Originally Published: January 20, 2012

1. London Calling: Who Will Represent U.S.?

Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

Team USAGarrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant and Derrick Rose give Team USA two cornerstones worth cheering about.

The term they like to use in USA Basketball circles is blended. The word they probably should be going with is blender.

Because …

Paring down a roster of 20 worthy finalists to just 12 for the London Olympics in July is bound to grind up Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski as much as any of the actual games they play in the East End.

No joke.

The roster recipe USAB's elders have in mind for the summer calls for mixing -- blending! -- a healthy slice of talent from the 2008 Olympic squad with the brightest gems from the 2010 team that won the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. The problem that generates precisely zero sympathy from the rest of the world basketball community is that there are literally too many options now that Colangelo has successfully constructed a program over the past six-plus years that every able-bodied American star wants to be a part of, as evidenced by the fact that the USAB chairman came into 2012 with a publicly stated plan to announce 18 finalists for 12 available spots by the middle of the month ... and wound up naming 20 players as finalists Monday.

"We have an awful lot of players who want to play," Colangelo said, "much more than a roster would allow us to.

"To say that it's difficult to come up with a list, whatever the list might be -- 15, 20 or 30 players -- players are left off that one might say should have been considered. Trust me: They have all been considered."

Krzyzewski, meanwhile, is already calling it "the most talented of the three teams that I've had the opportunity to coach," seeing no need to wait until the end of a six-month process that began this week to eliminate eight names. He's getting no argument, either, from Colangelo, who is required to turn in a list of USAB's 12 Olympians, with six injury alternates, to the U.S. Olympic Committee by June 18, well before Krzyzewski's first scheduled practice of training camp in Las Vegas on July 6.

"We take nothing for granted," Colangelo said, "and we are looking forward to it."

As do we. So let's start the process right here, right now, with ESPN.com's forecast of how the ultimate blending will look and some first-stab answers for all the usual questions every Team USA gets: Will it have enough size? Will it have enough shooting? Will injuries in this compressed season, like Kobe Bryant's mangled wrist, force Krzyzewski's hand when it's time for final cuts?


THE LONDON LOCKS

On this scorecard? Assuming no further catastrophic injuries during the rest of the NBA's dangerously compacted 2011-12 schedule, there are nine sure things.

And they are: Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams at point guard; Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade at shooting guard; Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James at forward; Dwight Howard at center.

Some Team USA observers would list 10 locks, but I've moved Chris Bosh into the next grouping, even after hearing Krzyzewski rave (see Box 6) about the defensive presence that Bosh delivered in Beijing at the last Olympics.

My reasoning: One source clued into USA Basketball's thinking told me this week that Blake Griffin is closer to lock status than Bosh. The source insisted: "Griffin is in."

And yet another keen observer of Team USA matters insists that LaMarcus Aldridge, because his shooting ability, will end up appealing to the coaches even more than Blake.

So Bosh drops down a tier because, well, it's easier that way.


THE NEXT-IN-LINERS

Kevin Love joins Bosh and Griffin in this group. But you know what?

It probably doesn't matter how you label them, because the likelihood is that all three are going.

Colangelo and Krzyzewski know they're going to need frontcourt depth in this tournament, given the switch from the international trapezoid to the NBA lane as well as the size that Spain in particular possesses thanks to the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka. This particular trio, in support of Howard, would give Coach K every conceivable kind of big man: Bosh as the international vet with a good face-up game who has grown quite accustomed to, uh, blending in with big names at his day job; Love as the rebound machine who has legit 3-point range; Griffin as the superfreak athlete who figures to be a cornerstone of the 2016 team and thus would benefit greatly from being drafted into the program ASAP.

And let's be honest: Griffin would have been right there with Durant, Rose and Love on the 2010 world championship team that conquered Turkey if not for the knee injury that cost him his entire rookie season.




THE EXTRA LENGTH

If all of the dozen stars above are healthy come June, Coach K's roster might already be set. Yet there are two players who stand out with the best shot to force an audible that results in a surprise cut or two.

Aldridge and Tyson Chandler.

We repeat: The appeal of Aldridge, as with Love, is his mobility and ability to stretch the floor, which always matters in the international game. Chandler, meanwhile, is the only other true center in the 20-man pool and makes sense for several reasons, not only because of what he'd provide positionally and as a master of capitalizing on international rules when it comes to snatching the ball off the rim ... but because he'd be so vocal and positive as a 12th man. Which is very valuable, too, because chemistry is huge on a star-filled squad like this.

