Kyle Kuzma

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Kyle Kuzma’s ankle injury will keep him out of World Cup, Team USA roster now set

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Kyle Kuzma, whose game had matured in recent weeks he soaked up the wisdom of Gregg Popovich and his other USA Basketball teammates, was on the bubble but seemed likely to make Team USA.

“Playing with a team of stars is super fun, you want to play the right way, you want to make that extra pass, you want to play defense at a certain level, up to the USA standard,” Kuzma said last week when the team was training in Los Angeles on his Lakers’ regular practice court.

That is, Kuzma was on his way until he tweaked his ankle. Kuzma was sidelined for the USA loss to Australia on Saturday, and later in the day USA basketball announced that the injury will force Kuzma to miss the World Cup, leading to him withdrawing from Team USA.

That locked the roster in at 15 for the World Cup. It is:

Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)
Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets)
Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics)
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)
Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs)

This roster has one former Olympian on it — Barnes — and just two players who were All-Stars last year, Walker and Middleton.

The Americans have one more exhibition game, against Canada, then will fly to China to open up their World Cup play against the Czech Republic on Sept. 1. The USA will also face Turkey (Sept. 3) and Japan (Sept. 5) in group play. While those three games in China count, none of those are elite international teams that should be a threat to the USA (like Australia, Spain, Serbia and maybe a couple of others), giving Gregg Popovich and staff more time to build roster chemistry and improve the USA’s defense, two areas that Australia exploited in their upset win.

After the first round of group play, the top two teams from each group move on to a second round of group play with four teams per group. The top two teams from those groups move on to an eight-team knockout tournament to determine the winner.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder tells Donovan Mitchell to ‘be a sponge’ around Gregg Popovich

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While other players continue to pull out of the USA Basketball roster — De'Aaron Fox was the latest, and P.J. Tucker before him — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken in his commitment to the team.

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that…” Mitchell said Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game win over Spain. “For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

A lot of players have left — or just not put their names in the hat in the first place — saying they wanted to focus on preparing for the regular season, especially players in the Western Conference, which is deep with outstanding teams. The Utah Jazz, now with Mike Conley at the point, are one of those teams with high expectations.

Mitchell, however, has the full backing of his coach Quin Snyder to stay with Team USA and learn from Gregg Popovich, as Snyder told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

“Both Donovan and I have been excited for this opportunity, not just the chance to compete for his country but to play for Pop. I think he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s playing for the greatest coach that’s ever coached…

“Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Popovich has had an impact on the young players on the roster. For example, there’s more maturity to Kyle Kuzma‘s game, and Popovich recognized him on the court Friday night when Kuzma made a couple of smart plays against Spain.

Just having different coaching voices — not just Popovich but his assistants Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, and Villanova’s Jay Wright — can help a young player. The message may be consistent, but said in a different way, one that better gets through to the player. Styles matter.

Mitchell led Team USA in scoring against Spain with 13, but Snyder and Jazz fans are hoping for more. Not just gold at the World Cup in China starting Sept. 1, but that Mitchell comes back energized and with a broadened game after having been a sponge next to Popovich.

Now what for Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins injury?

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“He was going to be a big part of what we’re going to do.”

Laker forward Kyle Kuzma summed it up well when asked about DeMarcus Cousins tearing his ACL during an off-season workout in Las Vegas this week. The Lakers were counting on a bounce-back season from Cousins — for him to play more like the guy from Game 2 of the NBA Finals against Toronto when he was vital to a Warriors win — because it would take some of the burden off of just-acquired Anthony Davis.

Make no mistake, Davis is the best center the Lakers have — he is arguably the best center in the game  (two seasons ago he was the First Team All-NBA center). However, Davis is not built like Joel Embiid and does not want to bang in the post for 30 minutes a night, he wants to play more at the four, face-up, run and space the floor, and play next to a traditional center (then slide to the five in certain situations/lineups, not unlike how the Warriors use Draymond Green at the five).

