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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.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams

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NBA teams scored more points per possession this season than ever.

But a few players stood out for slowing the offensive onslaught.

The All-Defensive teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, voting points in parentheses):

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart, BOS (63-19-145)

Guard: Eric Bledsoe, MIL (36-28-100)

Forward: Paul George, OKC (96-3-195)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (94-5-193)

Center: Rudy Gobert, UTA (97-2-196)

Second team

Guard: Jrue Holiday, MIN (31-28-90)

Guard: Klay Thompson, GSW (23-36-82)

Forward: Draymond Green, GSW (2-57-61)

Forward: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (5-29-39)

Center: Joel Embiid, PHI (4-72-80)

Also receiving votes: Danny Green, TOR (19-28-66); Patrick Beverley, LAC (14-20-48); Myles Turner, IND (1-37-39); P.J. Tucker, HOU (1-36-38); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-24-24); Derrick White, SAS (4-7-15); Russell Westbrook, OKC (2-5-9); Jimmy Butler, PHI (2-5-9); Chris Paul, HOU (1-5-7); Robert Covington, MIN (1-3-5); Paul Millsap, DEN (0-5-5); James Harden, HOU (2-0-4); Al Horford, BOS (0-4-4); Kevin Durant, GSW (0-4-4); Malcolm Brogdon, MIL (1-1-3); Josh Richardson, MIA (0-3-3); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-3-3)
Stephen Curry, GSW (1-0-2); Thaddeus Young, IND (0-2-2); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-2-2); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-2-2); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-2-2); Derrick Favors, UTA (0-2-2); Joe Ingles, UTA (0-2-2); Jaylen Brown, BOS (0-1-1); Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-1-1); Ed Davis, BRK (0-1-1); Gary Harris, DEN (0-1-1); Nikola Jokic, DEN (0-1-1); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-1); Andre Iguodala, GSW (0-1-1); Jordan Bell, GSW (0-1-1); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC (0-1-1); Mike Conley, MEM (0-1-1); Kyle Anderson, MEM (0-1-1); Bam Adebayo, MIA (0-1-1); Khris Middleton, MIL (0-1-1); Brook Lopez, MIL (0-1-1); Terrance Ferguson, OKC (0-1-1); Damian Lillard, POR (0-1-1); De’Aaron Fox, SAC (0-1-1); Ricky Rubio, UTA (0-1-1); Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-1)

Observations:

  • This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
  • I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
  • P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
  • Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
  • It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
  • James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
  • But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
  • Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.

Report: Tim Connelly rejects Wizards, staying with Nuggets

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Nuggets president Tim Connelly could have led the Wizards’ front office, worked close to his native Baltimore and presumably gotten a raise from his reported $2 million salary.

Instead, he’ll stay in Denver.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a huge win for Denver and even bigger setback for Washington.

Connelly has put the Nuggets into a great position. They’re young and good in a combination rarely seen in NBA history. Connelly drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round then built around him a short time later. This season, Denver won 54 games and reached Game 7 of the second round with 24-year-old Jokic flanked by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

More decisions always lie ahead – notably Millsap’s $30 million team option for next season. But the Nuggets’ core is already in place and mostly under team control.

The Wizards need far more work. John Wall‘s contract is arguably the NBA’s worst. Ian Mahinmi and Dwight Howard are also roadblocks. Several key players will be free agents this summer. If he makes an All-NBA team this season, Bradley Beal be eligible for a super-max extension – a tricky decision for the club.

It would have been great for Washington to entrust Connelly with all that. He has proven excellent at his job.

Troy Weaver, Danny Ferry or Tommy Sheppard might do well for the Wizards. But they’re candidates who offer far less certainty.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets think big in wake of stinging Game 7 loss

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DENVER (AP) — Things Nikola Jokic needs to improve on in the offseason: “Is there anything?” the Denver Nuggets big man joked.

Hard to find many glitches in his game right now.

By all measures, Jokic and the youthful Nuggets are ahead of schedule despite the sting of a Game 7 loss at home to Portland in the Western Conference semifinals. No one predicted the Nuggets being the two seed in the West this season. After all, they hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 2013.

And few projected the meteoric rise of Jokic, the 24-year-old with the awkward gait who sees the game with a point guard’s vision. The 7-footer averaged 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists in his first foray into the postseason.

“You’re supposed to be sad,” Jokic said of the season coming to a close. “But at the end of the day we had a good season.”

Soon, Jokic will head home to Serbia as he turns his focus from hoops to his horses. It’s his way of escaping from a Game 7 in which the Nuggets surrendered a 17-point lead to the Trail Blazers. This after knocking off San Antonio in seven games during the first round.

“Winning is really fun. We won one series against San Antonio that was really tough and fun,” said Jokic, who posted four triple-doubles during the playoffs. “We had a really good series against Portland. It was fun. But we didn’t win.”

One of the bigger decisions looming for Denver is what to do with Paul Millsap, who at 34 is the old-timer on a youthful Nuggets team. His future in the Mile High City could be uncertain given that he’s due $30 million should the team pick up his option. Asked if the Nuggets might be his best chance at winning an NBA title, the veteran power forward turned into a comedian.

“I could go to the Golden State Warriors,” he cracked Monday as the Nuggets cleaned out their lockers.

There’s always that. Only, Millsap envisions grand things for a Nuggets team that opened many eyes.

“That’s what makes this year so special – this team was doubted throughout the whole year. We couldn’t do this. We couldn’t do that. We’re not good enough. We’re too young. Blah. Blah. Blah,” Millsap said. “We’ve proved everybody wrong.”

The Nuggets boast a talented tandem in point guard Jamal Murray and Jokic. They also have a deep bench that was solid all season, before struggling at times throughout the playoffs.

Denver could be an attractive destination for some free agent. More specifically, a perimeter shooter. Denver was 2 of 19 from 3-point range in the finale against Portland.

“Not one team is perfect, but I think we have a great group of guys,” Jokic said. “I don’t know what we need more, because we were winning games. We were beating everybody. So I don’t know what else we can add. I really like the group of guys.”