kings must continue to build without this year’s first-round pick, which he traded in an awful deal earlier in his tenure. Sacramento must handle Harrison Barnes, an in-season addition who didn’t lead to the desired immediate success and holds a $25,102,512 player option for next season. And the Kings must determine who’ll coach them.

But Sacramento finally has a promising collection of young talent. Divac has given himself a strong foundation to build on as he confronts other challenges.