Monthly Archives: July 2010

NBA HD: Market Update II

Richard Jefferson signed a few days ago which mean’s it’s time for another market update on the free agency price.  To recap, I’m comparing every newly-signed player’s salary to their WARP2 from last season. It’s a quick and handy measure of how much teams are willing to pay for talent this summer.  Last year, the going rate for free agents was $1.49M for each win.  This year? It’s risen to $2.2M.

Here’s the full run down:

To reiterate from last week, the last row on this table subtracts players who likely signed for lower than the free market rate (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Dirk Nowitzki).  This takes a more accurate view of what teams pay free of cap spending restrictions.

$2.2 million per win is an increase since the last count because the newest additions have been sold at the rate of $3.3 million.  WARP2 didn’t think much of last year’s production of Ronnie Brewer, Joel Anthony, Richard Jefferson, and Marquis Daniels but teams were willing to pay more than the minimum and in some cases, much more than the minimum for these near replacement-level efforts.

Newly minted Matt Barnes looks like one of the best deals of the summer and should help bolster the Lakers’ chances of bringing home another championship.  It’s hard to imagine Ridnour posting another 5.3-win season but this objective method makes David Kahn look like a genius.

Next week, look for a team by team and position by position break down.  We’ll see if the summer’s $700,000 premium sticks.

Much thanks to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus.

If Not Now, Then When?

Date Location Event Time (EST) TV
Aug 9-16 NYC Training Camp Pt. II
Aug 15 NYC Exhibition vs. France 1 PM ESPN2
Aug 17-20 Madrid Training Camp Pt. III
Aug 21 Madrid Exhibition vs. Lithuania 3 PM NBA TV
Aug 22 Madrid Exhibition vs. Spain 3 PM NBA TV
Aug 24 Athens Training Camp Pt. IV
Aug 25 Athens Exhibition vs. Greece 12 PM ESPN
Aug 28-Sept 12 Istanbul FIBA World Championships

Team USA will have a nice little break before we see them again, but here’s an updated schedule of the national team’s itinerary.

This Much Was Set in Stone

Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo made four cuts from the Team USA roster on Wednesday, each with its own unique context. One was a wise choice, another an unfortunate one, one a no-brainer, and the other a tad curious. Which player fits which description matters, yet it really, really doesn’t. We could argue and discuss the merits of the first cuts all day, but none of the four players eliminated from contention would have seriously impacted the final roster. Right or wrong, the first cuts don’t really mean anything.

A bit pessimistic, I know, but K and Colangelo already have their pets in place, and it’s going to take a tectonic shift to disturb the current order. Whether Team USA reps will admit it or not, there is a pecking order to this team, and at its base are the likes of JaVale McGee, O.J. Mayo, Tyreke Evans, and Gerald Wallace. They’re not foundational, but buried underneath the weight of the rest of the program, important to establish the rest of the team by contrast yet anything but invaluable.

JaVale McGee’s importance to Team USA has been inflated by circumstance, and kudos to Coach K for finally letting out the hot air. JaVale is athletic, talented, and fairly promising, but he was never going to make the final roster. Even if Tyson Chandler had trouble shaking off the rust and Brook Lopez struggled to get back into basketball shape after slogging through a bout with mononucleosis, Krzyzyewski would have thought long and hard about the center alternatives before putting Team USA’s fate in McGee’s hands. Though JaVale will still be a phone call away should the injury curse strike again, McGee is exactly where we thought he’d be.

O.J. Mayo and Eric Gordon occupied the same space on Team USA’s training camp roster, and their fates throughout this process were inextricably linked. However, though there was an implicit understanding that one would go to New York with the team while the other would not, there too seemed to be the implication that neither is likely to make the roster at all. The token shooter is not all that useful of an archetype in this bunch, even if having the ability to space the floor opens up the game in FIBA-style ball just as it does in the NBA. Still, the Americans have shooters. Kevin Durant, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, and even Lamar Odom and Kevin Love can help to space the floor. The number of designated shooters may not be all that high, but there are obvious limits to what both Mayo and Gordon can provide. The fact that O.J. has some point guard skills isn’t all that interesting on a team flush with PGs, and Gordon faces the reality that there are just better players vying for the same roster spots. Maybe keeping Gordon while sending Mayo home really is a mistake, but considering the unlikelihood of either player surviving the final cut anyway, the decision is mostly a formality.

