Team USA Practice in NYC – Day 1
Granger injures finger; D’Antoni reacts to Isiah/Knicks deal
by Matt Lawyue / @mlawyue
Team USA resumed practice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice this afternoon, as they continued trials to solidify a final roster of 12 for the upcoming World Championships. At the start of the day these were the 15 finalists:
GUARDS: Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon
FORWARDS: Kevin Durant, Lamar Odom, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger, Jeff Green, Kevin Love
CENTERS: Tyson Chandler, JaVale McGee
As the media entered the gym, Team USA had just begun its 24-minute scrimmage against the USA Select Team, coached by Villanova’s Jay Wright, and comprised of college kids such as Kyle Singler, Kemba Walker and Nolan Smith.
For the first and third quarters, Coach K used a unit of Rose, Billups, Iguodala, Durant, Odom, Curry and Love. The second and fourth quarter unit comprised Rondo, Westbrook, Gay, Chandler, Granger, Gordon, Green and McGee.
Perhaps the most glaring issue with this team is size. Whatever final 12 make this squad, Coach K will have to use many of his lengthy forwards at center. For some portions of the scrimmage, Durant and Odom anchored the middle, while more conventionally, Chandler, Love and McGee manned the paint on others. We should be expecting many three guard sets, playing to this rosters strength of speed, quickness and agility. During the first quarter, there was a lineup of Rose, Billups, Curry, Love and Durant, a highly talented, yet horribly undersized group.
Odom, who’s used to playing a point-forward role for the Lakers, doesn’t see size as a problem. “Guys like myself and Tyson, we’re the biggest guys in the NBA. We see it every night,” Odom says. “It’s nothing really to worry about, it’s basketball. We play our basketball game, we’re gonna win.”
There’s some thoughts of McGee being brought to Turkey just for insurance, in case the injury-prone Chandler crashes out.
When asked what McGee, a 7-0 bean pole, thinks his best assets are to help him make this team he believes it’s “clogging up the paint, being a big body in the paint.” This was evident today on a couple of rejections he sent back to sender.
As it stands now, the 3, 4 spot has overflowed, perhaps signaling cuts to Green and more imminently to Granger, who dislocated his finger on defense today, leaving his status uncertain for the World’s.
One aspect of today’s scrimmage is the leadership role on this team, which seems to have been picked up by Odom, Durant, and most importantly, Billups.
“It’s something I don’t know how not to do,” the Denver guard says about leadership. “At the same time, the coaches do look for me to be that leader out there, even on the bench and the locker rooms. You know, it’s just kind of being me.”
I asked him about the similarities of his role now, with Jason Kidd’s role on the ’08 Olympic squad, as a veteran point who’s importance to the team might be valued more off the court. “He’s obviously one of the best players we’ve ever come across and he’s the one player who’s undefeated in all of his years with Team USA. It’s going to be tough to live up to what he does, but like I said, what they ask me to do is not an adjustment for me.”
On another, more infuriating, note about this practice, at one point it turned into the Knicks/Isiah show. Mike D’Antoni, the assistant coach, recently bowed out from the tournament, citing a bad back. However, this being New York, and this being Dolan’s world, everybody wanted to ask D’Antoni his thoughts of Isiah Thomas’ return as part-time consultant to the New York Knicks.
“He (Isiah) is a Hall of Famer and he’s one of the top 50 players in the game and he has a lot of credibility out there,” D’Antoni says. “Donnie is very smart to be able to tap into him when he needs him, and if it’s an advantage to the Knicks we’ll use it. That’s about all there is.”
I’ll use another post to discuss my thoughts on Isiah’s official return. It’s too irrelevant within this context of Team USA. Let’s just say it’s a PR train wreck for its fans and a sign Dolan might becoming restless.
Day 2 update after tomorrow’s practice.