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Team USA mini-camp primer

In the dog days of August, there's not a lot of NBA news, but next week 34 NBA players, including three members of the Clippers, will convene in Las Vegas for the USA Basketball mini-camp

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Here's what you need to know about the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas next week:

As the reigning gold medalists, Team USA is automatically qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. There will not be any competitive games for Team USA this year. An intersquad scrimmage next Thursday August 13 is as good as it gets. Two two hour practice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, a scrimmage Thursday. That's it for Team USA this calendar year.

Be that as it may, USA Basketball chief Jerry Colangelo has let it be known that in order to get a place on the 2016 team, you have to show up in Vegas. To that end, a handful of players will be there without participating fully, including injured players like Kevin Love and superstars like LeBron James. It remains to be seen how active Chris Paul will be.

Team USA has an embarrassment of riches, needing to choose a 12 man roster for Rio from 34 candidates in Vegas this week. Even allowing that newbies like Victor Oladipo and Michael Carter-Williams have no chance, it's still going to be insanely difficult to get this group down to 12. (Oh, and the pool could always grow beyond 34, despite what Colangelo says. Imagine for instance that Karl Anthony-Towns dominates in the NBA as a rookie the way Anthony Davis did. Don't be surprised if a couple of names are slipped into the pool next summer.)

Why will it be so difficult to choose a team? Start with the fact that there are nine players in camp with Olympic experience and another nine with World Cup/Championship experience. So just choosing from players that have already represented Team USA, you've got 18 players vying for 12 spots -- and that list omits two more players who made teams but missed competitions because of injury (Blake Griffin for the 2012 Olympics and Paul George for the 2014 Worlds). So you've essentially got 20 Gold-medalists in camp.

Most of the other 14 can be assumed to be long shots. Colangelo has made it a habit to reward loyalty, so if the vets want to play, they probably will. Of the players without prior Team USA experience, only Kawhi Leonard would seem to have a legitimate shot. (Draymond Green could be the designated energy guy and his ability to guard almost anyone would make him a great choice from a basketball perspective, but here's hoping that USA Basketball realizes that his antics will not play well on an international stage and passes on him.)

DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers would slot nicely into the vacated Tyson Chandler role, but as one of only two bigs in camp without prior competitive experience with the team, I just don't see him getting the nod. It's not DJ's fault that Team USA picked Andre Drummond over him in 2014, but they did, and I see them doubling down on Drummond if they want an athletic rim protector. And then there's Dwight Howard, who hasn't been on Team USA since the 2008 Olympics, but who may nonetheless be rewarded for prior Olympic experience. There's not room for more than one terrible free throw shooter on the team, so it will come down to (at most) one guy from those three. That's not likely to end well for DJ.

(Jordan was terrific in this showcase two years ago, and has far outperformed Drummond and even Howard in the two intervening NBA seasons, though Howard has admittedly been hurt. If Colangelo et al put more stock in NBA performance, and if DJ continues to shine with the Clippers, it will of course improve DJ's chances.)

How USA Basketball handles the experience question will be key. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James have been around since the 2004 Olympics (the last Olympic tournament Team USA did not win) and CP3 and Howard were there for the 2006 Worlds (the last major tournament the team did not win). With LeBron, he obviously plays if he wants to, for myriad reasons, not the least of which being marketing power. With Anthony, do you put him on the team as a reward for his years of service? Or do you politely ask him to step aside and let a younger guy have his spot?

Saving face is incredibly important in this entire process, which is why you always end up with so many "injury" scratches. If Colangelo and his coaching staff are going to cut a superstar, that superstar almost always withdraws from consideration with some "injury" before the ax actually falls. When it doesn't work out that way, it can get ugly, which is why Damian Lillard isn't in Las Vegas this week. On a team loaded with point guards, Lillard was among the last cuts for the 2014 Worlds, and he decided not to put himself through that again.

