Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, left, and Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets share a laugh while icing their knees. - AP

NBA vets rave about Coach K

LAS VEGAS — No one can blame the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant if he's having a serious case of "what could have been" playing for Team USA this summer.

From Jason Kidd (the point guard the Lakers did not trade for last season) to Michael Redd (the perimeter shooter the Lakers did not draft in 2000), Bryant has reminders everywhere.

But the biggest "what if" for Bryant is Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, who flirted with the Lakers' coaching job before Rudy Tomjanovich was hired in 2004.

"I've been a big fan of his for a long time," Bryant said of Krzyzewski, who has averaged 26 wins a season in 27 years coaching at Duke and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. "I'm very excited about having the opportunity to play for him and to have a relationship with him. It's been everything that I thought it would be."

Team USA is preparing for the Olympic qualifying tournament, which begins Wednesday. It got down to the 12-player limit Monday by cutting Seattle rookie Kevin Durant and his teammate, Nick Collison. The cuts were announced about two hours after practicing at the Thomas & Mack Center. The final roster needs to be submitted today, a day before the U.S. opens the FIBA Americas tournament against Venezuela.

The U.S. roster is made up of : Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Michael Redd, Mike Miller, Tyson Chandler, Tayshaun Prince and Deron Williams.

Only Krzyzewski, 60, knows how serious he was about making the jump to the Lakers, but based on how he has been able to relate with the pro players on Team USA, the NBA would not be a problem.

With a roster that includes proven veterans such as Bryant, Kidd and Chauncey Billups along with young superstars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, Krzyzewski has been able to get his team to bond by treating everyone like family.

"The first thing is communication, which he does very well because he likes to teach," Kidd said about Krzyzewski, who has won three national championships and led teams to 10 Final Fours.

"He makes things easy because he gives you what he wants to see out there, which makes it easy for a point guard. ... I think he would do great in the NBA, but we all know that he has a great gig at Duke."

But Krzyzewski understands that his legendary coaching status will not mean a thing if Team USA fails to reach the FIBA Americas Championship final and is forced to play in a world qualifying tournament to reach next year's Olympics.

"I'm proud that these guys have made this type of commitment," Krzyzewski said about Team USA players, who committed three years to work with the national program.

"Throughout the years, college and pro players have committed to play but not for this length of time, and that's what makes this commitment so big. ... But we felt that we needed that to start building something. In the past, we've always just showed up and played. This is different."

Krzyzewski, who led Team USA to an 8-1 record and bronze medal at the world championships last year in Japan, has made relationships a priority this summer, and his roster filled with NBA players has responded.

"He gets his points across very clear, and as a player, you respect that," Stoudemire said about Krzyzewski, who was an assistant on the U.S. Olympic gold medal team in 1992.

Whether it's Bryant and Anthony getting in extra shooting after practice or Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler talking about post moves with assistant coach Nate McMillan, you can see signs that Team USA has already begun to bond.

"Obviously, we have a program now and with that comes continuity," Krzyzewski said. "They are comfortable with us and we are comfortable with them. ... You can say more things to each other. Programs are built on relationships, and we have good relationships. We're excited to be here and we're excited to have them.

"But we also understand that we can only keep them for so long. This is still not their day job, and you have to respect that."

Krzyzewski's style also has been a hit with his players away from the gym.

"Getting to know him off the floor means more than anything to me," said James, who met Krzyzewski for the first time last summer when he played in the world championships. "Everyone knows Coach K as a basketball coach, but not everyone knew how good he was as a person. ... It's all about comfort level with me.

"I feel comfortable about him, and that allows me to open up a little bit more. That's good for me."

Added Bryant: "He can be so intense because he's so passionate about the game, but at the same time he has a great sense of humor. I don't think a lot of people know that about him.

"There's no question in my mind that he would be a great NBA coach."

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