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Team USA scrimmage shows team chemistry is work in progress

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LOS ANGELES — It led to some raised eyebrows in the Lakers’ practice facility, where Team USA continues its training camp for FIBA World Cup that starts in China in two weeks.

Then it led to some overreaction on NBA Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does.

The USA Select squad — made up of G-League players and NBA fringe players — beat members of Team USA 36-17 in a 10-minute scrimmage Wednesday, about half of it in front of reporters. It was the second time that practice the select team knocked off a team of some of the USA main squad guys.

While the outcome is a mild surprise, remember this is a practice scrimmage, to read much into it would be a massive mistake. Second units beat the starters in scrimmages all the time, and this was not the USA’s top lineups being put together.

That said, two things were clear watching the scrimmage:

One team had players who had built chemistry and trust through a series of hard-fought tournaments.

While the other team looked just thrown together.

“[Team USA’s chemistry] is coming along,” the Bucks’ Khris Middleton said. “We’re basically strangers in some ways, but [coach Gregg Popovich] and the guys around here have made a huge emphasis to get to know each other, to create a bond…

“We need that chemistry, that bond, that love for one another.”

“Your off the court relationship transfers onto the court, I’ve always been big on that,” Kemba Walker said.

The USA Select team players have already formed that bond. These are guys who had put on the USA jersey and played for Jeff Van Gundy and their country through the FIBA World Cup qualifying process (which overlapped with the NBA season, so players with an NBA contract could not take part). That experience showed. During the scrimmage select players moved on a string on defense, collapsing to take away drives and covering kick-out passing lanes, they knew where guys liked to spot up on the break, and just looked comfortable with one another and the system.

The teams the USA will face in China during the World Cup already have that bond, too. Teams like the Czech Republic (the USA’s opening game on Sept. 1), or Australia, or Spain (which the USA faces Friday night in an exhibition) have played together since their youth. They know each other’s tendencies and styles, and they play as a unit.

The regular USA team players are still trying to figure all that out, which leads to rough patches.

“You don’t want everything to be seamless right now,” Brooklyn’s Joe Harris said. “These are the moments right now in practice where you want it to be difficult, take your licks a little bit, and figure it out. It’s making us come together.”

A few areas specifically appear to need work. One area of focus is finding the balance between passing and when to attack. Popovich has pushed for more ball movement from Team USA, but that has limits.

“They’re doing really well [playing his style], they’re probably overdoing it, actually,” Popovich said. “They’re a good group, they try to please, they want to play the right way, it’s a teachable group.”

Another area of adjustment is the physicality allowed in the paint. A couple of times in the scrimmage Walker or Utah’s Donovan Mitchell would drive the lane, the Select Team defense would collapse and be physical protecting the rim, Walker or Mitchell would end up on the ground, and there would be no foul call. That’s FIBA basketball.

“That’s going to be a little different for all of us,” Middleton said of the level of physicality allowed. “The NBA, FIBA are two different styles of play, the referees let it get a lot more physical, but we got to adjust to it, and adjust to it fast. We can’t just complain about calls, we’re not going to get them.”

“We have to adjust, we just have to. If we want to win, we have to adjust to this game,” Walker said.

USA Basketball — with many elite NBA players choosing to take the summer off — cannot just overwhelm the best teams in the world with talent, not this summer. Serbia is a legit challenger for the title. Spain can be, too. There are others as well. The Americans need chemistry to compete, and through a couple of weeks in Las Vegas and now Los Angeles, they believe it is coming along.

“We’ve got the group text going already,” Middleton said. “Practices, we’re constantly talking to each other. The bus rides, the breakfast meetings when there’s no phones, just getting to know each other to see what they’re all about, see how they are, just get to know them.”

“I do [think the chemistry is improving], we just have a bunch of high character guys, hungry guys who want to be here, guys who want to win,” Walker said. “So it’s been easy for us to get along.”

A good test of how that camaraderie is transferring to the court will come Friday night when Team USA takes on a Spanish squad, led by Marc Gasol, that has a masters in team chemistry.

Before that, don’t read too much into a practice scrimmage.

Marvin Bagley withdraws from consideration for U.S. World Cup team

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Sacramento forward Marvin Bagley III has told USA Basketball that he is withdrawing from consideration for the roster that will be sent to China this month for the FIBA World Cup.

Bagley’s decision was revealed Sunday, two days before he was to report to El Segundo, California, for the second week of training camp. Bagley was not immediately replaced, and unless that changes the U.S. will have 16 players still in the mix for 12 final roster spots.

The New York Times first reported Bagley’s decision to withdraw.

Bagley was on the select team – younger NBA players brought in to compete against national-team candidates – last week in Las Vegas, and earned a promotion to the national team Friday night following USA Basketball’s intrasquad scrimmage.

Sacramento still has two players left as World Cup roster candidates, with Harrison Barnes and De'Aaron Fox headed to camp this week. Boston has four – Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton remain candidates, along with Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Denver’s Mason Pluelee, Houston’s P.J. Tucker, Indiana’s Myles Turner and San Antonio’s Derrick White.

Lowry (thumb surgery) and Smart (calf strain) are both dealing with injuries, with clarity on their situations expected to come early this week. The Americans will practice at the Lakers’ facility Tuesday through Thursday, then face Spain in Anaheim, California on Friday night.