Gerald Wallace is a terrific stylistic fit for the Americans, yet no one seems to really know it. Defensively, Krzyzyewski wants to throw all kinds of pressure at Team USA’s opponents, and no one seems to acknowledge just how valuable Wallace would be in that defensive framework. Offensively, he’s an open-court weapon, though clearly a bit limited in half-court sets. In the final analysis, Wallace fits in perfectly with everything Team USA says they want to be and do, but his departure symbolizes their acknowledgment of the team’s future concessions. Every possession won’t be a fast break off of a forced turnover. At some point, the Americans will be forced to play rather traditional defense and function in half-court sets, and it’s been made quite clear that Krzyzewski and Colangelo don’t see Wallace operating well under the confines of that compromise. They’re wrong, but considering the public diagnosis of Team USA’s past struggles, one could never expect a player like Wallace to take a roster spot from a full-time shooter like Danny Granger, for instance.

Ah, Tyreke. It was never meant to be. Even the Rookie of the Year, he of the 20-five-and-five, can’t come close to a roster spot with this bunch. There are too many positional hurdles for Evans to be a viable roster candidate, and that wouldn’t have changed even if Colangelo and Krzyzyewski gave him a chance to shine beyond Wednesday. He’s not going to win over the staff like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook have. He won’t somehow conjure up Chauncey Billups’ leadership abilities or experience. He won’t suddenly trump Rajon Rondo on either end of the court. I can’t imagine it’s a sensation Tyreke is all that familiar with, but on this roster, he’s expendable. Ankle injury or not, his inclusion was never meant to be.

Though the sequence of some of Team USA’s cuts may seem peculiar, these four choices were all steps towards the inevitable. Right or wrong, McGee, Mayo, Wallace, and Evans were never a part of the national team’s core. Even if one of them had managed to stow away on the bottom half of the final roster, they’d have been little more than an accessory to the true ensemble. We’re getting closer and closer to seeing who will shine for the Americans in Istanbul, but based on the final, expected roster, the first wave of cuts yielded no real surprises.

PLEASE Take a Number

Jerry Colangelo is expected to announce the cuts from Team USA later today via conference call, but the internet is hardly so patient. According to Chris Tomasson of NBA FanHouse, Tyreke Evans, Gerald Wallace, and O.J. Mayo will receive a firm handshake and be sent on their merry way, while the remaining players will go on to NYC to resume camp. The only pressing question is how many players will actually make it to New York.

That’s not quite as ominous as it sounds. The initial plan was to cut four or five players from the current bunch, yet when Colangelo moved the announcement of the cuts from Monday to Wednesday, Chris Sheridan supposed that it could be due to an unexpected amount of internal debate. Sheridan also noted the possibility of Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski only cutting three players before the trip to New York, and Tomasson’s report seems to confirm that as a possibility.

Then again, there could still be another player sent home along with Evans, Wallace, and Mayo, bringing the current pool to a nice, round, 15. We’ll only know for sure around midday, but do you really want to wait around?

Danny Granger and Eric Gordon were definitely borderline to stay with the team, but Mike Wells and Jeff Rabjohns of the Indianapolis Star reported that both are locks to continue. If Wallace and Mayo are indeed dropped, that makes sense; Gordon and Mayo fill similar roles, and though Wallace and Granger have ridiculously different skill sets, their position mandates that they fight for the same roster spot.

To me, that means one thing: If there is a fourth cut — and it’s entirely possible that there won’t be, yet — it’s likely to be Rajon Rondo.

The lights of the FIBA World Championships were never going to be all that kind to Rondo, as the imperfections of his game would be in full view in international basketball’s unique hue. Defensively, he falls in line with everything Team USA wants to do, but on offense, it’s unlikely the Americans would be able to overcome having two quasi-liabilities (Rondo and say, Tyson Chandler) on the floor at the same time. Rajon may have forced his way into the top tier of point guards in the NBA, but properly executed zone defenses will smother him. Rondo could find ways to be effective, but if I’m betting on one of the team’s unimpressive shooters (Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook) to succeed in FIBA-style ball, it’s not Rondo.

