LAS VEGAS – USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t have a single bad option in choosing the 12-man roster that will chase gold at the Olympics in London.
LeBron James admitted as much here Saturday, after the decision was made and Anthony Davis, Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon were trimmed from the group of 15 that assembled here for training camp.
“There wasn’t a guy, one through 15, who you couldn’t see making this team,” James said. “It’s too bad we have to cut at all. I wish there was a way you could take all 15 guys on this trip and have everybody get a chance to experience this process and how special it can be.”
Cutting the roster was the first major step for Colangelo and Krzyzewski, whose job it is now to craft a cohesive unit from the 12 players who did make the cut – a star-studded bunch led by James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook that was rounded out with Andre Iguodala and national team newcomers Blake Griffin and James Harden.
That list includes five players — James, Bryant, Anthony, Paul and Williams — that own gold medal from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Five more — Durant, Westbrook, Iguodala, Love and Chandler — helped the U. S. to gold at the 2010 World Championship in Turkey.
Carving a 12-man crew out of the 15 healthy, mostly, stars that showed up for training camp was the sort of endeavor most of the competition wish they had to endure.
“It’s the best challenge that you could have because everyone has been so committed,” Krzyzewski said. “The guys who were not selected are in our pool, and if someone did get hurt, they are already part of our team and could be seamlessly woven in at a later date. We really appreciate the commitment of all of these guys.”
Westbrook said he wasn’t sure who was on the team until they all gathered to get outfitted in the jerseys and warm ups they wore when they were introduced in a ballroom at the Wynn Hotel and Casino. He had his fingers crossed that all three of the Thunder stars who are still licking their wounds from that loss to the Heat in The Finals would make the cut. But he wasn’t sure until he saw Harden’s in the fitting room.
“You never know,” Westbrook said. “Kevin didn’t make the team that went to China. And now he’s one of the top two or three players in the world … you just never know.”
Colangelo and Krzyzewski know exactly what they’ve got in this bunch. Despite missing both Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, who formed the 1-2 low post punch in Beijing, the U.S. is in good hands this time around with Chandler, the reigning KIA Defensive Player of the Year, one of the elite stretch fours in the game in Love, a rugged and high-flying bulldozer in Griffin, not to mention three of the most versatile players on the planet in James, Durant and Anthony.
While there may have been more high-profile teams and teams with more raw firepower, you’d be hard pressed to find a better and more well-rounded collection of talent on any roster competing in London.
And any fears about an undersized small or power forward being pressed into service against Marc Gasol of Spain or any of the other elite big men on other teams was put to rest by Love.
“I played some at the [center] during the season when [Timberwolves’ center Nikola] Pekovic went down and we didn’t want to play Darko [Milicic], so we have to find a way to play small,” Love said, “and there was a time in March where I had to play a significant amount of minutes at the five, and be a sort of stretch four or stretch five of sorts. That works for us in international competition. The fact that we have KD, whose 6-11, we have LeBron who is powerful who can basically play all five positions, we have Carmelo that can flat-out sore. We have other guys that can play big from the small forward and even the shooting guard position. We have guys that are interchangeable, guys that aren’t limited to just one position. And I feel like that versatility throughout the whole team is what’s going to help us thrive throughout this competition.”
With the way the floor is spaced during international competition and the ability of so many of the big men to play out on the perimeter, the U.S. team could very well benefit from having a roster full of hybrid players (guys made like traditional small and power forwards that are capable of playing all over the court).
That doesn’t mean they won’t have very real concerns when they face a team, like Spain, whose biggest and best weapons will be inside.
But the opposition will have their hands full with the U.S. team as well. A dynamic backcourt rotation featuring Bryant, Paul, Williams, Westbrook and Harden will be impossible for most teams to handle.
That’s why there is no lack of confidence for the U.S. team, even without some of the biggest names missing from the mix this time.
“When I think about , we were really good then,” Paul said. “But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, “you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in .” All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in 2008.”