LeBron James is in, Kobe Bryant is a go, and Kevin Durant will likely suit up. After that the state of USA Basketball for the 2012 Olympics in London is up in the air, especially with the possibility of losing the entire 2011-12 NBA season.
Monday looks like the day that could make or break any possibility of an NBA season. This has been stated many times over during the course of the lockout but with the players union preparing to rejected the latest offer from the league, this is quite possibly the last grasp at a 72 game season before talks completely break down with the owners reverting to their hardline 53/47 percentage split of basketball-related income and the decertification of the NBPA. With that possibility looming, where does Team USA stand?
USA Basketball are not conjoined at the hip, though they are virtually inseparable. The national team, since FIBA altered their rules in 1989, has been comprised entirely of NBA players. This will not change even with a lockout. It would be foolish to send a team of college players to the Olympics and expect to compete with the likes of Spain, Argentina, and Lithuania. Yet, there can be no denying that the lockout could strain the eventual formation of Team USA.
Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has no NBA affiliation as he coaches the men’s team at Duke University. There should be no complication with him returning to coach the program. However, aside from Jim Boeheim who coaches at Syracuse, the assistant coaches coach in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni is the current head coach of the New York Knicks and Nate McMillan coaches the Portland Trail Blazers. As per the rules of the lockout, neither D’Antoni nor McMillan is allowed to have any contact or communication with the lockout players.
Herein lies the first hurdle for Team USA. They will be without two of their assistant coaches if the lockout persists. With Krzyzewski, D’Antoni and McMillan have successfully orchestrated the present liquidity that embodies Team USA. The Redeem Team that won gold in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics was completely dismantled two years later, partly do to lack of interest and previous engagements by the players who were a part of that team, and transformed into a lengthy and quick, uptempo and undersized bunch who won gold at the World Championships in Turkey in 2010. D’Antoni is fluent in the rules and style of the international game having coached for years in Italy which has helped NBA players transition to FIBA rules and style. Losing both coaches will be a hit for Team USA but not one that will completely derail the coaching staff.
The coaches can be easily replaced. Though this means that the staff may not have the same continuity with the pool of players eligible to fill out the fifteen man roster. However, other college coaches such as John Calipari, who is always looking to increase his recruiting pool, Tom Izzo, and perhaps even Roy Williams could be considered to fill the roles of the assistant coaches. Other names may also be included if D’Antoni and McMillan cannot return to the bench. Larry Brown jumps out as a possible candidate having been head coach of Team USA before. Yet, this is all just speculation at this point and is predicated on the length of the lockout.
Team USA could also be without their trainers Casey Smith and Keith Jones, who work for the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets respectively. If the NBA season is lost, not only will Jerry Colangelo have to recruit players to join the 2012 incarnation of the national team but he may also have to rebuild his coaching and support staff.
Colangelo is still a minority owner of the Phoenix Suns. His position as managing director of USA Basketball, however, has allowed him to remain apprised of players’ interest in joining Team USA, though he cannot discuss the lockout in any terms. Colangelo believes that despite the lockout, a team can be assembled with players from both the 2008 and 2010 squads.
According to the official team roster at USABasketball.com, the pool of players available is much greater than just those who have played on the national team before. Other than Bryant, James, who have both committed, and Durant, how the roster will fill out is anyone’s guess. It is likely that Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony will return, and Chris Sheridan has speculated that Blake Griffin is a “shoo-in.” Chris Bosh will probably return, as will Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. After that it becomes dicey (as if speculation was not already). There are still six spots open on the roster if these players to indeed return.
To fill the remaining vacancies will require coach Krzyzewski to determine the style of play that his team will execute in London. As stated above, the 2010 national team was swift and agile relying more on their athleticism than on physical size.
The candidates that are left are Lamar Odom, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, possibly Kendrick Perkins, and perhaps Eric Gordon. None of those players are slouches and if Team USA prefers to reincarnate the 2010 team then Andre Iguodala should also be considered.
At this point, nothing is certain. The Olympics are where players build their brand. It is not completely about national pride, do not delude yourself. This is a stage on the global market. In most countries outside of the U.S. everything stops so that they can watch their nation compete. NBA players fortunate enough to be selected to the national team know that and so do their agents and sponsors. The Olympics are a big deal and London has been a world city since the middle ages. That is not lost on the players.
With the season in flux and headed towards what might be complete and utter fail (pardon the meme), the Olympic games in the summer of 2012 are the last remaining legitimate basketball that NBA players could see for some time. As of now, Team USA is keeping their summer schedule conservative, understandably. Official rosters must be submitted in June. On the slate for Team USA is two exhibition gamed against Spain in July 2012 as well as a friendly against Great Britain. France will also likely get a friendly in too before the start of the summer games. However, a quick resolve to the lockout could change everything.
The lockout threatens only the NBA at this point. Team USA is still in good hands. No matter what happens to the 2011-12 NBA season, there will be a formidable team fielded by the United States. They will be the favorites to win it all. Haters will pick Spain with their frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. Honestly though, a team representing a country in as many financial hardships as Italy cannot be taken too seriously. There is a reason all their players moved to the U.S. (financial aside). The United States has reestablished itself as the dominant force in international basketball. Do not for one second, or one lockout, that players do not want to maintain that supremacy. A gold medal might not be the Larry O’Brien Trophy but it still speaks wonders unto itself.