Team USA is gathering this week in Las Vegas for a minicamp. Here's a brief FAQ to help explain what is going on:
Q: What event is the team playing in this summer?
A: There is no event. This year was the normal rotation to have the World Championships staged, as the last one was held in 2014, in Spain. But the event has been rebranded as the World Cup of Basketball, and in an effort to give it more attention, it was pushed back a year so it wouldn't be on the same four-year rotation as the soccer World Cup. The next World Cup of Basketball will be played in China from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, 2019. The U.S. team isn't even staging an exhibition game this summer, just three days of meetings and practice.
Q: So why have this minicamp?
A: The team has made a habit of getting together even in off years to help establish continuity and practice under the international rules. But this year is also important because Gregg Popovich is taking over after Mike Krzyzewski ended a 10-year run as national team coach at the 2016 Olympics. A primary goal this week is for Popovich and his staff to build relationships.
Q: Who is on the team?
A: There's a roster of 35 players, though some will not be taking part in the minicamp. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard will not attend. There are other players recovering from injuries -- including Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins -- who will be there for meetings but won't be playing. It's still a who's who of NBA stars, though the roster makeup will very likely change by next summer. There will be 12 players who go to China.
Q: Why isn't Leonard playing? Is it because he's still hurt?
A: He has passed his physical with the Toronto Raptors. Prior to that, Leonard had considered playing in the minicamp, using the event to showcase his health to teams that might want to trade for him. With the trade done, he ultimately decided not to attend. With his former coach, Popovich, running the team and the man he was traded for, DeMar DeRozan, also in attendance, there was a chance for it to be a bit of a media circus.
Q: If a player skips the minicamp, can he still play next summer?
A: In the past, managing director Jerry Colangelo had required all players to attend training camp even in off years or risk being disqualified. Those rules have been relaxed somewhat in recent years.
Q: What about the team Jeff Van Gundy is coaching? What is that team?
A: In addition to changing the name and expanding the field in the event to 32 teams like it's older soccer brother, qualifying for the World Cup of Basketball goes over a two-year period and includes games throughout the year. This was a real challenge, because most of the qualifying games take place during the basketball season, and unlike with soccer, teams aren't giving their players time off to play for their country in qualifiers. Van Gundy took on the task of coaching an ever-revolving roster of free agents and G-League players on loan for this process. Van Gundy led the U.S. team to a victory in the AmeriCup last year in Uruguay, going 5-0. The team then went 5-1 in qualifying games over an eighth-month period -- the only loss was to Mexico in June -- to advance to the second round of qualifying. The U.S team will play more qualifiers in September and February and almost certainly is assured to be one of the seven teams from North America and South America that will advance to China for the World Cup.
Q: Will the top NBA stars play next summer?
A: The World Cup team has typically featured a younger group than the Olympic team. But next summer, the spots on the team will be more coveted. Because the event is in China, which is a huge market, players will be interested in taking part to help expand their brands and to take advantage of business opportunities there.