It was only about a decade ago when NBA All Stars seemed to avoid Olympic participation like the Great Plague of 14th Century Europe. Two consecutive gold medals later though, including a first place Olympic finish in 2008 by the NBA's elite, and it's now cool again to play for Team USA in international competition. Everybody's doing it these days too, or at least everybody is trying to.
In response to the fact that Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo can now pick from just about anybody they want in selecting this year's team, Coach K said on a conference call this week that, "this will be the most talented of the three teams that I've had the opportunity to coach." As we pour over the list of the twenty players who will be the pool from which the final roster is selected, it's pretty hard to see how he's wrong about that.
USA Basketball announced that list of candidates yesterday, adding Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldrige to a group of eighteen others who either played in the '08 Olympics, the 2010 World Championships, or both.
That list is as follows according to the Assoicated Press yesterday:
The 12-man roster and alternates for the Olympics will be chosen from the new player pool in June.
Returning from the team that won gold in Beijing are: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade,Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard,Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Back from the reigning world champions are: Kevin Durant,Derrick Rose, Tyson Chandler, Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups,Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala.
"I like the fact that we have a roster full of guys who've been champions, either in the Olympics or world championships, and guys who are excited to play," Krzyzewski said.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo had planned to add Griffin to the national team roster in 2009, but he was hurt shortly after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick and those plans were scrapped. Aldridge was on the national team roster but withdrew from consideration for the 2010 worlds for personal reasons.
But both [Griffin, Aldridge] have a shot now if the Americans decide to bolster the frontcourt on a roster loaded with point guards and wing players. And it's an experienced group, with Anthony playing in 59 games for the U.S. and James 55.
A couple things could be difficult to manage though for USA Basketball as it winds down to the time that final rosters are due. The first and most obvious one being that the NBA Finals will not be decided yet by the June 18th date in which the final rosters must be submitted. Playing right off that, it'll also be a pretty difficult turn-around for whoever it is playing in those Finals, to jump right into Olympic practice almost immediately. Say for example, the Heat are playing the Thunder in the Finals - that's five of the twenty players mentioned right there with James, Wade, Bosh, Durant, and Westbrook. Not to say that all those guys except maybe Westbrook aren't going to be on the team regardless, but it will still be interesting to see how all that goes into the decision making process.
To that point, do you take a rested Andre Igoudala, because his team won't probably get out of the first round, over somebody who is better but who's team will play deeper into the post-season? Does Eric Gordon make it for sure for a similar reason? Should be interesting to watch, but it is definitely cool that it is actually cool to play in the Olympics again. Good on Coach K, Colangelo, and that '08 squad for make that happen.
But just because the US squad is loaded, doesn't mean other teams in the field are pushovers.
Perhaps the biggest threat to Team USA is Spain. Spain has the size and experience to contend with the US. Players such as Paul and Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, and Serge Ibaka will be a handful for the US.
Also do not count out Argentina and France. Argentina will also field a veteran squad with players who have knocked off Team USA in the Olympics. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni will be an Argentinian team not to be overlooked as well as France with Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Ian Mahinmi, Rony Turiaf, Nicolas Batum and Rodrigue Beaubois.
Regardless, perhaps Spurs' Ginobili said it best recently when he stated in reality, it will just be a race for bronze as the US and Spain will battle for gold.
"There are two teams that are above the rest, which are the United States and Spain. All others will be in a squad to see who is cast into the semifinals for the (medal) bronze."
One thing to watch for with Team USA is wear-and-tear heading into the London games.
With the truncated NBA season and players going down with injuries so far in this season, players might be worn down which could provide an opportunity for other teams to exploit.
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