There were supposed to be two Kevins at USA Basketball’s Las Vegas training camp.
But on the eve of practice, Kevin Love decided his NBA future was in limbo and he took himself off the roster. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ All-Star forward will sit and wait — probably for the 30-day clock to expire following the signing of No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, said to be the key to a trade that would send Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So, Kevin Durant will be the primary leader of Team USA as it prepares for next month’s FIBA World Cup in Spain without Love, who was expected to share those leadership responsibilities.
It’s a comfortable role for Durant, though the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 6-foot-9-inch star guard expects others to share the responsibility.
“I think the guys will look to me because of my experience,” Durant said after Monday’s first practice at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. “But I’m not the only guy who’s a leader out here. We’ve got a lot of great players and a lot of experienced guys who on a given day can step up and be a leader of this team. It’s never just one guy.”
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said there are other veteran players such as James Harden who can be counted on to show leadership when necessary. But ultimately, Durant is the guy.
“Kevin loves being here and he wants to play for his country,” Krzyzewski said. “Guys see that and they look to him for leadership because he’s been with us the last two international competitions and has competed at a high level and won.
“But Kevin also has a maturity about him — both a physical and an emotional maturity — that lends itself to being a leader. And he is our leader.”
Even though the Americans are the defending gold medalists from the 2012 London Olympics, they still must qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. If they win the gold medal in Spain, they will get the automatic bid to the Rio Games.
But Durant was around in 2010 when Team USA was in a battle to qualify for London at the FIBA World Championships. The U.S. barely got by Brazil in pool play and was in a tight game against host Turkey before eventually pulling away in the gold medal game.
That was Durant’s coming-out party for international basketball, as he averaged a record 22.8 points during the 2010 Worlds. At the 2012 Olympics, Durant averaged a team-high 19.5 points in helping lead the U.S. to the gold medal. While Love and others passed on representing their country this time around, that thought never crossed Durant’s mind.
“I always planned on being here,” said the 25-year-old Durant, who was the first player to commit to representing Team USA in the World Cup going back to last summer. “My basketball life is short in the grand scheme of things, and I really want to play as much as I can. I learn so much. I just try to soak it all in.
“I do want to take care of my body, but I also want to experience all this stuff. Ten, 12 years, it flies by. I want to have as many memories as possible.”
Durant said the World Cup and the Olympics are different dynamics. He also believes his teammates will understand without having to learn the hard way.
“To the rest of the world, this is more important than the Olympics,” Durant said. “We saw that in Turkey. We had some tough games there. “But Spain is a different monster. They’re a better team. They know how good they are. The rest of the world takes this tournament very seriously. Everybody wants to beat us.
“But our guys are going to understand. They know what’s happening. They’re not going into this blind. We just have to stay hungry, stay humble and we’re going to be taking this as seriously as the rest of the world does.”
■ NOTES — Derrick Rose made it through his first practice without mishap, and the Chicago Bulls guard said he felt good and appeared to be moving well. Rose has been dealing with knee issues the past two years and is trying to make Team USA, which has a deep pool of guards. ... DeMar DeRozan suffered a bloody nose during the team’s scrimmage courtesy of an errant Klay Thompson elbow late in practice. DeRozan, who sat out the remainder of the workout, is expected to participate in today’s practice. ... Rancho High School alums Lionel Hollins and John Welch were among the numerous attendees from NBA teams at Monday’s closed practice. Hollins, the new Brooklyn Nets head coach, and Welch, who will stay on as Hollins’ assistant, were at the Mendenhall to watch Mason Plumlee, who is on the USA Select squad and is scrimmaging Team USA this week.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.