When the time comes next year, some things will sort themselves out. Maybe LeBron  and CP3 will opt for rest at the age of 31. Some players will no doubt legitimately be injured. But it's going to be a crowded field no matter what happens.

Style of play continues to be a major factor as well. On their post earlier today, Larson Ishii and Caden Kinard listed LeBron and Carmelo and Durant as wings, but that would imply that the team on the floor will be comprised of one big, two wings and two guards because Mike Krzyzewski hasn't played two true bigs together in an international competition in pretty much forever. James and Durant and Anthony (and Rudy Gay and Paul George for that matter) are fours on Team USA -- meaning that true bigs are really competing for burn at one spot, the five. I've never fully embraced this style -- Carmelo given carte blanche to take unlimited threes doesn't strike me as the best plan, even at the international distance -- but it has yielded results. (Of course, with these players to choose from, just rolling the ball onto the court and taking a 90 minute nap would work for a coach.)

As for the Clippers, I've already said that I think Jordan is a long shot. Paul and Griffin on the other hand are almost certainly locks if they want to play. Paul is among the longest tenured members of USA Basketball and is the true point guard with which international teams thrive. He's a no-brainer if he decides to play. Griffin lacks the range that Coach K might like, but along with Davis is the most skilled big in camp, and Krzyzewski would love to put five playmakers on the court. Not to mention that Griffin does in fact have many years with the program, despite having never played for Team USA.

By the way, the Clippers actually have four other one time National Team members on the current roster. Paul Pierce played for Team USA in the (disastrous) 2002 World Championships and was in the program from 2006 to 2008 though he did not play in those tournaments. J.J. Redick joined Pierce in the 2006-2008 cycle, again without playing in a competition. Josh Smith was at the 2009 mini-camp. And don't forget Pablo Prigioni, who was a member of the Argentina team that came in fourth at the 2006 Worlds and won a Bronze at the 2008 Olympics. If you include Hedo Turkoglu, a silver medialist with host Turkey at the 2010 Worlds, that would give the Clippers eight players with national team experience. #TheMoreYouKnow.

For my own edification, I created the following list. It shows the players invited to mini-camp, the year they first joined the Team USA program (in parentheses), Olympic team participation in bold and World Cup/Championship participation. An asterisk means the player missed the competition with an injury. I've arranged the list by years with the program.

Players in 2015 Team USA mini-camp

  • Carmelo Anthony (04) 12, 08, 06, 04
  • LeBron James (04) 12, 08, 06, 04
  • Dwight Howard (06) 08, 06
  • Chris Paul (06) 12, 08, 06
  • Kevin Durant (09) 12, 10
  • Rudy Gay (09) 14, 10
  • Kevin Love (09) 12, 10
  • Russell Westbrook (09) 12, 10
  • LaMarcus Aldridge (10)
  • Stephen Curry (10) 14, 10
  • Blake Griffin (10) 12*
  • James Harden (10) 14, 12
  • Anthony Davis (12) 14, 12
  • Harrison Barnes (13)
  • Bradley Beal (13)
  • Mike Conley (13)
  • DeMarcus Cousins (13) 14
  • DeMar Derozan (13) 14
  • Andre Drummond (13) 14
  • Kenneth Faried (13) 14
  • Paul George (13) 14*
  • Gordon Hayward (13)
  • Kyrie Irving (13) 14
  • DeAndre Jordan (13)
  • Kawhi Leonard (13)
  • Chandler Parsons (13)
  • Klay Thompson (13) 14
  • John Wall (13)
  • Mason Plumlee (14) 14
  • Jimmy Butler (15)
  • Michael Carter-Williams (15)
  • Draymond Green (15)
  • Tobias Harris (15)
  • Victor Oladipo (15)

Notable omissions:

  • Derrick Rose
  • Damian Lillard
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Andre Iguodala
  • Tyson Chandler
  • Deron Williams
  • Chris Bosh
  • Dwyane Wade