Kevin Durant, Kevin Love lay All-Star foundation for USA Basketball’s 2014 roster
LAS VEGAS — Standing side-by-side with chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski, All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kevin Love announced Wednesday their commitment to play for USA Basketball at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
“Representing your country, you can’t take that for granted,” Durant said, addressing reporters after the final day of USA Basketball’s minicamp practices. “I knew last summer I was going to commit and play this next World Cup. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, man, playing against the best in the world and playing with the best in the world.”
Love added: “Being a part of USA basketball has done a lot for my career. … Jerry and coach keep mentioning being part of the USA Basketball family, heading forward, we’re looking for better and brighter things.”
Durant and Love both competed for the USA’s gold medal-winning teams at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey and the 2012 Olympics in London. Durant, a four-time All-Star and MVP runner-up the last two seasons, was the USA’s leading scorer as a starter in 2012, averaging 19.5 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 52.3 percent on three-pointers. Love, a two-time All-Star, came off the bench in 2012 to average 11.6 points and lead Team USA with 7.6 rebounds per game.
Their commitments amount to dual coups for USA Basketball, which faces a particularly tough challenge next summer. After winning gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and at the 2010 World Championships, the USA will be forced to play its toughest rival, Spain, in their home country. Spain, whose roster is expected to include a number of NBA players, captured gold at the 2006 World Championships and took home silver in 2008 and 2012.
“We’re very appreciative of their early commitment,” Colangelo said. “We think it will certainly send a message to our other guys who have indicated they are interested.”
The hope — and perhaps expectation — is that Durant’s commitment in particular will incentivize other key returning players to hop back onboard for 2014.
“He’s kind of the face of USA Basketball going forward,” Colangelo said. “He committed a long time ago, and it’s part of who he is.”
Durant’s history with USA Basketball embodies the continuous pipeline approach sought by Colangelo and Krzyzewski when they took over in 2005. Durant has participated in camp after camp with USAB, barely missing the 2008 Olympics roster cut before going on to win two gold medals. Still just 24, it’s conceivable that Durant could easily add three more golds (2014, ’16 and ’20) to his collection.
“He’s paid his dues all the way along,” Colangelo told SI.com. “He’s grown physically, emotionally into a man and a great player, one of the great players in the world today. The fact that he’s so committed to USA Basketball is a big statement on him.”
Durant told reporters that he hadn’t yet communicated with LeBron James about the 2013 MVP’s plans for next summer, but Yahoo! Sports reported that James will not participate in the 2014 FIBA World Cup and is considered “doubtful” to participate in the 2016 Olympics. James holds gold medals from 2008 and 2012 to go along with bronze medals earned at the 2004 Olympics and 2006 World Championships.
Still, there are plenty of big dominoes that could fall after Durant’s commitment.
“If I had to say a few names, [Russell Westbrook], James Harden, because we’re young guys,” Durant said, when asked who else he expected to return next summer. “Hopefully we get more names and add in some of these great guys out here as well.”
Colangelo stopped short of confirming those commitments but indicated that he expected Durant’s presence would play a role in those decisions.
“Yeah, probably,” he told SI.com, when asked whether Durant’s commitment will help hook Westbrook and Harden. “I think he’ll have influence on them, but they’ll have to make their own decisions. I’ve said there were a few people that were going to be part of our World Cup team, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Westbrook won gold in 2010 and 2012; Harden won gold in 2012.
A fifth member from the 2012 team that appears to be a virtual lock to return is Anthony Davis. He sneaked onto the London team after injuries to Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin, and is participating in this week’s minicamp.
“I’ve seen real improvement with the guy we had last year, Anthony Davis, because we’ve had more time to see him,” Colangelo said. “I think in the next couple of years, he has a chance to elevate himself even to another level, because he has one skill that sets him apart: He can block shots any place on the floor. He’s the one big I would say, really, ‘Wow.’”
Krzyzewski added: “The very first thing [I've seen with the big men in camp] is how much Anthony Davis has developed. One of the reasons he was on the Olympic team was because we look and see [that] he’s a guy who is going to get a lot better and hopefully be on a number of teams. His defense in yesterday’s practice was outstanding.”
In addition to those Olympians, 2010 returners Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose have also been mentioned this week as being in the mix for next summer. Kyrie Irving, too, is widely expected to make the 2014 squad. If all of those names wind up competing, USA Basketball would have a base of at least six All-Stars to trot out in Spain.
Still, there’s a reason why Colangelo called Durant the “face” of the program. Fully implanted as the world’s second-best player, Durant is a terror for international opponents, as he can do everything from stepping out to drain the international three to playing interior post defense.
“I try not to look at myself as the face because there’s so many great guys,” Durant said. “We all have to come together. I really appreciate [Colangelo] for saying that, but it’s more of a team effort for me. … Guys on this team know that not one guy carries it, everybody has to do it collectively. I’m just looking forward to going out there and representing my country.”
Krzyzewski, who recently re-affirmed his own position with USA Basketball after considering stepping down as coach last summer, was beaming when he described Durant’s decision to commit to playing in Spain.
“The thing [Durant] told us, he said, ‘Coach, I wanted to come here and look you in the eye and tell you I’m doing it,” Krzyzewski said. “I get chills just thinking a guy of his stature and his accomplishment, these two guys, to come here shows what they think of the program and the people involved, to do it face-to-face. We appreciate that very much.”