Sounds From USA Basketball
USA Basketball hosted its annual minicamp in Las Vegas this past week, ushering in the sport’s biggest names and personalities. As such, the University of Las Vegas gym became a hotbed of fiery quotes and revelatory takes. From the optimistic to the resentful, the passive-aggressive to the not-so-subtle, it was a big week for NBA intrigue. Here’s just a sampling of the best quotes:
Even before USA Camp officially got underway, Anthony was making headlines. It had just been reported that Melo would be traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Atlanta Hawks. From there, he can be bought-out and free to join a team of his choosing. The smart money is on the Houston Rockets, but nothing has been finalized at the time of this writing.
In an interview with ESPN, Anthony outlined why he’s not ready to take a reduced role no matter where he ends up. He won’t be coming off the bench, he explained, and any regressions we’ve seen out of him are simply contextual. As Melo sees it, the OKC experiment was doomed from the start.
“I think last year -- and I haven't talked about this before -- everything was just so rushed, going to the team for media day and the day before training camp. Them guys already had something in place, and then I come along in the 25th hour like, oh s***, Melo just come on and join us. Like, you can figure it out since you've been around the game for a long time. That's why it was so inconsistent. At times, I had to figure it out on my own rather than somebody over there or people over there helping me."
Now, whether Melo is correct about the above is worth debating. But that he is entering next season with this mindset is perhaps more illuminating. The Rockets will be looking to replace the defense of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute with a chippy Anthony looking to prove himself. Look out H-Town.
The Kawhi Leonard saga was an apparent staring contest in which neither side won. Yes, Leonard is no longer a Spur, and San Antonio did reel in a somewhat satisfactory haul for their troubles. Perhaps the biggest loser from the entire ordeal, however, is DeMar DeRozan.
It’s no secret DeRozan feels slighted and betrayed by the Toronto Raptors. It’s the only professional franchise he’s ever known, and four-time All Star has spent his entire career working to improve that team. In the aftermath of the trade, his frustration has been quite apparent.
One quote in particular, from an interview with ESPN’s Chris Haynes, that I believe is the most devastating. He’s asked about his decision to re-sign with Toronto as a free agent in 2016:
“Day one when I was drafted to the Toronto Raptors, they had this stigma on them: Every guy leaves, nobody wants to be here, superstars, nobody wants to play in Canada. From Day 1, my whole mindset and approach to the game, being in Toronto, was I wanted to change that whole narrative to that whole organization. That's why I work my butt off like I did. That's why I push, that's why I repped so hard to get that stigma off it. And that was another example in my career where I could prove that by not having to meet with nobody else. Get this done within the first 30 minutes of free agency and keep moving. That was always my mindset and approach, and you could tell by the connection I have with the fans. I never thought about elsewhere, I never mentioned elsewhere. I love that place. It's literally my second home.”
The NBA is a business (just ask Isaiah Thomas), but that doesn’t make this quote any easier to stomach. DeRozan did spend Team USA Camp getting better acquainted with his new coach, Gregg Popovich. If there’s one person and one organization that can fix DeRozan’s scorn, it’s coach Pop and the Spurs.
DeRozan wasn’t alone in taking offense to the Raptors’ quick trigger in the Leonard trade. All-Star point guard Lowry, one of DeRozan’s best friends in the league, was especially standoffish at mini-camp.
Lowry insisted he only answer questions regarding USA Basketball. When asked about his relationship with Leonard, Lowry was less than revelatory.
Reporter: “Do you have a relationship with Kawhi?”
Lowry: “Um, no. I know him. We have mutual respect.”
Reporter: “Have you spoken to him since the deal?”
Lowry: “Um, probably, yeah. I think so. I don’t know.”
Reporter: “To Kawhi?”
Lowry: “I don’t know.”
Reporter: “You don’t know if you’ve spoken to Kawhi?”
What happens next in Toronto will be interesting. Lowry is a seasoned professional, and surely will flourish playing alongside a player of Leonard’s caliber. If trading away his friend has damaged his relationship with the Raptors, however, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Lowry in a different jersey sooner rather than later.
Not everything from USA mini-camp was doom and gloom or high-level gossip. There were some positive takeaways too. My favorite is Conley’s positive attitude in the face of a tough rehab.
“I feel ready to go, but obviously, you’ve just got to take your time and do the right thing.” Conley said.
“There was no reason for us to rush, especially anything to do with the Achilles. Just making sure all my muscles have time to reboot, recharge, get stronger again and get ready to go.”
Conley is among the most underrated players in the league. Being a star in Memphis has that effect. If he can bounce back to where he was prior to his injury, the Grizzlies should be a much more competitive team.
"Me being here today, I’m just thrilled. I’m excited. I’m just excited to be here and know how far I’ve come.”
Not everything in the NBA is drama, despite evidence to the contrary. Sometimes the most exciting parts of the game are watching an athlete put his head down and grind. Conley can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I for one am immensely happy for him.
All that said, we haven’t even touched on Kevin Durant’s litany of commentary that came out in the past week. In true Durant form, it’s sharp-tongued, poignant, and probably very correct. That’s a post for another day.