There are currently 34 players listed on the United States Men’s National Team roster. That is 22 more than will make the trip, reserves excluded, to London next summer to compete in the Olympics. With the NBA lockout now two weeks old, Jerry Colangelo must start considering who will make the final cut as training camp will begin early next July. Final roster selections have to be submitted by June 18, 2012.
One year is not a lot of time to assemble a national team especially with a lockout going on. Since Team USA won the gold at the FIBA World Championships last summer in Turkey they received an automatic bid for the Olympics. That means that they will not have to compete in the FIBA Americas Championship which begins August 30 and runs through September 11. However, it also means that Colangelo will not have an opportunity to see the players compete as a cohesive unit this summer and with a protracted lockout it may be some time before he can see them in game situations.
With the breadth of talent that Colangelo has to draw from it should not be a major concern when whittling down the roster. Most of the players already on the national team’s roster already have a well established pedigree of competing internationally and are household names in the NBA. Due to this, Colangelo has stated that there are really closer to 18 players who are under consideration to compete in London. He will begin contacting players in a month or so to gauge their interest in being a member of the national team.
Currently, each member of the Redeem Team that won gold in Beijing in 2008 is committed to returning to the program in 2012. This includes Kobe Bryant who stated his interest in returning to the Olympics last year. Other members of the Redeem Team including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, and Tayshaun Prince have yet to make a public statement of interest in returning to the team. Wad has said that he is on the fence about whether he should return but Chris Paul has stated that he will play.
Two players from the 2008 gold metal team, Jason Kidd and Michael Redd, are no longer with USA basketball which leaves at least two roster spots open but Colangelo has said that “three or four of those spots are vulnerable.” These spots will likely be filled by members of the 2010 FIBA World Championship team. That team was led by Kevin Durant and also featured Chauncey Billups, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Curry, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook. A name that has also been mentioned as a possible candidate, though he is currently not on Team USA’s standing roster, is Blake Griffin.
These two pools of players present Colangelo with a combination of skilled veterans, players in their prime, and explosive young talent. What will play into the final roster decision is how Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski want to shape the team. Both the Beijing and Turkey teams are very different. In Turkey, Krzyzewski chose to stray away from the traditional five-man lineups that have been a cornerstone in basketball since its inception which was more indicative of how the Redeem Team played. Instead he went with players who were versatile and could play multiple positions on the floor. These players also used their length and quickness to their advantage which played into the stifling defense that the team showed during the World Championships. The team also went small. Chandler was the only true center on the roster and Odom started at the position during the tournament.
Based on the success that the smaller, speedier lineup had it would not be surprising if Team USA maintained this model for the Olympics in 2012. The team has a bevy of speedy guards to choose from who can either create for themselves, like Rose and Westbrook, or distribute, like Paul. However, position versatility will likely remain the most important factor when selecting players to fill the roster.
This is beneficial for players like James, Durant, Love, and Amar’e Stoudemire who can alternate around the wing and in the frontcourt. Though any incarnation of the 2012 team will likely feature Howard as the anchor in the middle, depending on his entry into free agency next summer, he would likely be one of only a couple of players on the team that played a fixed position. Paul would be another such player.
As Colangelo begins to contact players he must also weigh the present state of the NBA and what may or may not happen between now and next July. How will the lockout, and potentially newly structured collective bargaining agreement, play into the player’s decisions? If players continue to sign overseas, how will those contracts be structured in terms of eligibility to play on a national team? If the NBA season is canceled should he hold a minicamp for tryouts? How will Bryant’s knee hold up for another year? How will free agency play into the minds of Howard, Paul, and Williams? How much will each player require in terms of insurance if they get injured while playing for Team USA? If the lockout is protracted, what shape will the players be in? Phew! And those are only some of the questions that Colangelo must consider. At least the lockout does not prevent Colangelo from speaking with the players.
No matter the make-up of the future roster, the United States will be heavy favorites to repeat as gold medalists. Tough all of the players from 2008 opted out of playing in 2010, the Olympics are too big of a stage to ignore. Colangelo knows this as it creates even more “value to them in terms of their own brands.” These days, for many players, it is all about marketing themselves and what better place to do it than in front of the eyes of the world? James, for one, could certainly use some good press and another Olympic gold would go a long way. It looks to be a long year with many uncertainties for the players and Colangelo but the outlook is optimistic. “The one thing I do know,” Colangelo said. “We have an outstanding pool of players. Whoever the 12 turn out to be, they will represent our country very well.”