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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
5 Aug 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Steve Kerr says Nets’ Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are ‘huge components’ to Team USA

USA men’s basketball head coach Steve Kerr said Nets cornerstones Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson will play an integral role for Team USA in this summer’s upcoming FIBA World Cup.

Both Bridges and Johnson were selected for the U.S. squad this offseason, as well as Knicks guard Jalen Brunson and forward Josh Hart.

After the team’s second practice in Las Vegas on Friday, Kerr lauded the pair of Brooklyn wings for their maturity on the court. He had a lengthy experience as Golden State Warriors head coach battling both in the Western Conference when they played for the Phoenix Suns prior to the Kevin Durant trade, but said he learned something new about “The Twins” this summer in Vegas.

“I already knew what kind of players they were from coaching against them, but they’re so mature: There’s a calming sense from both guys,” Kerr said on Friday. “And they’re also modern-day basketball players: shoot the three, guard multiple positions, long athletically. They’re huge components to this team.”

This is music to the ears of both the Nets franchise and fan base. The Nets recently signed Johnson to a four-year contract extension worth $94.5 million and are expected to sign Bridges to an extension before the final year of his contract in 2025.

The two are franchise pillars after the series of deals that sent Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks and Durant to the Suns.

Yet it’s unclear whether or not Bridges or Johnson will crack the Team USA starting lineup.

The Athletic reported Bridges and Johnson were each part of men’s national team’s first starting lineup alongside Brunson, New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram and Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. But in a video that surfaced from the USA basketball account, Jackson Jr. and Ingram share the floor with Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Orlando’s reigning Rookie of the Year, Paolo Banchero.

“We had a great first day yesterday just learning about the FIBA, learning our offense. It’s been great,” Bridges said on Friday.

Haliburton added every player is finding new ways to impact the game because the game is no longer squarely on one player’s shoulders as the franchise cornerstones of their respective teams back home.

“I think that’s an awesome feeling for everybody because all of us on our individual teams, you kind of feel like you’re the go-to guy or you’re being looked at to do a lot of different things,” he said in a sit-down interview alongside Bridges on ESPN late Friday night. “But when you come together and everybody’s using their skill set in different ways, it’s an interesting dynamic because you’re coming together as a team and playing for something bigger than yourself.”

Team USA plays its first of five exhibition matches against Puerto Rico on Monday. The ensuing Showcase schedule includes matchups against Slovenia, Spain, Greece and Germany.

The FIBA World Cup begins on Aug. 26 with matches against New Zealand, Greece and Jordan.

Team USA won Gold in the 2014 Spain FIBA World Cup, the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 2017 Argentina FIBA AmeriCup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They are considered among the favorites to win gold this summer, though, none of the players from the Tokyo Olympics are representing the USA in the FIBA World Cup this summer.

In his sit-down ESPN interview on Friday, Bridges said he grew as a leader after the trade from Phoenix to Brooklyn.

After spending all of his career as a fourth scoring option on a championship-contending Suns team, Bridges became the Nets’ No. 1 scoring option after stepping into Durant’s shoes following the trade. He averaged 26.9 points per game in the 27 games after the trade and helped steer the Nets into the playoffs despite a tumultuous sequence of events at the trade deadline.

“Just trying to lead, and just having the ball in my hands a little bit more than I usually did,” Bridges said on Friday. “Trying to be efficient with it and try to win games. I feel like you can go out there and just score and put up a lot of shots but are you doing that while winning games?

“That was something I really took upon that year and especially this offseason: coming in just doing a bit of everything. I think I became a better leader throughout those 27 games and just still getting better learning to this day. But I think in end-of-game situations, just being a guy that can make a play, make the right read and it’s been very beneficial for me.”

The Nets have added depth to the front court by forward Trendon Watford to a reported one-year, non-guaranteed minimum deal. The Nets now have an almost-full roster entering training camp, including 13 players on guaranteed deals, two players on non-guaranteed deals and two of three-possible two-way players on the team.

Watford is entering his third season after playing in Portland for the first two years of his career. Most notably, he shot 39% from downtown through 62 games last season and has career averages of 7.5 points, four rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes of play per game.

Watford, however, never attempted more than one three-pointer per game in either of his two seasons in Portland, and the Nets have made it clear they’re going to be an aggressive three-point shooting team now that they no longer have individual scoring greatness to rely on.

Watford shares LSU as an alma mater with both Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas. He is 6-9, 240 pounds and went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft.