HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The relationship between NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant will come full circle as USA Basketball’s training camp for the London Olympics opens this weekend in Las Vegas.
Training partners during the lockout summer, combatants during a compressed regular season and head-to-head in a spectacular superstar matchup in The Finals, James and Durant are back to training (camp) partners again during the lead up to the London Games. The U.S. Team will have to rely heavily on the reigning and three-time MVP and the reigning and three-time scoring champ. James helped the U.S. to gold in Beijing while Durant was the star on the gold medal team at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey.
This training camp and this summer, however, mark their first time teaming up on the international stage. It’s a fact that wasn’t lost on either man as they embraced on the court in Miami the night the Heat clinched the title. James hugged Durant and reminded him that he’d “see him soon” in preparation for the Olympics.
With all of the injury defections plaguing the home team right now, both James and Durant will have to be better than ever to make sure the U.S. fends off all challengers and captures gold, as expected, in London. James and Durant, along with the 13 other finalists vying for one of the 12 spots on the Olympic roster, will have a limited amount of time to find the right chemistry. The opening ceremonies will take place in London on July 27. And there will have to be some significant reshaping of the roster with so many familiar names absent from the roll.
Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom, all stalwarts on recent teams, will not be around this time. All but Odom, who declined an invitation to join the crew assembled in Las Vegas, are dealing with injuries. Portland Trail Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge is also out of the mix due to an injury.
But those absent stars won’t slow down the selection process. USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski will announce the 12-man roster in a live special on NBA TV Saturday night (7 p.m. ET), a list that probably should have already been set.
“We would have already made the decision if it wasn’t for the injuries and the length of the NBA season,” Krzyzewski told the Associated Press. “We have a pretty good idea of who will be on the team, but the last one or two spots, you’re not sure of, so you want to see the guys physically and talk to them.
“They’re not trying out; all of them are good enough to be on the team. It’s where are they at right now, and how do they complement the nine or 10 guys that you already pretty much know are already on the team?”
Whoever those players are, they have to endure three weeks of training camp, spanning four cities and three countries. They’ll play a total of five exhibition games, each one against an Olympic rival, before the competition kicks off in London.
And without Howard, Bosh and Odom available up front, we could very well see James and Durant holding down significant minutes at positions they barely play during the course of an NBA season. KIA Defensive Player of the Year and Knicks center Tyson Chandler and Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forwards Kevin Love and Blake Griffin headline a shallow pool of low-post players. No. 1 overall Draft pick Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets also is fighting for a spot on the 12-man roster.
That’s not to say the final group won’t be loaded. Kobe Bryant is rested and might be playing in his last Olympics. All-Star point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams are ready to go. Carmelo Anthony, like James, is gearing up for his third straight Olympics. And like Durant, you know Thunder stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden will want to do everything they can to wash away the bitter taste of losing in The Finals to James and the Heat. Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Andre Iguodala, Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon and Memphis Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay round out the finalists vying for one of those spots on the 12-man roster.
The tone will be set during these first six days in Las Vegas, when the competition between the superstars and the upstarts on the Select Team will be intense. A July 12 exhibition against the Dominican Republic at UNLV will get things rolling for the traveling road show that the U.S. Team will be before they hit London.
It’s a time Durant is looking forward to as much as anyone, with this being his first opportunity at Olympic gold.
“I’ll be very happy to go to the Olympics,” Durant told FIBA.com. “It’s something every basketball player dreams about since childhood. I’ll be very proud to represent my country in that competition and I’ll give my best to help the team reach the gold medal.”