Cousins was to be that traditional center, and he already had chemistry with Davis from the time they played together in New Orleans.

Now, considering all his body has been through, it’s almost certain Cousins will miss the entire upcoming NBA season.

“I’m devastated for DeMarcus…” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Injuries are a part of the game, but you are talking about a player who has now dealt with the two most feared injuries for NBA players — the Achilles and ACL — each knocking you out for an entire season… It’s unheard of.”

For Cousins, it means another year of hard-work rehab. It’s a grind that will understandably wear on him.

For the Lakers… the options are not pretty.

There is nobody readily available who can provide near the level of production they hoped to get from Cousins.

The Lakers are not going to make Davis play the five more — he does not want to, and while it’s a longshot he leaves as a free agent next summer he still has that leverage and the Lakers want and need to keep him happy.

So who are the Lakers best options? Right now they have JaVale McGee as a traditional center and that’s it. Remember, they also only have a minimum contract to offer.

The name that bounced around as speculation at the Lakers practice facility (where Team USA practiced this week) was Joakim Noah. The veteran played solidly last season in Memphis after New York wanted him out, and with the Grizzlies he played respectable defense while scoring 7.1 points a game on 51.6 percent shooting. Noah also is a good passer and smart player. He would fit with their veteran mindset, if LeBron James signed off on bringing Noah in.

Nene also is available as a free agent, but at age 37 he showed considerable decline the past couple of seasons in Houston. Marcin Gortat is another option here, he showed a decline at age 35 last season, but at this point the Lakers can’t be too picky. If the Lakers want a good pick-and-roll big, Salah Mejri has been that for Dallas in recent years.

The best available free agent is the Manimal, Kenneth Faried. He is 29 years old, always plays hard, and averaged 12.9 points per game on 58.7 percent shooting in 25 games for the Rockets last season after joining them mid-January. He picked up the slack until Clint Capela returned from injury, but once that happened Faried fell out of the rotation. The main reason for that, and for his limited playoff role, is that Faried is not much of a defender anymore. But he can get buckets.

Another name — one that sends shivers down the spines of Lakers fans — is Dwight Howard. He was traded to Memphis this summer for C.J. Miles and is expected to be bought out. If/when that happens, he has played solidly in recent years. When healthy. And that’s the bigger concern, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season. On a team where both LeBron and Davis are going to get a lot of nights off, the Lakers need role players they can count on to absorb minutes, and Howard is just not that guy.

The Lakers could look to the trade market — guys such as Nerlens Noel could eventually become available, Detroit may listen to offers for Christian Wood — however, Los Angeles does not have a lot to give up in a deal.

Bottom line, the options for the Lakers are not good. While the loss of Cousins does not take them out of contender status, it makes reaching their potential that much harder. The margin for error has shrunk again.

They will need to add someone at center, but at this point it’s a case of holding their nose and taking whatever they see as the best fit.

NBA players react to DeMarcus Cousins injury news

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Lakers’ center DeMarcus Cousins has put in the work in rehab — from a torn Achilles then a torn quad — pushing to get back to his peak form, to get back to the top of the game. And to get that big contract offer again.

Which is why the news he has torn his ACL felt like a punch to the gut on Thursday. Both to Lakers and just basketball fans in general.

“He was going to be a big part of what we’re going to do…” Lakers teammate Kyle Kuzma said after USA Basketball practice Thursday. “It’s no joke when you get injured, this is our livelihood, something we love to do. It’s super unfortunate for a guy like DeMarcus who loves basketball, who through all his injuries fought back to get through.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who had Cousins on his team last year, said he was “devastated” when he heard the news.

“Injuries are a part of the game but you are talking about a player who has now dealt with the two most feared injuries for NBA players — the Achilles and ACL — each knocking you out for an entire season…” Kerr said. “It’s unheard of.”

Stunned NBA players went on social media to express their combination of sadness and support for Boogie.

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.