Inquirer Daily News

Nothin' but Net: Nothing to see about USA Basketball team

By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - On Thursday, 28 lucky young men received an opportunity.

They were the group tabbed as USA Basketball's men's national team pool for 2014-16.

What does that mean?

First, the 28 are all men. Secondly, they are American men, so they could compete for the United States in this summer's World Cup of Basketball and the tenure would end with the 2016 Rio Olympics.

It sounds much better than it actually is.

Thursday's announcement is exciting in that 12 of these men will most likely represent the U.S. team in Rio in a bid for a third straight gold medal.

The key words are "most likely."

"Remember the pool is fluid, and nothing is concrete because life is fluid, especially life in the NBA," said head coach Mike Krzyzewski on a conference call Thursday.

While all of these men have a chance to wear the red, white and blue, there are several players out there who also have a chance. They just didn't get their names printed on a press release on Thursday.

For the record, the 28 men are: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, David Lee, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson.

Since this roster is basically a collection of names at this point, let's examine the state of USA Basketball on Jan. 23, 2014, two years before a jump- ball at the Rio Games.

- The most newsworthy aspect of the announcement is the effective end of the Olympic careers of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. While none came as a huge surprise (maybe Bosh), it's the end of an era.

"I saw him last night," Krzyzewski said of Bryant. "He said, 'I'll be there, but you probably won't want to play me.' I said, 'I'd always want to play you, but I understand.'"

Bryant would be 38 when the 2016 Games started. Thanks for everything.

Wade wouldn't be quite that old, but he's been banged up and missed the London Games.

"He's concentrating on his NBA career like he should," said USA Basketball chairman and national team managing director Jerry Colangelo.

No one mentioned Bosh, who also skipped the 2012 Olympics.

- Other than those three, the most notable omissions were probably Roy Hibbert and John Wall, but more on those two later. There were also no college kids named. That's because this roster is fluid. Remember, this group of names means nothing for Rio de Janeiro.

- Wall's absence is more a reflection of where he stands in the pecking order of point guards in January of 2014. Paul, Rose, Williams, Curry, Irving, Westbrook and Lillard all got spots, so why not Wall?

Let's clear any debate right now - Wall is a better player today than Deron Williams. But Williams has been a loyal foot soldier for USA Basketball and that's his reward.

Can we say Wall is definitively better than any of those other players? No.

Is this team being put together to have more of a point guard attack, or is this roster a byproduct of the NBA right now, which is dominated by elite point guards? It's probably a little bit of both, but the one advantage all of these points, with maybe the exception of Irving, has over Wall, is shooting ability. All are much better, much more consistent outside shooters.

But, there is something to the notion of wanting more point guards on the roster. Coach K has brought three lead guards with him to Beijing and to London. It's a chicken versus egg argument because was it is a matter of wanting three points in China, or was it just that three points (Williams, Paul and Jason Kidd) were so much better than any wing player who might have deserved a spot?

Kidd was still a very strong NBA point guard in 2008, but his inclusion was far from automatic. That's a big indicator that Krzyzewski always wants an extra facilitator. It's not a bad strategy. If you have attacking guards against these countries that are athletically inferior, the Americans will run them out of the gym.

- Hibbert's "snub," if we call it that, is a little more telling. The London team had three legitimate big guys in Chandler, Davis and Love (remember, Davis' spot was Griffin's until an injury). Against the Gasol brothers of Spain, Chandler was incredibly ineffective. Love played the most minutes, but at the end, Coach K had an even more unconventional lineup out there.

"At the end of the gold medal game, my four and five were Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, and that's not bad. That's not bad," he said.

It's not great, either, even though it resulted in a gold medal. How long can Coach K rely on two incredible athletes with remarkable hearts? Probably for another Olympics, but now he has toys at his disposal.

Love, Chandler, Davis, Lee, Griffin, Aldridge, Cousins, Faried, Drummond and Howard are legit fours or fives. Only four, maximum, make this team, but it's impossible to continue without mentioning how important Howard's presence is.

He passed on the London Games and that was a blow. Chandler was the only real center after that. Love could do it, and Davis was greener than Kermit the Frog sucking on a lime popsicle.

With an unconventional roster of mismatched parts, having Howard plug the middle was a huge advantage, like he did for the most part in China. His massive girth alone is worthy of a roster spot as the most dominating center in the world.

No matter what, Coach K and Colangelo have way more options because remember this - the rest of the world lacks the Americans' athleticism, but they also lack the U.S. size, other than Spain.

"We're excited about the post because we have more guys there than we've had before," Krzyzewski said. "Hopefully, all these guys are healthy and don't have any contract or personal issues. But the fact is that would be utopia."

- Final point, and it ties to Hibbert a little.

This Colangelo/Krzyzewski regime is not afraid to identify weakness and bring specialists.

Scared about leadership, long-range shooting and possibly perimeter defense, they sent Kidd, Michael Redd and Tayshaun Prince to Beijing.

Four years later, still potentially scared of defensive mismatches, Iguodala was sent and Davis replaced Griffin.

There are specialists galore amongst this 28. Curry, Korver, Lillard, Beal and Thompson are dead-eye, high-volume shooters. Leonard could be the 2016 version of Iguodala, or Iguodala could be the 2016 version of Iguodala. Davis, Chandler and Drummond represent legit center options behind Howard.

It's important to have specialists because as much as everyone assumes the Americans will coast, no one knows for sure except Biff in the "Back to the Future" sequels. Insurance ideas for the final two places on the roster make great sense.

Just remember, 2 1/2 years before the Rio Games, this list is fluid.

Life is fluid.

01/23 14:42:57 ET