Compiling the roster for the men’s Olympic team will be different this time for USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. He and the coaching staff will pick the 12-man team before training camp even begins.
That means there will be no tryouts. Colangelo said the roster will be chosen by June 27, soon after the NBA Finals, and that the team will commence training camp and an exhibition schedule before its Aug. 6 Olympic opener against China in Rio de Janeiro.
This much is certain: Team USA will be without three players — Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, and Chris Paul — who would have made the team. Griffin was declared out of the Olympics after undergoing a bone marrow procedure on his troublesome left quadriceps. Paul pulled himself out of consideration six weeks ago, according to Colangelo, before he sustained a broken hand during the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Trail Blazers. And Davis had shoulder surgery and decided to spend the summer getting healthy after an injury-plagued season with the Pelicans.
There are a handful of players, including LeBron James, who have yet to officially commit to Rio, but Colangelo and Co. plan to give those players ample time to make decisions.
“LeBron, I didn’t expect him to make a decision until he’s finished with the season,” Colangelo said. “And he’s entitled to that. He’s put a lot of time and energy into USA Basketball all these years.”
Still, the prospective roster is loaded with talent, and the biggest challenge will be paring it down from more than 20 hopefuls to 12.
“We’re just waiting for the [NBA] season to end,” Colangelo said. “The good thing about the national team roster is we have depth at every position. So I think we’re still in pretty good shape.”
Colangelo has made sure to add younger talent to the pool, such as Damian Lillard, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving, which will make the selection process even more difficult.
“Our first [national] team, we had 12 guys who played in Beijing [in 2008],” Colangelo said. “Two years later, we had 12 different guys who played for us in the world championships in Istanbul. Two years later in London [for the Olympics], the roster was made up of half and half. In , we had mostly new guys in the World Cup. So, what do I expect this time? Probably a split, and that’s the way it should be, so that guys know they are going to have an opportunity here, because we do turn over half the roster. You look at guys like Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, there’s a lot of guys, that kind of new blood that is pretty good.”
A selection process without tryouts is certain to draw controversy. Colangelo said the choices will be based on position need, as well as recent NBA play. He said he wanted to avoid telling established NBA players they were not selected after a tryout.
“I have great respect for every player, so to put them in a position where some of them are told they are not going to make it, so-called cutting them, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Colangelo said. “So I think this is better than the alternative. It’s going to be difficult because there’s so many really outstanding players that deserve it. That’s the nature of the business here. This is what we chose to do, so I’ve got to give it a shot.”
There will also be some questions beyond the Rio Olympics. The next FIBA World Cup of Basketball doesn’t occur until 2019, a year before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and Team USA will have to qualify for the World Cup.
“It’s important to bring in a lot of Select Team players because they’re the future,” Colangelo said. “There is a lot of good, young talent out there who will make an impact over the next several years.”
Can Hunter be 3-point threat?
R.J. Hunter was taken by the Celtics with the 28th overall pick of the 2015 draft, and he endured a typical up-and-down rookie season. Splitting time between the Celtics and NBADL Maine, Hunter played in 36 NBA games and averaged 2.7 points. He did carve out a limited role in the postseason, playing in five of the six games against the Hawks.
The Celtics desperately needed long-range shooting in that series. Cleveland swept the Hawks in the second round, hitting 77 3-pointers in the four games. Boston was 52 for 189 (27.5 percent) from the 3-point line six games against Atlanta.
“The Warriors won a championship last year shooting threes and Cleveland hasn’t lost a game shooting threes in the playoffs this year,” Hunter said. “It’s not a coincidence. I think it’s a serious trend. It’s definitely a change in the game.
“For me, it’s ballhandling, especially with the way it’s going and how much space is on the court with shooters being around. If I add that element to my game then it will take it to the next level. I think once all the strength and conditioning come together and I watch a lot more film and get more experience, it will come together, too.”