So mark these guys down as two more reminders that whittling this group down to 12 is going to be excruciating.


THE LONG SHOTS

How excruciating? There are six more players who haven't even been mentioned yet: Chauncey Billups, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Andre Iguodala, Lamar Odom and Russell Westbrook.

And two of them especially -- Billups and Westbrook -- will be hard for Coach K to resist. Billups, a la Chandler, is a valued chemistry guy who has the respect of so many peers just like Jason Kidd did in 2008. Westbrook's athleticism and havoc-wreaking potential on D will make him equally tough to omit.

Of course, Westbrook (along with Gay, Gordon and Iguodala) will have down-the-road opportunities, as will two pretty interesting characters who didn't even make the list of 20 finalists: Rajon Rondo and Andrew Bynum.

The same, sadly, cannot be said for Billups and Odom. And the raves both won in Istanbul for their leadership (Chauncey) and adaptability (remember LO playing center next to Durant?) would make it especially painful for Colangelo and Krzyzewski to exclude them.

One of the few safe assumptions on all this is that long playoff runs and the toll they take will presumably make some of these decisions for the USAB brass.

Not that the deepest team on the planet can get away with a single complaint about the short turnaround from the end of the NBA season in June to the start of Olympic training camp right after the July 4th holiday.

"First off I hope I make the Olympic team," Durant said recently, humorously humble as ever. "But if I do make it, I won't worry about that, man. I think I do a good job of taking care of my body. So if I'm there, hopefully I can push through it and make it a good season and a good summer."

Dimes past: Jan. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6-7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13-14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19


2. Western Conference


The Jazz have made it known that point guard Devin Harris is available via trade, according to front-office sources.

Of all the pieces Utah acquired from New Jersey at the 2011 trade deadline for face of the franchise Deron Williams, none of those assets has declined in value like Harris, who made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in his first season in New Jersey but now averages just 8.1 points and 4.6 assists for the Jazz while shooting 35 percent from the field. He has struggled so badly that there's a rising clamor in the SLC for Earl Watson to replace Harris as Utah's starter.

Harris didn't help matters in Thursday night's TNT-televised showdown with his old friends from Dallas, lowlighting an 0-for-7 shooting performance with a badly wide airball from 3 in the heart of crunch time. But you can safely assume that Utah won't struggle to find a taker before the March 15 trade deadline, given that Harris only turns 29 next month and has a very movable contract with only next season remaining at $8.5 million.

The Lakers would surely have interest, desperately needing an injection of speed in their backcourt, but the $8.9 million trade exception L.A. created by dealing Lamar Odom to Dallas isn't big enough to accommodate Harris' current $9.5 million salary.


Some numbers of note in the West this week:

5: Oklahoma City new contract recipient Russell Westbrook is one of just five players in NBA history to record at least 4,000 points, 1,500 assists and 1,000 rebounds in their first three NBA seasons. The others: Chris Paul, LeBron James, Penny Hardaway and Oscar Robertson.

14: Before its breakthrough road win Wednesday night in Orlando, San Antonio was the first team since the fall of 1983 --when Larry O'Brien was still NBA commissioner -- to be unbeaten at home (9-0) and winless on the road (0-5) through 14 games. Two teams actually started their seasons that way in 1983-84: Atlanta and the then-San Diego Clippers.

30.1: The Kings rallied past Indiana on Wednesday night for a 92-88 home win despite shooting just 30.1 percent from the field. The last time anyone shot that poorly and won anyway was Oct. 29, 2003, when Denver shot 29.2 percent and still claimed an 80-72 victory over the Spurs. Sacramento is just the fifth team since 1985-86 to win a regular-season game despite shooting 30.1 percent or worse.

4: Derek Fisher had made only four 3-pointers this season before his buzzer-beating dagger that beat the Mavericks on Monday night. Fisher is shooting 20.8 percent from 3-point range this season.

37: With 26 points and 11 assists in Wednesday night's win at New York, Phoenix's Steve Nash became the oldest player in NBA history (37 years and 345 days old) with at least 25 points and 10 assists in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The previous record-holder was Nash's good buddy Jason Kidd, who achieved the feat on his 37th birthday in March 2010.