He’s talented, he’s productive, and he clearly can run an offense. Yet with this glut of point guards putting on a hell of a show every day in camp, it’s likely Rajon that feels the pinch. The Team USA brass is just too infatuated with Westbrook and Rose to decide otherwise, and unless Team USA takes a ridiculous and unprecedented amount of point guards with them to Vegas, it’s Rondo that will feel the pinch. If not today, then later. If not in Vegas then in New York. It’s an awkward situation considering how bizarre Team USA’s courting of Rondo was, yet due to reasons that have so much more to do with skill set and fit than talent or overall production, Rajon won’t be going with the national team to Turkey.

Words on Pages: “The Punch” by John Feinstein

There are lessons to be learned from John Feinstein’s book about Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington, The Punch.

Violence Begets Violence.

The violence that we seem to wholeheartedly celebrate in an earlier generation was curbed for a reason. It wasn’t The Punch. The Punch was simply the abscess that revealed the rot. This isn’t a “it looks really bad for the league” type rot. It’s a rot that made clears clear the league was headed for a full-on cave-in if it was not rectified. Most terrifyingly, Rudy Tomjanovich nearly became that cave in. Terrifying in the sense that Tomjanovich could have died. This is not exaggeration. This is not hypersensitivity.

Eleven pages into the opening chapter of Feinstein’s book, Dr. Paul Toffel is standing in the Emergency Room at Centinela Hospital in Los Angeles, talking to Rudy Tomjanovich, then a 29-year-old All-Star who very much wanted to return to the game. Toffel asks Rudy a question. Toffel is a head trauma expert called in the aftermath of the punch. The question at first seems odd, and then a feeling of dread passes over you, the way a sharp twist in a horror novel or film makes the hair on your arms stand up. It’s a simple question.

“‘Rudy, let me ask you a question,’ he said. ‘Do you have any kind of funny taste in your mouth?’

Tomjanovich’s eyes opened slowly. ‘Yeah, I do,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t taste like blood either. It’s very bitter. What is it?’

‘Spinal fluid,’ Toffel said. ‘You’re leaking spinal fluid from your brain. We’re going to get you up to ICU in a few minutes and we’re going to hope your brain capsule seals soon.'”

And with that, those who did not understand what The Punch was begin to know just how truly horrifying violence on the floor can be. We can sit on barstools, on television studio sets, around water coolers and talk about how the NBA has become full of soft players. And to be sure, the fierce physicality of the NBA carried on well past The Punch. But it set in motion the acceleration of a movement that was birthed the summer prior to The Punch, when the owners came to an agreement to give the commissioner the power to more heavily fine players and to suspend them indefinitely. The fights had gotten out of control, and that trend had continued when the ’77 season began.

There is an element of the story that drives home this lesson. In Buffalo during the ’76-’77 season, Washington had been involved in a fight with John Shumate of the Buffalo Braves. During that fight, members of the Braves had jumped on Washington’s back from behind. This put a significant fear of being attacked from behind in Washington. Less than a year later, Rudy Tomjanovich would approach the fight where Washington was involved from behind. Tomjanovich had not intention of leaping on Washington’s back, or fighting, really. But when the Braves bench became involved in that fight, it created a chain reaction that would partially influence what went  through Washington’s brain before he swung. That’s what we’re left with. The more players fight, the better the chance that we face the possibility of an event beyond what we think is allowable. We like the idea of Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol trading elbows (yeah, that should work out well), but we certainly don’t want anyone to be seriously hurt. Do you recognize how insane that sounds?


So the next time your favorite player gets a little wound up and tosses a punch or throws a player and then gets suspended, consider that it’s a lot like throwing up debris to try and slow down a runaway train (never goin’ back). With enough velocity, nothing’s going to stop it (Ron Artest). That still means you try like hell to slow it down enough to keep it out of the ravine.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Number Of Ejections

Pop Quiz.

Which of the two players involved in The Punch was an Academic All-American?

The fact that I’m asking should give you a pretty good hint that it was Washington, and not Tomjanovich. This stunned me. I like to think that it wasn’t a racial issue, though I don’t have a frame by frame breakdown of my initial mental reaction to that fact to say for sure.  I can say that it was more Washington’s reputation as an enforcer and his lasting image as the player that threw The Punch that led to that shock settling in. But it’s true. Washington graduated with a 3.37 GPA and a BA in Sociology. The guy that threw The Punch whipped my performance in college.

