LAS VEGAS -- There really wasn't anything "mini" about the first day of USA Basketball's minicamp on Monday, not with Larry Bird in the house and not with dozens of media members craning to get a glimpse of the players invited here for an extended tryout for future national teams.
All 28 players in the gym are 25 or younger, and while there are three All-Stars in attendance -- Indiana's Paul George, New Orleans' Jrue Holiday and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving -- there are no A-list superstars, which has its benefits. The biggest: There are no significant free-agency sideshows.
Sure, Holiday was involved in a surprise draft-day trade, former No. 1 pick John Wall of Washington is in line for an extension and George will soon be looking at a no-brainer mini-max extension. But the major off-court questions and distractions that surrounded the likes of James Harden, Chris Paul or Deron Williams in recent years are essentially nonexistent with this younger group. For top talents, especially those valued by the teams that drafted them, the first five or six years in the NBA are usually drama-free compared to the possibility of unrestricted free agency down the road.
The NBA's airtight rookie contracts and rookie extensions help reinforce a basketball-only breeding ground. Consider the case of Irving, who found his name pop up in recent rumors, via a CBS Sports Radio host, that suggested he was unhappy in Cleveland. With two years left on his rookie deal and the possibility of a five-year rookie extension after that, when and how, exactly, is Irving supposed to force his way out? Why would the Cavaliers think for one second about trading a 21-year-old All-Star who will play for mid-level money ($5.6 million) next season? It's comical to even consider the notion, and Irving laughed off the suggestion on Monday.
"I'm a Cavalier right now and I'm happy to be a Cavalier," Irving said. "I kind of had a sarcastic approach to [the rumor] because it was kind of just a rumor starter. I don't think he knows anybody in my camp and I don't know who the guy is. That type of stuff I don't even pay attention to. Right now, I'm a Cleveland Cavalier and I'm happy to be here. "
Combine that absence of distractions with the talent level assembled and the fact that there are only a small number of 2014 FIBA World Cup roster spots available, and you've got a recipe for competitive basketball. Practice sessions are almost entirely closed to the media, but when the doors did open on Monday, the players were engaged in five-on-five, full-court scrimmages in which extra passes were made, charges were taken and defensive assignments were communicated clearly.Damian Lillard