Mason Plumlee added to Team USA player pool (Montrezl Harrell, too, but he’s already out)

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The story of Team USA’s 2019 FIBA World Cup roster in a nutshell: USA Basketball announced Montrezl Harrell and Mason Plumlee were added to the player pool. Less than an hour later, Harrell put out word he probably wouldn’t play.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Many stars swiftly turned down Team USA for this year’s FIBA World Cup. More accepted an invitation to try out then withdrew. Now even Harrell is out.

Who’s in?

Here are the players slated to attend training camp, with rough positional designations:

Point guards

Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)

Combo guards

Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)

Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics)

Wings

Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)

Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)

Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)

Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)

Big forwards

P.J. Tucker (Houston Rockets)

Thaddeus Young (Chicago Bulls)

Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers)

Centers

Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)

Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)

Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)

Julius Randle (New York Knicks)

Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets)

Plumlee is an odd addition (except considering his connections). That’s so many centers – especially because USA Basketball also invited Harrell, another center. It seems original selections Lopez, Drummond and Turner could hold down the position.

The Americans could use more backcourt depth. J.J. Redick, who just signed with the Pelicans, might provide it.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

As an excellent outside shooter, Redick could fill a valuable role.

USA Basketball also announced the select team, a group of young players that practices against the senior squad:

At this rate, maybe a select-team player or two will make the final World Cup roster.

Concerns about Knicks organization reportedly at heart of why free agents stayed away

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It’s not about the last 20 years, most NBA players don’t account for “ancient” history when choosing a free agent destination. It’s about the previous five years or so.

If you’re thinking about the last five years, what do you know of the Clippers? Went to the playoffs every year, have player-friendly and loved Doc Rivers as coach, was the fun show of Lob City, rebuilt well on the fly, have Jerry West in the front office and an owner worth about $50 billion in Steve Ballmer.

What do you know about the Nets in the last five years? Playing in Brooklyn now, and management there has built a player-friendly culture built on guys who play hard, and they have made smart rebuilding decision after smart rebuilding decision under Sean Marks. This is a playoff team already poised to take a step forward.

That’s now what players think of the Knicks, according to a story in the New York Times by David Waldstein.

Yet interviews with agents and other basketball executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing any future business with the Knicks, bear out the perception that players would rather not deal with an organization seen as dysfunctional, though there are more nuanced explanations for the radioactivity of the team, as well…

But there is also the remote location of the Knicks’ practice facility — in suburban Westchester County, nearly 30 miles from Manhattan, a long commute that complicates living arrangements — and most recently there has been the surprising success of the Nets…

Players around the league, according to the agents, have taken note of the Knicks’ instability: There have been 10 coaches since Van Gundy left in 2001 and almost as many top executives, some with impressive résumés, like Isiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh and Phil Jackson. Now [Steve] Mills and Scott Perry, the general manager, are at the helm.

James Dolan is painted as the villain, the Knicks need to overcome that perception.

Perry and Mills have done a good job this summer in this sense: After striking out with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they didn’t throw max contracts at second- and third-tier guys who would hamstring the organization going forward, as the Knicks have done in the past. They stuck with building around youth — R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson — while adding smart veteran contracts such as Julius Randle (a two-year deal). Keep improving, but keep the financial flexibility go after the next star.

Think about the struggling franchises that have made big moves. The Lakers did it by putting together enough good young players that they could make an interesting offer for Anthony Davis. The Nets had young players with talent such as D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris. The Clippers may or may not get Kawhi Leonard, but they also have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet, Montrezl Harrell plus veterans such as Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley who are respected around the NBA.

The Knicks need to spend a couple of seasons getting there, getting that core talent level up, then the rest of it can come together.

And then the stories about why players are staying away will stop.

Rumor: Nets very interested in trading for Anthony Davis

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The Nets are reportedly interested in Kyrie Irving.

They could even try to pair him with Anthony Davis.

Chris Broussard of Fox Sports 1:

Brooklyn is going as hard after Anthony Davis as anybody. A package of like D'Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, who’s a nice piece, shot-blocker, athletic at the rim, nice for this day and age in basketball. They’ve got the 17th and 27th pick. Now, Brooklyn, their dream is to pair AD with Kyrie. They really only want to try to get AD if they got Kyrie, because that will help them keep AD.

Davis will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and signing him to an extension before then is unrealistic. So, any team trading for the Pelicans star would be taking a major risk.

Obviously, that risk would be somewhat mitigated by the presence of Irving. Davis is more likely to stay with a co-star.

But the timing here is extremely difficult.

Russell will be a restricted free agent this summer. So, he’d have to agree to a sign-and-trade to New Orleans. Likewise, it sounds as if  Brooklyn’s offer for Davis is predicated on getting Irving first. That’s a lot of moving parts.

Plus, the draft is before free agency. So, if the Nets are sending 2019 picks to New Orleans, who makes those selections? Would Brooklyn pick on behalf of the Pelicans just in case the teams later trade? Would the Pelicans reject other trade offers before/during the draft in case this scenario comes to fruition?

This seems very difficult to pull off.

More likely is the reverse: The Nets try to trade for Davis in June and use him as a draw for Irving. But Russell couldn’t be part of that deal. Still, Brooklyn could built an intriguing package from Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and picks.

But if the Nets trade all those assets for Davis then don’t sign Irving or another star, how likely would Davis be to stay in 2020?

From every direction, this plan will be extremely difficult for Brooklyn to execute.