Khris Middleton

Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

Report: Bucks GM Jon Horst seeking contract extension, raise from league-low salary

Associated Press
1 Comment

Jon Horst was hired as the compromise candidate for Bucks GM after the two parts of the ownership group — Wes Edens on one side and Marc Lasry on the other — could not agree on another candidate. As the compromise guy and someone happy to get the job, Horst took a low salary for a GM, reportedly $500,000 a year.

Since on the job Horst has let Jason Kidd and hired Mike Budenholzer, filled out the roster with good role players that fit Coach Bud’s system such as Brook Lopez, and put together a roster that had the best record in the NBA this past season.

Now, Horst would like a contract extension and a raise, reports Gery Woelfel at Woelfels Press Box.

“There wasn’t much of negotiation in hiring Horst,’’ a source familiar with the GM search said. “It was pretty much a ‘Take it or leave it’ offer….”

Horst is seeking a raise via a contract extension with just one season left on his original three-year deal. The owners of the Bucks are open to working out a new deal.

“If you asked me what would be a fair deal for him (Horst), I’d say around $3 million (a year),’’ an NBA executive said. “That’s about the average salary for a GM and I think he’s regarded as an average GM.”

Not sure Horst is going to get that much, but even if they pay him $2 million that’s a massive — and deserved — raise.

We’ll see what comes of this, but the Bucks do not want to cheap out on the key personnel that helped build a contender. The goal is to show Giannis Antetokounmpo that this team is serious, is going to stay a contender, and is willing to pay to do so. That means going into the luxury tax to retain Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon.

To quote Teddy KGB in “Rounders,” pay the man his money.

Bucks owner on coming offseason: ‘Our goal is to keep everybody’

Getty Images
3 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he wanted the Bucks to run it back with this group, just as a leaked report suggested that if the Bucks don’t make the Finals next season, it could impact his decision whether to re-sign with Milwaukee in 2020.

Not shockingly, the team’s owner has stepped up and said he wants to bring everyone back, too.

Milwaukee co-owner Marc Lasry said this to Frank Isola of The Athletic.

“Our goal is to keep everybody,” Lasry told The Athletic, three days after the Bucks season ended in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. “And we’re going to do everything in our power to keep the nucleus of our team.”

Are Lasry and the ownership group willing to pay the luxury tax — and if so, how much — to reach that goal? That’s the real question. The Bucks have not paid the tax as a franchise since 2003.

Doing so may be the only way to keep Antetokounmpo long term.

“As long as we keep doing well and Giannis believes we’re doing everything we can to win I feel good about our chances,” Lasry said [about keeping him].

Four players part of the Milwaukee rotation — Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic – become free agents this summer. Keeping all of them seems unlikely, but our own Dan Feldman estimates the Bucks will be about $54 million below the tax line before re-signing those starters.

Middleton is going to get max offers from other teams, and while the Bucks would love to pay him a little less than that they have no choice but to pay that to keep him. The Bucks have full Bird rights on him and can offer whatever they want.

Brogdon is a restricted free agent, meaning Milwaukee can match any offer, and they are expected to.

Things are more challenging with Lopez, but the Bucks want to bring him back. Under the terms of the CBA, the Bucks can only offer $4.1 million to Lopez — and he will get offers well above that number from other teams — unless they tape into their exceptions (if the Bucks are under the tax that’s about $9 million, go over it and it’s about $6 million). Lopez was such a lynchpin for the Bucks on both ends of the floor they will need to do what they can to keep him.

That likely leaves Mirotic — who was on the bench against the Raptors for much of the series — as the odd man out.

The Bucks saw their weaknesses exposed by the Raptors, they know what they need to do to take the next steps. The question is will they pull it off.

Three things Warriors must do vs. Raptors in NBA Finals

6 Comments

It seems that many believe that the Golden State Warriors are on their way to a third-straight NBA championship. They need to dispatch Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals first, but Golden State is still the overwhelming favorite in the season-ending postseason series.

The Raptors have shown surprising resilience, most recently in the Eastern Conference Finals against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Leonard and his band of merry men beat the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, and it appeared that Nick Nurse created an excellent game plan to combat the league’s likely MVP.

With Leonard on another level, and with Toronto’s coaching staff ready to take on the biggest challenge in the NBA, it’s not a given that Golden State will win another NBA title. Now is the time for maximum effort, and no doubt Steve Kerr’s squad will give it.