And after reading the book, you’re left with a number of changed perspectives about Washington. He never thought of himself as an enforcer, never took pride in that part of his game. It was simply an element he was called upon to do. He possessed the kind of work ethic that we constantly wish players would emulate. The book reveals a portrait of… a person.

Obvious right? Yes, Kermit Washington is a person. Thanks for that, Matt. My point is that to elaborate on how complex Washington is revealed to be is to underestimate how complex most people are. He’s simultaneously a devoted teammate and a moody player that’s unable to to deal plainly with his situation. He expresses very real remorse for what happened to Rudy while blaming Kevin Kunnert for starting the fracas that led to the swing, despite being Kunnert’s teammate for years. He’s not any more layered, likable, or pained than most of the people you know in your life, or you yourself. The book paints Washington as both selfish and selfless, considerate and insensitive, self-aware and oblivious. He’s the Nowhere Man, plastered on YouTube and history retrospectives for all time because of a poor decision.

A League Drawn Upon Itself Many Times Over

The book reveals Tomjanovich’s endless feeling of inadequacy and his drive to disprove that self-assessment. That same drive pushes him to be an All-Star in the NBA. Which leads to him starting. Which leads to the punch. Which leads to the timing that sets up his availability as a coach. Which contributes to both his NBA Championship rings and his battle with alcoholism.

That night in 1977, Jerry West was coaching the Lakers. Rudy Tomjanovich wound up coaching the Lakers for a season and still works as a consultant for the very team that unwillingly contributed to the shortening of his career. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is described in the book as being moody, difficult, and wary of physical contact. In 2009, media members criticized Lakers center Andrew Bynum for not finishing his training with Kareem, despite all of these well known issues with him. By “media members” I mean, me. The Braves were the team that jumped Washington from behind (though Washington was clearly an equal contributor to the fight). The Braves would later move to San Diego and rename themselves the Clippers, and then move to Los Angeles, where they continue to spread misery and pain, only now just to their fans.

Red Auerbach was a significant positive force for Washington, trading for him after The Punch.

That same move to San Diego? It was part of an ownership swap in the league that also sent several contracts, including Washington’s, to San Diego, from the Celtics. That same summer, the new ownership helped Auerbach sign a player that hadn’t entered the draft yet. AND HIS NAME… WAS LARRY BIRD. AND NOW YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE HIGHLY PREDICTABLE STORY.

The point is that we think of the league in eras. Players exist in a time frame, are dominant in a time frame, and then retire in the next time frame. But these same players and personnel have long reaching affects that impact teams, players, coaches, and personnel from generation to generation. And though Feinstein’s work is about the two players and how that night scarred them both, the book had me tossing it across the room several times saying “Whoa” like Keanu.

The Story Itself

It’s a sad book. You feel bad for everyone. The players that were there that night sound haunted by the events, especially Calvin Murphy, one of Tomjanovich’s best friends. The book ends, in ironic fashion, talking about how both players can’t stand how often it’s brought up. I feel guilty for even writing this review. But Feinstein’s work deserve to be noted for contributing to our history of the league. It’s a companion to “Breaks of the Game,” an insight into life as an NBA player, a history lesson, a portrait, and a parable. The book doesn’t come off as heavy-handed, nor overdramatic. It doesn’t subscribe to any higher arching themes. It’s the story of two lives that intersected in a moment of violence and terror that neither intended, and that both have had to live with for the rest of their lives.

There are points that Feinstein ignores out of consideration. He rarely touches the real damage Tomjanovich faced that night. He only briefly touches on the lasting denial Washington lives in throughout the book, though it’s enough to make an impact during the conclusion. He sometimes seems resolute in hammering home themes that don’t really serve to convince us of who both players were. But those same themes do ring true as part of the story, an element that lacquers their histories. An update to the book following the past 10 years, or really, just Ron Artest, would be fascinating, particularly through the lens of David Stern and his adjustments to O’Brien’s policies. But at the end of the day, Feinstein manages to captivate without losing perspective.

