If USA Basketball’s re-invention in 2006 did one thing, it was make the professionals sympathetic. Not since the original 1992 team did the men’s national team inspire actual rooting interest in me. The players lacked boorishness, the league did not treat the team as a blatant all star marketing opportunity – and the team was formed with winning in mind. The team was thrown together to win an international tournament with international rules against international teams. This approach was simply not required in 1992, where the opponents were just happy to be on the same floor with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. But now, when one sees how Spain hung with the United States in the 2008 Gold Medal Game, an amazing reality cannot be ignored – the world is so much better at basketball now than they ever were in 1992 or 1996. Spain competed with us, not by Jimmy Chitwooding us, not by running the picket fence over and over again – but because Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro can flat out ball. It is this competitive landscape that the US is facing – and so with today’s announcement of the first 27 guys to be considered for the 2010 World Championships, some initial thoughts about the upcoming tournament are in order.
First the 27 players invited to camp – I will use the more practical, guard, wing, post, for delineation (returnees from 2008 in bold):
Wing: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Lamar Odom, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger, Gerald Wallace
Guard: Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, OJ Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon
Post: Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Kendrick Perkins, David Lee, Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge
- With Mike Krzyzewski back as Olympic coach – that the players look a lot like the guys who were there in 2008 is not a shock. Coach K, as unlikeable he is coaching Duke, is the perfect coach for Team USA as long as he is not in the NBA. He can actually coach these guys – given the lack of allegiance to the league fraternity he has. There are no pet guys like George Karl might have had in his ghastly turn as coach.
- The swing 3/4 position battle will be a big one. Carmelo Anthony has been the team’s best FIBA player in stretches since he has become a prominent member of the team. However Kevin Durant’s remarkable skills and scoring ability are tailor made for the FIBA game. Can he make K play him?
- The post guys are all the right kind for FIBA. Good defense, good rebounding – less emphasis on good post offense. Perkins might make the team based on just being a very mean pick setter – but really K and Colangelo might go with a roster with only a couple of post players. I don’t know if Boozer’s spot is safe. I’d be tempted to give Kevin Love a spot.
- No Jason Kidd this time, but Chauncey Billups is a more than capable backup providing the defense, size and shooting. Rajon Rondo is an unfortunate omission, but his reliance on driving is a problem in FIBA ball where the lane is so clogged up.
- I don’t think Amare will stick – again. The team’s attention to defense and pressure is not his speed.
Some of these roster decisions will iron themselves out over time as well as based on injuries and logistics. However, there is definitely a gold medal caliber team to be had here.