That being said, here are three things the Warriors need to do in order to beat the Raptors and take home the Larry O’Brien.

Set solid screens

This seems sort of obvious, but looking at game tape and analyzing Stephen Curry‘s worst performances of the year, one of the best things that the Warriors can do is set solid screens. Curry has struggled from the 3-point line this season only when players are able to effectively fight over the top of the Warriors screens.

The Portland Trail Blazers did a poor job of this over the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, and many thought that Curry’s onslaught was a result of Enes Kanter sitting back laughably low in the paint, particularly in Game 1. Instead, it was really the fault of the Portland guards and wings — Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — who were hung up on great Golden State screens.

Curry doesn’t struggle from 3-point range often, but many of Golden State’s awkward losses over the regular season — Orlando, Utah, Phoenix — have come when he has shot poorly and in volume from the arc. There’s no surefire way to stop him, but Toronto’s best shot is putting pressure over the top and trying to force Curry into no man’s land around 12 feet. Golden State can’t let Toronto’s athleticism get to its shooters, and they’ll need to watch tape to see what Nurse’s staff did to slow down Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton.

Stop everyone outside of Kawhi

At this point it seems like Kawhi Leonard is inevitable. The Raptors forward is playing well, so much so that Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers compared him to Michael Jordan. Leonard has been the best player of these playoffs so far, and when the Bucks were successful against Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals, it was because Leonard wasn’t getting any help.

Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam are all susceptible to wild undulations in performance. Just a few short weeks ago people were complaining about having to watch Toronto, with an inferior roster, potentially drag down Leonard. Now that supporting cast is playing better, and those qualms have quieted. That doesn’t change the fact that Toronto is far less talented than Golden State, and its role players less reliable.

Finding a way to stop the Raptors’ new passing and 3-point attack will be crucial for Steve Kerr and defensive assistant Ron Adams. It helps that Danny Green is already in a slump, but it could be helpful to get role players uncomfortable and out of position so they can’t fire away from deep.

Leonard can’t beat the Warriors by himself, and it’s going to be easier to shut down the VanVleets and Gasols on their roster than The Klaw himself.

Let Draymond run

That brings us to our final point, and that’s the single-man fastbreak ability of Draymond Green. Against the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, Green was able to break the spirits of Portland by taking defensive rebounds deep into the opponent halfcourt all by himself.

The threat of Green’s speedy attack kept the Blazers from being able to crash the offensive glass effectively as a wing unit, and it also put Portland and a bit of foul trouble. Toronto is not the most disciplined team in the NBA, and Green could cause havoc for younger defenders in Siakam and OG Anunoby should the latter be able to return and play. That’s to say nothing of the effect Green’s running ability would have when the older Gasol or Serge Ibaka is on the floor.

Green is clearly in the best shape of any player on the Warriors roster at this moment, and he has used that to his advantage. When players have slowed down in the fourth quarter this postseason, that’s when he has shifted into his sixth and final gear. It’s unlikely that Kerr will officially program Green’s spurts into the offense, but it might be a tactic that he deploys either early in games to get Toronto off balance, or late in fourth quarters to break a tired Raptors finishing unit.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on Bucks summer: ‘Obviously, I want everybody back’

Getty images
1 Comment

The Milwaukee Bucks have some serious questions to answer this summer. Is Khris Middleton a max player? How much should the Bucks pay to bring Brook Lopez back?

If you ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, the answer seems to be whatever it takes.

Malika Andrews of ESPN asked just that and found a more reflective, less frustrated Greek Freak after his exit interview Monday.

“Obviously, I want everybody back. Great fricking team — unselfish players that play basketball the right way. They’re winners. We had a great atmosphere. We didn’t have no — I want to be polite. I want to say the A-word — we didn’t have no buttheads. Obviously, I want everybody back. I’m going to let my teammates know that.”

Chemistry matters to Antetokounmpo, he likes what the Bucks have in Milwaukee — with good reason, this team made a massive leap this season. One that likely wins him an MVP award.

Financial realities may make it difficult to get the band back together as  Bucks ownership has to decide how deep it wants to go into the luxury tax, and after the loss to the Raptors GM Jon Horst has to think about what changes may need to come for this team to take the next step.

Malcolm Brogdon is a restricted free agent and is not sure what his future hold.

Middleton is a free agent likely to land a few max offers.

Milwaukee is a force in the East. How much of force after the East shakes out this July remains to be seen, but the Bucks should be one of the teams to beat. If not, the Bucks have bigger concerns.