Be it due to injury, fears of mosquitoes carrying Zika Virus or just summer vacation, big names continue to drop from the once-astonishing Men’s National Team roster. Just this past week, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have taken their names out of consideration for the 12-player squad looking for another gold medal in Rio this summer.
In January I mused about the potential this team had to rival the 1992 Dream Team in talent and star power with my proposed final roster. I revised it a couple months later after Anthony Davis got hurt and Chris Paul pulled out. Just take a look at what could have been, before we get into picking the actual, more watered-down (h/t Tracy McGrady) roster:
PG - Chris Paul
SG - Jimmy Butler
G/F – Kawhi Leonard
F – LeBron James
F - Carmelo Anthony
F – Paul George
F - Kevin Durant
F – Draymond Green
F/C - Anthony Davis
C – DeMarcus Cousins
Alternates – (F)
Blake Griffin, (G) John Wall, (G) James Harden
As Klay Thompson would say, sheesh. As a nation, we have a point guard epidemic on our hands. Arguably the four best American point guards are off the table, as Steph, CP3 and Wall nurse injuries while Westbrook opted for rest. This team was already forward-heavy to begin with. Perhaps LeBron can shoulder the ball handling duties unless he also drops out, which is a possibility. Harden, who released a statement yesterday, would’ve had a great opportunity to rebuild his image as the predominant guard on this team. I don’t fault anyone for skipping the Olympics after a grueling NBA season, especially an Olympics fraught with as many health concerns as Rio. He just better not show up to training camp out of shape again. Harden had his best season in 2014-15 after playing in the FIBA World Cup with Team USA, but left to his own devices last summer he entered the season unprepared to lead a supposed contender. Stay away from the Kardashians, James.
The big question is who Coach K selects to play starting point guard for this team, and how many he ultimately carries on the roster. The obvious top choice in my mind is Damian Lillard, who was added to the final player pool in early 2016. Dame has proven himself to be an upper echelon star that carries himself with professionalism and pride. He’d be a great addition to make his Olympic debut. Kyrie Irving should make the team as well. The other point guard in the 31-player pool, Mike Conley, is also recovering from injury and won’t be able to go. If either Irving or Lillard become unavailable, or if Coach K wants three point guards, perhaps he expands his list to the USA Select team, which was announced this week. Notable point guards from that group include Emmanuel Mudiay, D’Angelo Russell, Marcus Smart and 2016 draft prospect Kris Dunn. It’s something to keep an eye on. *Side note: can we show Kyle Lowry some love? Though not in the Olympic player pool, he’d be a great third PG option. Head-scratcher.
Harden’s absence opens up room for another shooting guard. Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson are easy choices that give Team USA two excellent two-way players at the two. Does DeMar DeRozan have a shot now? Here’s a stab at my latest version of the Olympic roster. Keep an eye on the aforementioned James (millions of basketball miles on his body after six straight finals) and Kawhi Leonard (Spurs tend to skip international play) as the next to take their hat out of the ring.
Point guards – Lillard, Irving
Not much defense from the point guard position, which worries me. However, there are all-world defenders at every position behind these two. That’s a nice mitigation factor. Dame could make his star significantly brighter with a show-stopping Rio performance.
Shooting guards – Butler, Thompson
Super solid on both ends. One’s a sharpshooter and the other is an all-around scoring machine. Both will play lockdown D on opposing guards and both can guard point guards should Lillard and Irving struggle.
Forwards – George, Durant, James, Leonard, Carmelo Anthony, Draymond Green
Our forwards are still obscene, even without Davis. We have knockdown shooting (George, Durant, Melo), stout defense (Draymond, James, Kawhi, George) and the ability to play small with Draymond at the five and KD/James/Melo/George at the four. Yikes.
Centers – DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan
Cousins reportedly has been told that he has a spot secured, and he should be a monster in international play. With no Hack-A in the Olympics, DeAndre becomes more valuable. His defense in the post will be key off the bench.
Alternates – DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal
DeRozan’s iso style and poor shooting kept him out of my 12-man roster. Beal’s game seems well-suited for this format and he’s another shooter to have handy. Drummond isn’t quite the all-around player Jordan is yet. We may need a point guard alternate, I just don’t know who that’d be. Write-in vote for Lowry or Kemba Walker!
The moral of the story is, we are still heavy, heavy favorites for the gold medal. USA! USA! The team lost some major star power and backcourt playmakers, but the NBA talent pool is as deep as it’s ever been. I don’t care what T-Mac says.