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NBA PM: Projecting Team USA’s Final 12-Man Roster

Team USA must trim their final roster from 16 players to 12 before the World Cup on Aug. 30. Who will make the cut? … Mason Plumlee expects “hungry” Kevin Garnett to return

Cody Taylor

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Projecting Team USA’s Final 12-Man Roster

With two exhibition games remaining for Team USA, Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the coaching staff have a difficult task ahead and must cut four players from the roster to meet the 12-man maximum limit. At this point in time, there appears to be six players who are locked in to the final roster and several players on the bubble.

Locked in

Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee and Kyrie Irving

Players who are reportedly locked in are Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee and Kyrie Irving. Those six players are pretty much a given considering their body of work during Team USA’s training camp thus far and the production that they have provided to the team. The rise of Davis is really an incredible story considering that he was one of the players stuck on the bench during the 2012 Olympic team that featured stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. Fast forward two years later and Davis is the second-leading scorer for Team USA behind Harden in the previous two games against Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

Harden provides the team with aggressive ball handling, and he will attack and shoot the ball often. The self-proclaimed best all-around player in the NBA is an important piece for Team USA and he gives the team its best chance to win. Faried and Plumlee are likely considered locked in due to the team’s lack of depth in the frontcourt, especially when considering DeMarcus Cousins’ injury concerns and the departure of forwards Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant.  Plumlee’s inclusion on the roster would really be remarkable considering he began the summer as just a member of the Select Team and would have leapfrogged Andre Drummond on the depth chart.

Likely to make the cut

Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, DeMarcus Cousins

While the coaching staff’s decisions on Davis, Harden, Curry, Faried, Plumlee and Irving all appear fairly simple, the decisions on the remaining six spots will prove to be more difficult. After those six players, it appears that Klay Thompson has played his way onto the team and the same can be said for Kyle Korver as Coach Krzyzewski speaks very highly of Korver.

“Kyle’s a specialist, you know, one of the top three-point shooters and a veteran,” said Krzyzewski, via Yahoo! Sports. “He doesn’t even have to play and we know who he is.”

Despite the injury concerns around Cousins, he looked good in Wednesday night’s game, grabbing eight rebounds in almost 16 minutes of action. Cousins’ spot on the roster is his should he continue to show the knee injury he suffered in practice is nothing major.

On the bubble

Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward

With nine spots locked in already, that leaves seven players competing for the remaining three spots. Perhaps the biggest question mark of all is Derrick Rose. Heading into the summer, questions were raised regarding just how well Rose would be able to play upon returning. So far indications are that, if he can remain healthy, he is well on his way to his former self and a definite lock for the final roster. However, in the last few days Rose has been held out of practice and even held out of Wednesday night’s game due to knee soreness. It could be that there has been too much made out of Rose being held out of action this week and that this situation is being overblown.

There is no question that a 100 percent Rose would make this roster, and be the leading scorer at that. Team officials knew going into the summer that the inclusion of Rose would bring mandatory rest periods, having played just 49 games for the Chicago Bulls in the last three years and coming off of two major knee surgeries. While this Team USA does not compare to the 2012 Olympic team, there are extremely talented players on this team who can carry the load while Rose is resting and shouldn’t be rushed back for that very reason. While Team USA will understandably rest Rose during times, they also have a huge decision to make on whether include him in the final cut and that decision will affect what happens to Damian Lillard.

Prediction

Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Andre Drummond and DeMar DeRozan won’t be selected

It seems that the only player who is a lock to be cut is Gordon Hayward. The Utah Jazz forward played in 14 minutes on Wednesday and didn’t do much to separate himself from the other forwards on the roster. Chandler Parsons has also fallen out of the rotation and joins Hayward on the outside looking in on the depth chart. As previously mentioned, Drummond appears to have taken a backseat to Plumlee on the depth chart and hasn’t proved why he should be the fifth big man on the roster in Spain. There have been reports that Drummond will be cut. Rudy Gay’s fate with the team after joining late as a replacement for Durant could be in question as well.

With Hayward, Parsons and Drummond eliminated up to this point, the fourth and final cut is down to Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Lillard. Coach Krzyzewski may want to opt to keep Lillard as an option in case something happens to Rose in Spain and that could leave Gay as the odd man out. DeRozan is also a question mark given the guard depth on the team, but he did everything he could to prove he belongs after posting 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting on Wednesday night while adding six assists and five rebounds. Ultimately it could be DeRozan gone with Gay and Lillard the last ones on the team.

Mason Plumlee Expects “Hungry” Kevin Garnett to Return

The Brooklyn Nets’ second-round exit from the playoffs last season brought uncertainty on whether Kevin Garnett would retire or come back for his 20th season in the NBA.

However, following a conversation with teammate Mason Plumlee, it sounds like Garnett not only set to return next season, but determined to take the Nets deeper into the postseason.

“He said he feels great,” Plumlee told Andy Vasquez of The Record. “He’s hungry, too, for this season. He didn’t like how last season ended. You have a team with guys who are used to winning and be successful and they didn’t like how last season ended. So everybody has a hunger [and] a drive going into next year.”

New Nets head coach Lionel Hollins said that he has yet to speak with Garnett yet, but that the decision to return is solely on him.

“I haven’t talked about [returning next season] with him, but all reports that I have [from management] is that he’s coming back,” Hollins told Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report. “It’s his right to make that decision or change his mind if he has decided to come back or not come back. I’m not worried about that; that’s out of my control. That’s a decision that KG and his family have to make, and I’ll leave it with him.”

Last season, Garnett battled injuries that limited him to just 54 games in the regular season and a career-low 20.5 minutes per game. However, Hollins said that he has no plans on limiting Garnett’s minutes if he returns.

“Everyone’s going to play whatever minutes they deserve to play,” Hollins told amNewYork.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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