Hunter converted 19 of his 63 3-point attempts (30.2 percent) this season. And he acknowledged learning a valuable lesson during the Atlanta series from Kyle Korver, whose constant moving without the ball enabled him to get open for threes against a defense designed to stop him.
“Guys are talented. You could see it up close,” Hunter said. “It’s extremely evident because that gives me the extra push for the summer. Every rep has to be sharp if you’re going to be successful in this league because these guys are way too good.”
The Celtics drafted four players last June, three of who signed contracts with the team and grew close. Hunter, Terry Rozier, and Jordan Mickey were inseparable at times. Hunter said having other young players around made his transition to the NBA smoother.
“Some of the rookies I talk to have a weird balance where it’s just a lot of old guys. I had the perfect balance where it would always be me, Terry, and Mickey hanging out with [veteran] Jae Crowder,” Hunter said. “So I’m like hanging out with my boys while I’m hanging out with [Crowder]. I had the perfect mixture and you were able to be yourself. You didn’t have to act grown or act mature when you have the friends around you the same age.”
The move to Boston allowed Hunter to leave the tutelage of his father for the first time. Hunter played for his father, Ron, at Georgia State for three seasons. Hunter said the time apart actually allowed their relationship to flourish.
“It was definitely different but I think it was better because we were engulfed in our seasons for three years that we didn’t really know anything at that point besides basketball,” Hunter said. “It was a good switch up to where we could have that relationship again, and he was supportive. After every game, he would send me a text.”
A question for the Celtics is whether Hunter can turn into the dependable 3-point shooter they need. Coach Brad Stevens has made the 3-point shot a big part of his offense, but the Celtics finished 28th out of 30 teams in 3-point shooting percentage at 33.5.
For Hunter to develop as a player, he said he needs to develop his body. Getting stronger is his No. 1 priority.
“I think taking care of my body was the main thing, especially with the long season,” he said. “The demands [of the NBA] besides basketball. Rest is huge. It’s easy to get caught in the life and not rest up and take care of your body. Clearly I need to get stronger, but you can’t really force Mother Nature, so I just let it be what it is. I’ve been hearing that all my life about my build. But I work hard in the weight room.”
Fraschilla: 16th pick has value
The Celtics come into next month’s draft with a whopping eight picks — including three in the first round, starting with the Nets’ lottery pick and then Nos. 16 and 23.
There has been intense speculation that since the Celtics already have so many young players, they will trade perhaps all three of those first-rounders, or keep the Nets pick and trade the other two in Round 1. ESPN draft expert Fran Fraschilla, a former college coach, believes the Celtics also could get a productive player with the 16th overall pick.
Remember, the Celtics took James Young at No. 16 two years ago and that has yet to work out.
“I think 16 is a good pick,” Fraschilla said. “I think Danny [Ainge] and his staff do a really good job. I think 16 is a place where they hope one of the guys they really like slips. I thought the [impact players in the] draft stopped at 12, but I think 16 is a terrific pick for them.”
Fraschilla believes the Celtics could net at No. 16 a productive college player such as Domantas Sabonis of Gonzaga, the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, Malik Beasley of Florida State, Deyonta Davis of Michigan State, or Ben Bentil of Providence.
“There’s going to be somebody they like there that they’re going to be excited about taking,” Fraschilla said. “And then, of course, you’re talking about a team that could be wheeling and dealing with trades. I always think the 13-22 range is where a team picking there really likes somebody they had in their top 10 and it just falls to them. I think the Celtics could be in that position.”
|Player||College||Pos.||Ht / Wt.||G-GS||Pts.||FG%||Reb.|
|Domantas Sabonis||Gonzaga||F||6-11 / 240||36-31||17.6||61.1||11.8|
|Malik Beasley||Florida State||G||6-5 / 196||34-34||15.6||47.1||5.3|
|Deyonta Davis||Michigan State||F||6-10 / 240||35-16||7.5||59.8||5.5|
|Ben Bentil||Providence||F||6-9 / 235||31-29||21.2||46.1||7.8|
Fraschilla also touched on potential Celtics draft target Dragan Bender, an 18-year-old, 7-foot center from Croatia. There have been natural comparisons between Bender and 2015 Knicks first-rounder Kristaps Porzingis, who enjoyed a sparkling rookie season. But Fraschilla said Bender is not quite as developed.