If you want a good story about how the league was altered by a single incident, you should read it.

If you want to learn more about who Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich really were, really are, you should read it.

If you want a damn fine basketball book, you should read it.

Score (out of 5): 4.5

More reading:

Tomjanovich and Washington meet following publication of The Punch

Washington speaks about Blount from Oregon

Washington’s Good Life

Buy it on Amazon

Feeding The Post: Chris Paul Is Helping To Ruin Fandom

Feeding The Post is a weekly column that is full of a bunch of crap like the author’s meals, only it’s filled with basketball-related and lesser topical items and yields zero calories.

Chris Paul is Well, it seems like all is well in NOLA with reports that Chris Paul had a good meeting with the New Orleans Hornets’ top brass.  What that exactly means, who knows, but the rampant rumors of where CP3 will end up playing ball next season should begin to die.  Of course this is the NBA and the rumors can do like Jason and come back from the dead.  In any case, props must be given to the Hornets for not giving in and exploring trade possibilities with all of the news that Paul wanted to play somewhere else, even coming out with a list of desirable teams.   You have to know that a lot of teams were blowing up new Hornets GM Dell Demps’ phone checking in on CP3, but getting rejected like each Demps hangup was a meaty paw from Mark Eaton. Continue reading

Trimming the Fat

Today is Decision Day #1 for Team USA, as they look to trim four or five players from the roster before refining their team and approach in New York City. As such, let’s take a look at some of the possibilities going forward.

The Likely Cuts: Based on reports out of Vegas, opinions from other writers, impressions from Colangelo and Krzyzewski, accounts of in-camp performances, and showings at the Team USA showcase, I’ve picked out four players likely to be trimmed off the roster before Team USA heads to NYC.

Tyreke Evans – ‘Reke is the easiest cut, even if he’s already an incredible player. Chalk it up to Evans’ ankle injury or the ridiculous guard depth on the roster, but his chances of making the final 12 were slim from the start, and were sickly and gaunt by the end of camp. Tyreke needed a chance to play himself into the mix, but it just wasn’t in the cards this time around. Maybe next time.

Eric Gordon – Gordon’s good. Probably better than you think. But most of the things that he does well are redundant with other strengths elsewhere on the roster. He’s not a great defender, and Team USA already has more versatile offensive players that share Gordon’s skill set. Need a spot-up shooter? Billups, Curry, Mayo, and Durant can all get the job done. Need someone to get to the line (an underrated aspect of Gordon’s game)? Westbrook, Rose, and Iguodala can draw contact off the bounce. Gordon played well in the showcase, but his talent just doesn’t stand out with this bunch.

Danny Granger – Granger has faced a minor injury and a shooting slump, but far more damning has been the slobber fest over Andre Iguodala. Iggy has played like he wants to be a focal point of Team USA both offensively and defensively, while Granger has failed to live up to his sweet-shooting reputation. The Americans will need a few zone-busters, but like Gordon, the alternatives at Granger’s position simply proved themselves in ways that he didn’t.

Rajon Rondo – Stylistically, Rondo was never a particularly good fit for international basketball. He’s ideal for games like the showcase, where he can show off his passing in the open court, find teammates cutting to the rim when the game slows down, and pressure the hell out of ball-handlers. Some of those things will translate to the World Championships, but it’s unclear how effective Rondo would be against a well-prepared zone. He can make the right passes, but Coach K and Jerry Colangelo seem more enamored with Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose as drive-and-kick type points. There’s only so much room for point guards in that mold on this roster, and despite the fact that Rondo is the superior talent, he looks like the odd man out.

My cuts: It is a little-known fact that I am not Mike Krzyzewski, nor am I Jerry Colangelo. Shockingly, I’m not Mike D’Antoni or Nate McMillan, either. Yet, due to an over-inflated sense of self-worth, I feel inclined to give you my picks to be cut during the first wave.

Tyreke Evans – If he’s healthy, there’s a discussion. While I’m always a bit skeptical of how athletic point guards will make the transition to FIBA-style ball, ‘Reke’s size and strength give him a unique advantage. That’s where I seem him as a mini-LeBron, killing it in the open court and completely abusing perimeter defenders physically. I’m still not quite sure he’d make the roster even if fully healthy, but it’d be a damn good time to see him try.

