How will Team USA replace Kevin Durant?
August, 8, 2014
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
Three full-speed practices. Plus three-fourths of an ill-fated intrasquad scrimmage.
And that's it.
That's the extent to which Mike Krzyzewski has had this edition of Team USA on the court heading into next week's resumption of practices in Chicago.
Practices that will now feature neither of the players projected to start at the forward spots for the Yanks.
As they say in those commercials with all the kids gathered 'round the kindergarten table: It's not complicated. With the start of the inaugural FIBA World Cup in Spain three weeks away, Team USA's upcoming five practice sessions and three exhibition games scheduled from Aug. 14 to 22 are suddenly critical, given how little this group has actually been on the floor together.
After the withdrawals of Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, followed by the horrendous Paul George injury, Kevin Durant's wholly unexpected announcement Thursday night that he's pulling out of national team duty is an undeniable crusher for a team that is never, ever supposed to lose.
Durant was Team's USA most fearsome matchup nightmare. Among this assemblage of the internationally untested, Durant was the squad's most vocal behind-the-scenes leader, too. He was going to be the ultimate X factor in Coach K's playbook to offset the absence or loss of any other Team USAer, because no team in the world -- not even big, bad, bulky Spain on Spanish soil -- has a counter for KD when he's in full flow.
So when you inevitably ask how on earth this team goes about trying to replace Durant, we're forced to point, in response, to those upcoming practices and exhibitions. Coach K and USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo simply have to see more of this posse of players that they're still learning about before they can be sure how they intend to fill the last few spots on the 12-man roster.
There are, on this scorecard, only five inarguable roster locks in the wake of the Durant news from the 15 still-here finalists: Anthony Davis, James Harden, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving. So you can safely presume Coach K wants (and needs) more data to sort out the rest.
Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins figure to be edging closer to lock status with no KD in the U.S. frontcourt. Chandler Parsons' chances also have improved drastically, post-Durant, because he has the size and shooting ability to play small forward or power forward internationally. But Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver and Gordon Hayward will all likewise believe their odds of securing a seat on the plane that leaves for Spain on Aug. 23 have spiked after Durant, as my ESPN.com colleague Royce Young so expertly chronicled, just made his first recorded request to take a break from basketball. Hence the importance of all the hoops to be played before Team USA leaves the country.
To make the sorting out easier.
What happens, for example, if DeMar DeRozan keeps playing so well? Or if Mason Plumlee refuses to go away? Or if Krzyzewski decides he simply can't resist keeping Damian Lillard alongside Rose, Curry and Irving to form a quartet of small speedsters that the rest of the world isn't equipped to chase around?
Andre Drummond would seem to be starting this stretch-run process as a consensus No. 15 out of the 15 players still vying to be part of Team USA's chosen dozen, but USA Basketball officials aren't ruling anyone out prematurely from here. They simply can't afford to after losing so many sure things.
The Spaniards will inevitably believe more than ever, when they wake up Friday to the news that they won't have to see Durant in a potential Sept. 14 title game, that they can finally beat the United States. I still tend to believe Team USA has enough to beat Spain in Spain, especially given how much the hosts' harder road to the title game could well take out of them, but let's be honest.
It's tough for a KD-less Team USA to feel sure about anything right now until it can get these guys back together for an extended and increasingly crucial look.