LAS VEGAS Deron Williams and Chris Paul have been linked since the 2005 NBA draft, when Utah chose Williams third overall, one slot ahead of Paul, taken by New Orleans.
Now the question is whether Paul can move ahead of Williams and into the No. 2 point guard position on Team USA behind Jason Kidd.
It's one of the story lines playing out behind the closed doors of training camp at Valley High School. Williams and Paul are longtime friends, but both want to play as many minutes as possible in Beijing. They're trying to smile through the inevitable questions about the competition.
"I didn't know it was a big deal," Williams said. "We're going for the same thing, and that's a gold medal. Point blank, that's all we care about is winning the gold. So it doesn't matter."
Paul dismissed questions about who will be Kidd's main backup. "We're on the same team," Paul said. "I'm not battling against him to do anything. If we're all out here battling (against each other) we have a problem if we want to win a gold medal."
Upgrading the point was perhaps the Americans' top priority after their bronze medal showing at the 2006 world championships.
They added Kidd, the lone member of this team with an Olympic gold medal. They also added Williams and subtracted Kirk Hinrich.
And they kept Paul, whose Team USA future seemed cloudy after he lost the starting job during the 2006 world championships.
"That's obviously our strongest position, because we have three guys who can play it," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Paul started six games in Japan two summers ago, and he dished out 44 assists, a U.S. record for the world championships. But the 6-foot, 170-pound Paul struggled against taller, more physical players, and he seemed a long shot to make the Olympic team.
That all changed last season, when Paul blossomed into one of the NBA's top players, earning first-team All-NBA honors and finishing second to Kobe Bryant in the MVP voting. He became the first player since John Stockton in 1992 to lead the league in assists and steals, averaging 11.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
Suddenly, leaving Paul off the team seemed unthinkable.
Asked to assess Paul's improvement since 2006, Krzyzewski said, "I think he's quicker and stronger and more decisive. I guess that's one of the reasons he was almost MVP. He's grown immensely."
But he hasn't grown taller, and there's some thought that the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Williams is better suited to the international game. The former University of Illinois star has played in 34 games for the U.S., and he impressed the present coaching staff by averaging 4.6 assists per game coming off the bench in last summer's Olympic qualifying tournament.
Krzyzewski will use the United States' five exhibitions, beginning with Friday night's game against Canada at Thomas & Mack Center, to decide whether Williams or Paul will be first off the bench at the point.
Or maybe they'll both come in together. Krzyzewski has toyed with one lineup that has Paul at the point and Williams at shooting guard.
This week's scrimmages have been closed to the media, so it's difficult to assess how the competition is playing out.
"We won't know about set rotations until we get to Beijing," Krzyzewski said. "But I'm really happy with the point guard spot."
In Paul's view, it doesn't matter how many minutes each point guard plays because there shouldn't be a drop-off when Krzyzewski substitutes.
"Let's just do what we do," Paul said. "We have three of the best point guards in the world. We all have different things that we do better than the other ones, but at the same time we're a collective team. We understand that everything starts with us. As long as we play hard every time we're out there, we'll be fine."
WARRIORS RE-SIGN ELLIS: The Golden State Warriors made sure they would have Monta Ellis in their backcourt at least for the near future, re-signing the explosive guard to a multiyear contract Thursday.
Ellis, who was a restricted free agent, is expected to take over at point guard next season in Don Nelson's up-tempo offense after two-time All-Star Baron Davis opted out of his contract earlier this month to join his hometown team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
NUGGETS SIGN ANDERSEN: The Denver Nuggets brought back Chris Andersen, signing the frontcourt player known as "Birdman" on Thursday.
Andersen was reinstated by the NBA in early March after being kicked out on Jan. 27, 2006, for violating the league's drug policy.
The 6-foot-10, 228-pound Andersen played in five games for the New Orleans Hornets last season, averaging 1.2 points and 1.8 rebounds a game.
He is a high-energy player, something the Nuggets could use after losing Eduardo Najera to free agency and trading center Marcus Camby to the Los Angeles Clippers.
WARRIORS MATCH CLIPPERS' OFFER TO AZUBUIKE: Kelenna Azubuike will return to the Golden State Warriors after the club matched the Los Angeles Clippers' three-year, $9 million contract offer for the shooting guard on Thursday.
Azubuike averaged 8.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 81 games last season with the Warriors, who signed the former Kentucky guard out of the NBA Developmental League in January 2007. He started 17 games for Golden State, and he should see more playing time next season after Baron Davis' departure for the Clippers, Mickael Pietrus' signing with Orlando and Monta Ellis' expected move to point guard.