LAS VEGAS — We’re not stepping on any toes here when we openly discuss the fact that three guys are leaving Las Vegas after tonight and won’t be making the trip to London for the Olympics.
The 15 finalists assembled here for USA Basketball’s training camp knew that when they agreed to participate. But some knew better than others that this was strictly a formality, being here, and that they’d better be packed for the long haul.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook would appear to be locks for USA Basketball’s Dandy Dozen. They all have experience not only playing at the highest level in the NBA but internationally as well. And each and every one of them has a very specific role on the team already laid out.
It’s the bubble guys that make for tough decisions. And theoretically that leaves five stars for two spots. As USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said yesterday, a case could be made for each and every one of the 15 finalists to be on the roster for London.
But there can only be 12.
Our breakdown and the case for and against the remaining five guys before tonight’s selection show special on NBA TV (live at 7 p.m. ET):
Anthony Davis: The Hornets rookie and No. 1 overall Draft pick brings a much-needed defensive presence to the frontcourt rotation and would seem like an ideal fit to fill some of the space left by the Chris Bosh (injury) void. He’s also expected to be a part of this group for years to come and what better time for him to get acclimated to the process than now? He is operating on a tender ankle, injured last week in a workout in New Orleans. His lack of bulk and experience against top-flight pros, like the ones he’ll see in London, could be an issue, even for a player as accomplished as Davis.
Rudy Gay: The Grizzlies star has the ideal game for international competition. He shoots it well from all over the floor, is athletic and plays bigger than his listed size while also being versatile enough to guard three or four positions, depending on the matchups. Like Durant, Love and Chandler, Gay proved himself on the 2010 World Championship team that wold gold in Turkey in 2010. So he’s familiar with the program and exactly what U. S. coach Mike Krzyzewski would ask of him, in whatever potential role he could play on the team if he were to make it. The biggest problem he has is the presence of James and Durant on this squad, since they do many of the same things at a higher level.
Eric Gordon: Gordon is fully healed from the injury that sidelined him for a significant portion of the Hornets’ season and after opening eyes with his work on both ends of the floor in Turkey, it’s easy to see why the brass at USAB loves Gordon’s skill set and work ethic. He can guard multiple positions and has the sort of shooting stroke that makes him a dangerous weapon in international competition. A good ballhandler, tenacious defender and a player willing to sacrifice his own game for the good of the team, Gordon is an ideal player to have working behind Bryant in a backcourt filled with superstar talents at both positions. A restricted free agent with a max offer from the Suns (an offer the Hornets intend to match), a little more rest might actually be more beneficial for Gordon’s prospects for the 2012-13 NBA season.
James Harden: The Thunder’s bearded wonder could use an opportunity for redemption after the struggles he experienced against the Heat during The Finals. He’s also a dead-eye shooter from long distance and a player capable of carrying a team, offensively, for long stretches. Perhaps even more appealing, for the purpose of this team, is that Harden (the reigning KIA Sixth Man of the Year) is used to working exclusively as a reserve. He could be an absolute game changer in this sort of competition. We also saw the downside of Harden’s game in The Finals. When he’s not on, he’s a liability. And this team, with so many injury defections, has little room for error in choosing the best 12 men for the job.
Andre Iguodala: Another veteran of the gold medal team in Turkey, Iguodala offers something that the rest of the bubble players don’t. He is, by nature, an absolute ballhawk on defense. He would qualify as a truly elite specialist in this, or any other competition. The (injury) absence of Dwyane Wade has left a bit of a hole in that department, leaving Bryant to handle those responsibilities at shooting guard by his lonesome this time around (they were a diabolical defensive tag-team duo in Beijing). Iguodala is also a better offensive technician than he gets credit for being. His familiarity with the program also gives him a nice edge. But with size an issue up front, someone taller might be more appropriate this time around.
OUR BEST GUESS ON THE FINAL TWO PICKS:
This is a case of versatility against specialists. Harden, Gordon and Iguodala are all perfectly suited for one of those final two spots. But Davis and Gay fit a very specific need for a team that will enter the competition without the services of frontcourt stalwarts Dwight Howard and Bosh. And that should be what gives them the edge when the final selections are announced tonight.
Who makes your cut?