EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Knee soreness kept Derrick Rose out of practice Tuesday, making it the third straight day he has not played any basketball. And that left Team USA officials wondering whether Rose will be capable of handling the rigorous World Cup schedule.
Also, DeMarcus Cousins practiced Tuesday but listed himself as 50-50 for Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the Dominican Republic, an assessment that appeared to catch Mike Krzyzewski by surprise when the comment was relayed to the coach.
It was a day of on-court and off-court developments for Team USA, and Wednesday’s friendly at Madison Square Garden promised to bring more of the same.
Rose is unlikely to start, a team source told SheridanHoops.com. Kyrie Irving could move into the starting five after playing exceptionally well in a sixth man role Saturday night against Brazil, and the federation was expecting Rose to be able to contribute off the bench.
But if Rose’s knees remain sore – officially, the team said he was held out for “precautionary reasons – and he does not play, the makeup of the final roster will be much more uncertain than it appeared it would be when this week began. If Rose cannot handle the workload of playing three games in three nights and five games in six nights when pool play begins in Bilbao, Spain, the roster would effectively be reduced to 11 1/2 players.
Several of the players who were benched or saw very limited minutes against Brazil were expected to get much more playing time Wednesday. So for Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond, it will be the closest thing to a tryout any of them have experienced since they played Pee-Wee ball.
Also, a day after telling ESPN.com that all roster cuts could be made Thursday, team director Jerry Colangelo reversed course and said Team USA could take as many as 14 players on the plane Saturday when they travel to Grand Canary Island to prepare for an exhibition game against Slovenia.
Clearly, this team is in more of a state of flux that many, including myself, were led to believe after Saturday night’s 17-point victory over Brazil.
For now, the players who are locks to make the final roster – barring injuries – are Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee.
Cousins and Rose are close to being certainties. But they are NOT locks.
Tuesday’s practice marked Cousins’ first live scrimmage since he was injured last Thursday in Chicago, suffering a bone bruise in his knee.
“He did well today, he’ll play tomorrow … I’m expecting him to play,” Krzyzewski said before being informed of the “50-50” comment. “He should be a guy who’s in the rotation. The fact that he’s come here and I’ve gotten to know him, I can push him better and I can understand him better. He gives us somebody different when Anthony is out of the game. But we still have decisions about whether you might (have) Anthony at the 4 and one of the other bigs, DeMarcus or one of the others, at the 5.”
Krzyzewski went on to call Faried’s performance against Brazil “outstanding,” the type of language he typically uses only when speaking of players who are 100 percent on the final roster. Davis is clearly going to be the alpha dog for Team USA as he showed against Brazil, but beyond that there are more questions than definitive answers.
Rose has looked good but not great in practices, team insiders told me. He received a warm welcome in Chicago and showed flashes of his former brilliance, but the fact is not lost on the federation that his health remains a question mark after injuries to each of his knees limited him to just 10 games over the past two NBA seasons.
The uncertainty over Cousins’ knees is one of the main factors that is keeping Drummond on the roster.
“Of course they want me to get healthy and of course they want me back, but you just can’t rush back from an injury like that,” Cousins said.
And what about Friday against Puerto Rico?
“That’s definitely a better possibility. A couple of more days to heal and get my knee strength, that’s definitely a possibility. The pain is gone, but it’s still a little weak right now,” Cousins said.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every senior U.S. men’s national team since the 1996 Olympics. Follow him on Twitter.