Eric Gordon - Sorry, man. I’d cut Gordon for the same reasons Colangelo and Krzyzewski will later today.

Jeff Green – Granger hasn’t played particularly well, but I still like him over Jeff Green. Green will likely get the edge because he’s technically a 4, even though he’s really something of a combo forward masquerading as a power forward because he happens to play on the same team as Kevin Durant. That’s all well and good, and if it works for the Thunder, that’s fine. But is Green really so much more uniquely capable of defending bigs than Granger? Offensively, this seems like a no-brainer — I’ll take a prolific three-point shooter, even a streaky one, over an inefficient offensive player like Green any day of the week — and Green doesn’t have enough of a defensive edge to earn a plane ticket to New York.

JaVale McGee – We’ve been through this. McGee is a safety net should one of Team USA’s bigs succumb to the same hex that claimed Robin Lopez and David Lee, but I already know what JaVale is selling and I’m not all that interested. I’ve liked the idea of Team USA only bringing along one true center from the beginning, and though McGee has actually had a pretty decent showing at training camp, there’s not much of a reason to prefer him to Kevin Love or even Lamar Odom. JaVale gets them blocks, but his all-around game isn’t quite where it needs to be in order to make this roster.

R-R-R-R-REMIX!:Reimagining the current Team USA by riffing with the same theme/identity, but changing things up just a bit.

Brook Lopez – Tyson Chandler has actually become the front-runner to make the final roster for the World Championships, in no small part because of Lopez’s struggles in recovering from mononucleosis. Frankly, Brook looked awful in the showcase game. It isn’t designed to play to his strengths, but unless the Team USA coaching staff has seen something fantastic from Lopez throughout the week, he doesn’t seem like a player that’s physically ready to lift Team USA to the gold.

Chauncey Billups – If the Team USA brass is so confident that both Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook can play off the ball, then Billups is a luxury. He’s definitely a better defender than Gordon or Mayo, for example, but in this design, Team USA opts to go with youth and speed over the all-around game and experience. They key to pulling off a pressure defense is to swarm the ball from all kinds of angles and attack the passing lanes, and having quicker, more athletic players could be more beneficial to Team USA’s overall defensive scheme than having a slower but more physical (and in most other cases, effective) defender like Billups.

JaVale McGee – It could have been fun to have JaVale around to throw lobs to, but this team could be ridiculously guard oriented. At the moment, we’re looking at seven guards (Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, Evans, Curry, Gordon, Mayo), three wings (Durant, Iguodala, Gay), four forwards (Wallace, Granger, Odom, Green), and two bigs (Chandler, Love), which is futuristic cyber-punk awesome.

Jeff Green – …is still Jeff Green. Team USA already has versatile forwards. They have players who can defend similarly, score more efficiently, and rebound better. I like Green just fine, but if this incarnation of Team USA is to go hyper-guard-heavy into infinity and beyond, then I’ll go with an O.J. Mayo or a Tyreke Evans over Green here.

Eyes on Me

On Friday, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were kind enough to grace Team USA with their presence. Hands were kissed. Feet were washed. Artists gathered to depict — impossible though it may be to capture either player’s divine essence — both players in grand murals, each welcomed hero complete with a nimbus to signal their divinity. What a privilege it is for the members of this year’s national team to even stand in the same gym as Wade and James, blessed be their names.

Both living legends took time out of their busy summers to remind Team USA of what, or who, they’re missing. Missing not because Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo deemed it so, but simply because James and Wade can’t be bothered with the FIBA World Championships. They’re obviously a bit preoccupied with having their cake and eating it, too.

No player is mandated to be a part of Team USA. If James, or Andrew Bynum, or Dominic freaking McGuire want to refuse the program, they’re entitled. There’s also nothing wrong with LeBron choosing to celebrate during the off-season instead. Completely his call. I do have but one humble request for LeBron and Wade, though. Don’t pretend that this is still your team. James claimed to be the leader of the American squad in 2008, and even if that was a reasonable claim at the time, it’s now almost ridiculous. His talent may be undeniable, but is this really LeBron’s (and Wade’s, too) idea of leadership? Ditching out on a commitment to the national team to work on a movie that didn’t happen, and subsequently go from city to city on a party hardy world tour? Again, live it up, ‘Bron, just don’t claim to be the 2012 team’s selfless general, fighting the good fight for the good of the program and the country.