It was undeniably refreshing, in this era of superstars forcing their way to major-market teams, to see lil' Oklahoma City secure a five-year, $80 million extension this week with Russell Westbrook. That willingness to stay in OKC for the long term, in addition to Westbrook's many athletic gifts, was one of the key factors that made the Thunder so eager to keep hold of him no matter how many questions persist about how well the shoot-first point guard fits as Kevin Durant's co-star. The Thunder, though, can't be done for this season. Named NBA Coach of the Year as recently as 2010, Scotty Brooks is in the final year of his contract. Doesn't he need a contract extension, sooner rather than later, to be able to manage the mercurial Westbrook with the requisite authority and freedom? OKC also has to figure out how to extend James Harden and Serge Ibaka when the time comes in the wake of the $160-plus million they've invested in Durant and Westbrook on top of Kendrick Perkins' extension last season. ...

In conjunction with Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, ESPN Stats & Info distributed this timely note about coaching diversity in the NBA and how much further ahead this league is than the other top team sports in North America. There are 14 African-American coaches in the 30-team NBA, including eight from the West: Mike Brown of the L.A. Lakers, Utah's Tyrone Corbin, Phoenix's Alvin Gentry, Memphis' Lionel Hollins, Golden State's Mark Jackson, Portland's Nate McMillan, Sacramento's Keith Smart and New Orleans' Monty Williams and alongside Toronto's Dwane Casey, Atlanta's Larry Drew, New Jersey's Avery Johnson, Boston's Doc Rivers, Cleveland's Byron Scott and Charlotte's Paul Silas. There are only seven African-American coaches or managers combined in the NFL (Romeo Crennel, Leslie Frazier, Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith and Mike Tomlin), NHL and Major League Baseball (Dusty Baker and Ron Washington) after the recent firings of Jim Caldwell (Indianapolis Colts), Hue Jackson (Oakland Raiders) and Raheem Morris (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). ... The only semblance of a race in All-Star voting, in either conference, can be found at West forward, with No. 3 vote-getter Dirk Nowitzki (354,434) trailing Blake Griffin (619,913) by 265,479 votes in the latest returns. It's a runaway pretty much everywhere else on the ballot, with Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Andrew Bynum locks to start for the West and LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard basically sealed as East starters.

3. No-Trade Corner

With the NBA trade deadline just shy of two months away -- and with Danny Ainge openly acknowledging that he's even willing to part with Celtics lifer Paul Pierce if it enables Boston to really start rebuilding -- this is a good time to remind you that only two players in the NBA have full no-trade clauses.

That would be the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki.

We've covered this ground before, but since we could probably all use a refresher course: Only players with at least eight years of service time and four seasons with the same team are eligible for no-trade clauses. And even then, players can negotiate a no-trade clause only when they are free agents in pursuit of an all-new contract and not as part of mere contract extensions, because the rule allowing no-trade clauses is specific to contracts "entered into," meaning new contracts, not extensions.

So you can understand why so few players have no-trade clauses, since the overwhelming majority of stars sign their first big-money deals well before their eighth season and often sign extensions to those big deals that don't allow for a change of terms.

Pro basketball's no-trade rules just differ hugely from Major League Baseball's, where no-trade clauses or partial no-trade clauses are routinely built into player contracts and where the famed 10-and-5 rule automatically enables veterans with 10 years of service time and five with the player's current team to block trades. In the NBA, Kobe Bryant had to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2004 to put himself in position to land a no-trade clause, signing a $136 million megadeal with the Lakers after his eighth season in Hollywood. Nowitzki went a similar route in the summer of 2010, opting out his contract to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time and then re-signing with Dallas for four years and $80 million.

However …

It must be noted, as we always point out around this time, that there is a small group of players who, for this season (and this season alone), can stop their team from trading them. They are known as the One-Year Birds -- players who were just signed to a new one-year deal with the same team they played for last season -- as well as the restricted free agents who signed an offer sheet with a new team during the offseason that their previous employer matched.

So if any of their respective teams try to move a One-Year Bird before this season's March 15 trade deadline, they'll need permission from the player. The Clippers' DeAndre Jordan and the Bucks' Luc Mbah a Moute, meanwhile, cannot be traded without their permission until December 2012, which will mark one calendar year from the time their offer sheets (tendered by Golden State and Denver, respectively) were matched by L.A. and Milwaukee.

Read on, then, for the full 2011-12 list of players who can't be traded without their consent.

P.S. -- Pierce was eligible for a no-trade clause in his latest contract with the Celtics, just like Nowitzki, but Boston held firm in withholding one as part of a four-year deal worth in excess of $60 million bestowed on the 34-year-old in July 2010.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?