Team USA braces for Saturday cut day
August, 21, 2014
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- You've been hearing for weeks about Aug. 23 thanks to the worst-kept secret in the NBA: Kevin Love's looming trade to Cleveland.
It turns out Aug. 23, which happens to be Saturday, is going to be even newsier than we thought.
The date previously known in basketball circles as the first day No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be dealt by Cleveland to Minnesota in a Love swap will also be when we learn the identities of the players Team USA is leaving behind when it travels to Spain in advance of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told ESPN.com that team officials, after initially weighing the prospect of announcing some roster moves before Thursday's practice, will huddle late into the night after Friday evening's exhibition against Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden to finalize the roster decisions that can be delayed no longer.
The players who aren't selected will be notified of their fates Saturday morning, Colangelo said, with the rest of the traveling party heading directly to Europe on a team charter in the afternoon.
The bad news, as always, will be delivered face-to-face to the unlucky twosome, trio or quartet first by Colangelo, which is a chore he describes as "distasteful" but a step he regards as "my personal responsibility."
And we say twosome, trio or quartet because Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski are still deciding whether to take 12, 13 or even 14 of the 16 players currently in camp to Spain to buy an extra week of evaluation time, since the roster doesn't have to be officially sliced to 12 for the World Cup until Aug. 29.
"Like in anything, whatever we decide, we'll be questioned," Krzyzewski acknowledged after Thursday's non-contact practice at the New York Athletic Club.
"When we eventually come to a decision," Colangelo said, "we're all in it together."
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesCould Team USA leave Derrick Rose off its final roster for the World Cup in Spain?
Team USA staffers were locked behind closed doors past 2 a.m. in the early hours of Thursday following an exhibition rout of the Dominican Republic that, in Krzyzewski's words, has made final cuts "a little bit more difficult ... or a lot more difficult."
That's largely because two players who were widely assumed to have little to no shot of making the final 12-man roster -- Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan -- played well in the 105-62 mismatch.
Another factor, of course, is the sudden uncertainly surrounding Chicago Bulls star guard Derrick Rose. He might well need an incident-free return to full-speed basketball in Friday's game to convince Team USA's elders that he can handle the rigors of a schedule that calls for the Americans to play nine games from Aug. 30-Sept. 14 to repeat their 2010 feat and retain their status as world champions.
"We're anxious to see him play tomorrow and get a feel for it," Krzyzewski said of Rose, who was a late and unexpected scratch shortly before tipoff against the Dominican Republic after sitting out the previous two practices to rest his surgically repaired knees.
Because they've seen so little of Rose on the floor this week, Team USA hasn't been able to finalize its preferred core group of eight or nine players, which would then make choosing the final three or four slightly easier.
Wednesday night's five starters (Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis) are generally regarded as the only five locks for Spain -- even at this late stage -- because of Rose's woes with what he insists is "general soreness" as opposed to knee-specific pain.
That count stretches to only nine if you include two players USAB sources say have emerged as Krzyzewski favorites -- Golden State's Klay Thompson and Brooklyn's Mason Plumlee -- and then presume Rose and DeMarcus Cousins (bruised knee) will be healthy enough to fulfill their planned roles.
"I'm not going to do assumptions," Krzyzewski said of Rose. "I think he's ready. I'm thinking about him playing and being there [in Spain]."
Let's go ahead and take the leap that Rose and Cousins will look sufficiently spry against Puerto Rico to secure their expected places among Coach K's chosen dozen. That would still leave seven players vying for the last three spots, with Colangelo adamant Thursday that no one has yet been ruled out.
Dallas' Chandler Parsons and Atlanta's Kyle Korver, on this scorecard, appear to be at the top of the list of those remaining seven. But it's by no means clear.
Sacramento's Rudy Gay, for starters, is an alumnus of the 2010 World Championship squad and has unexpectedly played ahead of Parsons in each of Team USA's two exhibition games, despite the fact he was only added to the group after Paul George's horrific leg injury suffered Aug. 1 in Las Vegas. DeRozan, meanwhile, has made an undeniable impression in the past two games with his ability to create his own shot, which has likely nudged him past Utah's Gordon Hayward.
My sense is that both Cousins and Plumlee are still ahead of Drummond, too, but we'll only know for sure Saturday morning ... especially since Cousins did say after the Dominican Republic game that his weakened right leg "tightened up on me towards the end."
The same uncertainty holds for Damian Lillard, with Portland's All-Star point guard on the bubble but also first in line to inherit Rose's minutes if Team USA ultimately concludes that the 2011 MVP isn't quite ready for steady doses of game action after being limited to 10 games with the Bulls over the past two seasons.
For the record: Sources say that, in Team USA staff meetings, deciding how many bigs to carry is the issue that has been generating the most discussion.
Even more, in other words, than Rose's situation.
Coach K, though, was only prepared to confirm that sending players home is indeed "the worst thing" about the USA Basketball experience he has come to cherish since adding this job to his Duke duties in 2005.
"I hate it," Krzyzewski said of letting players go. "I hate it.
"But it's much better than selecting 12 to begin with, having guys get hurt or drop out and then asking someone who hasn't been there, 'Will you come in?' And now [he's] called the 'alternate.'
"None of these guys are alternates. All of these guys are candidates. Worthy candidates. We're going to take 12 worthy candidates and we're not going to take four others who are worthy, too.
"That's the way we've done this for almost a decade. We're gonna keep that mindset."