Team USA has fallen into the capable hands of Kevin Durant, and while it’s easy to praise his commitment when KD has yet to even suit up for Team USA in a real game, he actually seems to be the most suitable face for the program going forward. Team USA’s renaissance has always been more about Kobe than LeBron, and it’s Durant that shares Bryant’s ridiculous drive, obsessive focus, and incredible will. The Durantula is humble and hungry, and though he never asked to be the leader of this team — and he won’t, ever — it just makes too much sense for him not to be.

The Talent Show, Live from Summer Camp

The Blue-White Game is, by nature, delightfully irrelevant. Team USA needs to be tested against international players who play an international style, but instead they do what they can: split up and go to work against themselves. The result is an All-Star Game-esque three-point shooting and dunking exhibition, and while the level of competition is ultimately a bit higher than the ASG, there’s no way around just how limited the scrimmage is as an evaluative process.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts from last night’s scrimmage, complete with evaluative limitations!:

  • Part of the beauty of Team USA is that it offers players an opportunity to thrive in ways they simply aren’t allowed on their current NBA squads. Case in point: Andre Iguodala. The Sixers have a lot of young talent, but no one productive enough to slide Iguodala into a more comfortable role/usage rate. Team USA has point guards coming out of its ears, and all of them will be looking to set Iguodala up for his next huge dunk or three. Meanwhile, Iggy quietly goes to work as the Americans’ top perimeter defender, capable of playing in conservative, shot-altering defenses or in Coach Krzyzewski’s preferred high-pressure approach. His two-way excellence is noted on the NBA level, but when he has other quality players to make up for his weaknesses on offense? He’s fantastic. K called Iguodala “an important part of the team,” and he’s not wrong.
  • No, Jeff Green, your turnaround jumpers will not be needed in Turkey.
  • One thing working in Kevin Love’s favor that goes beyond his rebounding (Though it’s worth noting that Love once gathered three offensive rebounds on a single trip down the floor in the BW Game, kicking it out to an open teammate each time.) is that unlike the other bigs on the roster, Love has legit FIBA three-point range. He’s capable of spotting up in the corner on the weak side to balance the ball action, or even roll out off a screen to set up shop at the free throw line extended. Brook Lopez, judging from his bizarre love affair with the 22-foot set shot last season, only wishes he could be used similarly.
  • The fast breaks were an absolute mess. Though it’s not particularly useful to gauge the team’s strengths and weaknesses in a game like this, it does give us a decent read on the players’ chemistry. Right now, it’s pretty miserable. The stanchion caught more outlet passes than anyone else did. Things got a bit better as the game progressed, but it’s clear that Team USA has a lot of work to do in all areas offensively, even the simplest ones.
  • Both teams took a ton of three-pointers. The Orlando Magic averaged 0.57 three-point attempts per minute last season (27.3 per game), which is fairly remarkable. The White team yesterday? 0.73 attempts per minute. Both Team USA squads were very accurate from beyond the arc, yet I can’t help but feel that they may be missing the point. Having a shorter three-point line is an advantage, and being able to space the floor is paramount. Yet in yesterday’s game, both teams looked like they were shooting threes just to shoot threes.American teams have struggled in the past not because of their reluctance to take the three, but because when all of the other options were shut down, they couldn’t. The players trying out for this year’s squad are desperate to prove that they won’t go the way of their forefathers, so they fire away. To me, it just feels a bit backwards. They’re trying to prove they can create good offensive possessions by generating bad ones; in their effort to prove they can take and make threes in Turkey, Team USA as a collective (in this one scrimmage, anyway) took (and in all fairness, made) all kinds of threes, both good and bad. Something to keep an eye on.
  • JaVale McGee may not be my favorite big on the roster, but he can run the damn floor. He was active in his nine-ish minutes, but my primary concerns still hold: McGee can look good against other teams that don’t have legit centers (he was on the same team as Brook Lopez), but will he really be able to produce and defend against FIBA-caliber bigs?
  • I want to trust Lamar Odom to make the right plays, but how do you not worry about him? Odom does much more right than wrong, but I still feel like this team has almost no margin for error in the World Championships and yet Lamar will inevitably flirt with it.
  • It’s easy to forget just how good Russell Westbrook is. The guy is an absolute lock to make the final roster in my mind, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him go nuts in Turkey.
  • Tyson Chandler looks like the top center on the roster, particularly because Brook Lopez was rather unimpressive in his exhibition debut. Games like these don’t exactly favor Lopez, but Chandler (and McGee, to an extent) looked far more useful defensively. Despite reports that Chandler came into training camp out of basketball shape, he was mobile and effective last night, helping to deter some — some — of the Blue team’s drives to the basket. There were a few surprisingly productive players in the BW game, but Chandler seriously impressed.
  • Eric Gordon (16 points, 4-of-7 threes, two steals) played rather well, but none of it means a damn thing. It’s not fair, and it doesn’t have to be. Gordon is a solid player, but there just isn’t room for him on this roster. O.J. Mayo shares too many of his strengths but has more explosive scoring capabilities, and the number of point guards that can play off the ball should nudge Gordon out of contention.
  • Ultimately, the Blue-White Game is appropriately labeled a ‘showcase.’ It’s easy to see the things that Team USA does well, and it’s easy to laud the skills — Derrick Rose’s speed with the ball, Kevin Durant’s scoring, the overall roster’s versatility — that make this team so intriguing. But without real competition, it’s almost impossible to properly evaluate this team’s weaknesses, and how much they’ll come to impact USA’s run through the World Championships.

