It's been almost a week and Paul George's leg snapping at the Team USA scrimmage is still just as brutal as the moment it happened. It's a crushing blow for the Pacers, an enormous loss for the NBA.
The injury isn't good for anyone, but it does come with implications. One of them involves Chandler Parsons: suddenly, what was perhaps a questionable shot to make Team USA's final 12-man roster now is increasingly likely.
Here is the roster as it currently stands.
Before boarding a plane to Spain on Aug. 23, Coach K and Bryan Coleangelo must cut four of those fringe players. I think three of them are rather easy.
The first cut is Damian Lillard. He's a fantastic guard and, depending on what happens to Team USA in the coming years, could be a big part of its future. But he can't do anything better than the five guards already assembled, and so he'd be an extraneous addition.
Second, two of the three big men are sent home to enjoy their summer vacation. For me, it's Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins. Both are clearly more talented than Mason Plumlee, but this isn't an All-Star team. Whoever it is, he's the 11th man on the roster, yet a crucial back-up if the expected Spain-USA showdown happens. Drummond can't shoot free throws and Cousins is too volatile a personality. Plumlee just seems best suited to sit on the bench for five or six games and still be ready to bang with the Gasol brothers if needed.
Either way, I don't think Team USA brings more than one of those three centers, regardless of who it is. With Paul Millsap already dismissed, it looks pretty clear that Kenneth Faried will make the team behind Durant. That leaves three spots open and four players left.
Korver's got to make the squad. He'll be the 12th man; a shooting specialist who can bust a zone or spark a slumping offense. Again, this isn't an All-Star team. The 12th spot doesn't go to the 12th most talented player, but rather, the player who fits the roster the best. In fact, it might already be decided that Korver will be 12th man, while the coaches try to figure out who will make the team in front of him.
Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan are left. I've got DeRozan making it as a bench player. He's not like the other two -- explosive when attacking the rim, a defender with talent. He not too disciplined as an off-ball defender, but per Synergy, he was the eighth-best defender in isolation (0.55 ppp) and 53th-best defender against pick-and-roll players (0.72 ppp). He might not be quite as good as those stats indicate, but if you have him come off the bench with a specific defensive assignment, he's the best option of those three.
That leaves Parsons and Hayward -- and oddly enough, they're probably battling for the starting small forward position. Whichever wins will be part of the Durant/Davis backcourt, and the loser won't make the team. High stakes, eh? Since they're similar players, it doesn't make sense to have both on the roster.
I've got Parsons edging Hayward out for a pretty simple reason: he can play the four. In three seasons, he's got 18 percent of his minutes at power forward, compared to Hayward's one percent (via basketball reference). Both can shoot, pass and pick out spots to attack the rim, but Hayward can't change where he's played in his career. Here's a projected lineup:
Guards: Curry, Rose, Irving, Harden, Thompson
Wings: Durant, Parsons, DeRozan, Korver
Bigs: Davis, Faried, Plumlee
Parsons vs. Hayward is a positional battle that isn't over, though. Reporters have said Hayward looks stronger in camp, and from pictures I've seen, I'd agree. If he shows he can play big at the four, then he eliminates the slight advantage Parsons has. There's also this tidbit:
Coach K said Hayward has a chance to make this team. Is stronger, and more decisive. "We like him a lot", coach K said— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) August 5, 2014
@mavsmoneyball very true. But he was more effusive in praise about some than others. that was clear— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) August 5, 2014
Parsons may have an edge, but if Hayward outplays him he'll get the spot. Exhibition games on August 16, 20 and 22 should give us insight on which player is a more likely candidate. Hayward outplayed Parsons with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in the injury-shortened scrimmage last week.
The Kevin Love conspiracy theory
We know Bill Simmons loves his wacky theories, and in a recent podcast with Brian Windhorst, he brought this one up: Kevin Love will be added back to the team at the last minute.
Love dropped out because of the uncertainty surrounding his future, but today, it was reported the trade sending him to the Cavs has been agreed to. But because of Wiggins' newly signed contract, it can't be finalized until August 23 -- conveniently, the day Team USA is set to fly to Spain.
If the trade is finalized and Love is officially a Cavalier, there's nothing stopping him from rejoining the national team. He already knows the Team USA system and was a starter last time around, so while his absence from training camp isn't ideal, the team can work around it.
How will that affect the roster? Instead of DeRozan making the team because of his skillset, it'll just become a three-way battle between DeRozan, Hayward and Parsons -- which I still see Parsons having an edge and winning.
But these next couple of weeks matter, and any cut Team USA makes at this stage is a painful decision not taken lightly.