“I was surprised more by the instant impact [Porzingis] had,” said Fraschilla, who last year said Porzingis was two years away from being an impact player. “I was always very high on Kristaps because he played at a high level, and I don’t remember exactly what I told you but I thought the thing that got him through this first season, besides the elite athleticism, was his heart. He doesn’t mind getting dunked on and doesn’t mind trying to dunk on you back at the other end.
“Having said that, this is a different animal with Bender, because Dragan has not played enough basketball at as high a level as Kristaps Porzingis was thrown into at the [Spanish League] level. And he’s a little bit different in that I think Kristaps, while he’s a perimeter outside/inside player right now, Bender is more of strictly a perimeter stretch 4-man. He can shoot the ball well. He moves his feet well and he can defend. I think he’s going to be a better defender than people think, but he’s not nearly the finished product right now that Porzingis was a year ago, and in that sense it’s unfair to compare them.”
Teams have to decide whether to draft top European prospects who may not be ready for the NBA. While the Knicks scored big with Porzingis, the 76ers are still waiting for Dario Saric to report to their team. Bender averaged 5.5 points in 25 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season.
“He’s going to be in the top 10, potentially the top five, but I think his best days are ahead of him,” Fraschilla said. “He’s been in and out of the Maccabi Tel Aviv lineup this year, and rightfully so by the way, because he’s 18½ years old. And Porzingis might have been maybe a year older at the same stage, but you’re talking about a guy that was thrown into the second-best league in the world and he was able to swim rather than sink. Bender is a terrific prospect, but he’s a different kind of player than Porzingis is.”
Big changes could be coming for the Hawks after being swept by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The impending free agency of Al Horford is obviously the biggest issue, but rising standout Kent Bazemore is also a free agent, and the club may have to decide on a primary point guard after Dennis Schroder played the fourth quarter of Game 4 against Cleveland while Jeff Teague sat the bench. Teague has one year left on his contract at a bargain $8 million and could be a target of the Knicks . . . The Pacers are seeking a head coach and could be interested in Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, who is drawing interest from NBA as well as college teams. Veteran coaches Nate McMillan and Mark Jackson are also considered candidates for the Pacers’ job. Frank Vogel, who was fired by Indiana, has quickly become a candidate for the Grizzlies. The Knicks appear set on Kurt Rambis as their head coach, as he attended the NBA Combine along with the rest of the team’s brass. The Rockets, meanwhile, interviewed TNT analyst Kenny Smith for their vacant coaching position. Smith has had coaching aspirations for years but has been selective about interviewing . . . With Mike Tirico leaving ESPN for NBC, it leaves ESPN’s Mark Jones as the only full-time African-American TV play-by-play man in the NBA. Jones, whose brother Paul is the radio play-by-play man for the Raptors, has been with ESPN since 1990 . . . There are a couple of prospects who entered the combine on the bubble but are likely to stay in the draft. Kansas center Cheick Diallo, who played sparingly during his freshman season, flourished during five-on-five play and is expected to hire an agent. Maryland guard Melo Trimble, who struggled toward the end of last season, could also be eligible for the draft. The best player at the combine has been Saint Joseph’s swingman DeAndre Bembry, who already has hired an agent after leaving the Hawks following his junior season. Bembry was considered a likely early second-rounder before the combine but has impressed scouts with his versatility. Oakland guard Kay Felder, who has interviewed with the Celtics, measured as the shortest player at the combine, at 5-8¼ without shoes.
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns submitted a phenomenal rookie season. The 20-year old became the fourth player since 2000 to average more than 15 points and 10 rebounds a game in his first season. Here’s the company he joins:
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.