Safety Second

Due to this incarnation of Team USA’s various deficiencies, they’re put in a tough spot. Not only will the Americans be forced to go into Turkey with odd fits at various positions, but in the meantime, they’re forced to compromise talent and performance due to their specific needs. Between Chauncey Billups, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, and Tyreke Evans, someone will have to stay home. And in their place will likely be a Tyson Chandler or a JaVale McGee — less effective overall players, but with strengths thought to better complement the rest of the national team.

During most of Team USA’s runs, injury was a threat. If this player goes down, the games are wide open. If that player goes down, Team USA would fall apart. Yet in the case of this year’s squad, not only were various players ruled out beforehand due to injury — Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kendrick Perkins — but Robin Lopez was declared out on arrival, David Lee is a no-go after injuring his finger, Danny Granger missed a bit with a shin injury, and Tyreke Evans tweaked an ankle. Someone clearly put a hex on the Team USA program (Ron? Gil?), and if they’re not careful, the few centers they have left could be watching (or sulking) from the sidelines.

That’s why I understand the thought process behind keeping all three centers — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee — on call through the first wave of cuts. I really do. But if I didn’t make it abundantly clear in my previous post, this year’s Team USA has a wonderful opportunity to not only skirt positional rigidity, but attempt something fantastically unique. I’d hate for either one of those things to be ruined because of convention.

Plan A was Dwight Howard with help. Plan B was some combination of Chris Bosh and other bigs. Plan C was Amar’e Stoudemire. Plan D was the Lopez twins. Now that we’re going to Plans E and beyond, is it perhaps time for us to admit that there are greater forces of chaos at work here, pining to see Lamar Odom and Gerald Wallace play center? Have we really come all this way just to see Team USA trot out JaVale McGee?

It was never my intent to turn McGee into a scapegoat, but in this scenario, his positioning is far too convenient. In truth, JaVale is growing as a player, and one day he may be a fine part of a complete starting lineup. He’s just not there yet. That’s not a problem in itself (How many players on this year’s Team USA roster have actually come close to fulfilling their potential?), but with the pool of players given, the team seems to have better options. Even if they aren’t centers. Even if they aren’t conventional power forwards. McGee will be a part of the roster going forward because Team USA needs to cover itself lest the hex strikes again. That’s the safe approach, and the smart approach. Yet one can only hope that when the team is finally ready to dive into the murky waters, they choose to take off their life vest first.

The World Championships are going to be dangerous. Spain is obviously equipped to topple the Americans, but there are plenty of other capable teams that could do the very same. At a point, injuries are going to be a legitimate risk. That doesn’t mean that Mike Krzyzewski should compromise the rest of his game plan to accommodate a nightmare, no matter how destructive its potential.