Las Vegas • A week after the NBA effectively wrapped up its league business with the conclusion of the summer league here, many of its best American players have returned to the desert to begin preparations for a busy upcoming two years for Team USA.
As the group readies to return to action in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, starting with practices at UNLV on Thursday and Friday, here are some of the questions that will potentially be answered this week:
1. Gregg Popovich’s Team USA blueprint
For the past 12 years, the program has been centered on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who took over before the 2006 world championships in Japan and led Team USA to gold medals in each of the past three Olympic Games, as well as the past two world championships.
Now, though, the task of leading the program will fall to Popovich — though it’s hard to imagine one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport struggling to take the reins. Popovich will probably still have some different opinions on how to build his roster and how the team should play. This week will be the first chance to shed some light on that.
2. The fallout from the Kawhi Leonard trade
Leonard won’t be participating in practices, which means he’ll avoid having to talk about this summer’s megadeal. Popovich and DeMar DeRozan have both talked about it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have to again this week. But it will perhaps be most interesting to hear what Kyle Lowry has to say about Raptors general anager Masai Ujiri’s comments that Toronto had plateaued with a foundation of Lowry and DeRozan. It’s one thing for DeRozan to be annoyed by that. Given Lowry is still a Raptor, his take on the situation will be of greater significance moving forward in Toronto.
3. Players discussing contract decisions
There have been plenty of noteworthy decisions made by players this summer — and many of them will be here this week. There was Paul George choosing to take a four-year deal to stay in Oklahoma City. There was Jimmy Butler choosing not to extend his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves — which, financially, was the most logical decision to make. There are the rumored extension negotiations by Klay Thompson and Draymond Green with the Golden State Warriors that could determine how long the league’s preeminent superteam will remain together.
4. Point guards with murky futures
This is a golden age for point guard play. Many of those guards will be around this week — though it’s not clear where some of them see their futures headed. There have been rumblings of Damian Lillard being frustrated in Portland. Meanwhile, both Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving can be free agents next summer, and there is the possibility both will leave their current teams (the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics, respectively) when they get the chance. Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, had to take a one-year deal for the minimum with the Denver Nuggets as he recovers from hip surgery.
5. What’s next for Anthony Davis?
“The Brow” has blossomed into exactly the kind of player he was expected to be when he was made the first overall pick in 2012 and was a member of that summer’s Olympic team. But after a tumultuous offseason in New Orleans that saw the Pelicans lose Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins in free agency and replace them with Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle, how does he feel about things in New Orleans? Whether Davis is willing to take the supermax next summer is perhaps the biggest question looming over the NBA, with a whole host of teams hoping he won’t. This will be the first chance Davis has had to address everything that’s happened and what it might mean for his future. There will be a lot of teams waiting to hear what he has to say.
6. The new-look Houston Rockets
We have heard a lot from the Warriors about the state of their team after adding Cousins in free agency. But we haven’t heard a lot from the Rockets. Between the re-signing of Chris Paul, the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, the impending addition of Carmelo Anthony (once he clears waivers Friday, now that the trade sending him to the Atlanta Hawks is official) and the lingering status of restricted free agent Clint Capela, there is a lot to discuss. With Paul and James Harden both here this week, they’ll have a chance to give their opinions on all of it.