Kevin Durant bailed* on Team USA and now the decision makers must figure out how to replace the NBAs best scorer and reigning MVP heading into the World Cup of Basketball. This is after Paul George's terrible knee injury and after big men Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge also withdrew.
At this moment, 15 players remain and likely will through the upcoming training camp stops in Chicago and New York. Eventually 12 will head to Spain and play in the tournament opener on Aug. 30.
Here's where my was head last Saturday, hours after George's went down and before Team USA cut John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap.
Power forward - Kevin Durant (lock), Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee
Small forward - Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver
Center - Anthony Davis (lock), DeMarcus Cousins
Wing guard - Stephen Curry (lock), James Harden (lock), Klay Thompson
Point guard - Derrick Rose (lock), Kyrie Irving
- Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond, Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan are the other four players remaining on the 15-man roster.
- At this point we can add Faried and Thompson to the "lock" category. Probably Cousins as well with Korver about there as well.
- Harden and Davis are the only two players left who were on the 2012 Olympic gold medal team. Without Durant, Harden, Rose and Curry will probably be the top scorers along with...
- Durant's departure is good news for Cousins' candidacy. The previous argument against involved the team not really needing his offense if it meant dealing with the big man's erratic behavior. That's not longer the case. In fact, Cousins may be the top frontcourt scoring threat left. Look at the contenders. Not a pure go-to scorer in the bunch.
- I still don't see Drummond and his terrible free throw shooting making the roster, but going with a big squad is another path to ponder, especially since Spain sports the Gasol brothers.
- Not saying the World Cup hinges on him, but Millsap's Stretch-4 capabilities would look rather nice on this team now. Guessing they won't ask him to return out of respect.
- Lillard is probably the best player of the remaining four, but he lacks the one element this roster needs most: Size. That's why I'm guessing the final spot comes down to Hayward or DeRozan, it could be a three-player battle with Parsons.
Here's a look at some stats from last season
Scoring: Advantage, DeRozan (22.7 - 16.2)
Rebounding: Advantage, Hayward (5.1 -4.3)
Assists: Advantage, Hayward (5.2 - 4.0)
Catch-and-shoot percentage: DeRozan (41.7 percent), Hayward (34.7)
Offensive rating in clutch situations (last five minutes): Hayward (115.2), DeRozan (105.2)
Offensive rating: DeRozan (110), Hayward (104)
Both shot just 30 percent from beyond the 3-point and over 80 percent from the free throw line. Make me pick and I'll go with...ugh, don't know. Hayward is perhaps a better all-around threat, but DeRozan the better scorer. Since the backcourt is loaded with point producers, I'll go with Hayward in something of a point-forward role.
*Back to Durant. Look, he's a local hero and everyone in the DMV surely believes the Durantula can do no wrong especially if his free agency summer of 2016 remains in play for the Wizards. He's played tons of games over the last few years including stints for USA Basketball. We should take him at his word that he needed to "step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season." Only KD knows whether Paul George's brutal leg injury or other matters factored into his decision.
The reality is Durant committed to play for Team USA. Sounds like he reaffirmed the commitment over the weekend and before the recent cuts. Nobody would have denied crushed him if he made that decision weeks ago. But not only did Durant stay, he took on a leader role including putting in extra work after practices. To exit now, after training camp, and after a round of cuts, that's a tough and unexpected blow.