HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As LeBron James said during the playoffs when asked about his potential participation in the 2016 Olympics, “that’s a long time from now.”‘
That’s three years from now to be exact, which is why it is far too early to count James out of competing in a fourth straight Olympics with the USA Basketball program he helped rebuild.
Despite reports to the contrary, James hasn’t informed anyone at USA Basketball about his intentions for 2016. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made it clear during this week’s mini-camp that he will give James and the other veteran stars who have competed previously space between now and then, the door will remain open for the future.
James, who already owns two gold medals and one bronze, could play in his fourth Olympic games that summer. But that would be after three more rigorous years of trying to add to his championship haul in the NBA. James has led the Miami Heat to back-to-back titles, earning consecutive Finals MVP awards, and will have endured considerable wear and tear to his body if he continues on his current and torrid pace.
There is also the potential for an exhausting free agent summer after the 2013-14 season, provided James opts to test the market after next season.
But again, so much can go on between now and 2016 that it’s nearly impossible to speculate about who will or will not be willing, able and available in three years. No U.S. male has ever played on more than three Olympic teams ( LeBron is one of only three players to participate three times. Carmelo Anthony and David Robinson are the others.)
“I’m sure all of these guys think they know what’s coming down the line and what they’ll be doing,” said an Eastern Conference executive who is in town this week for USA Basketball’s mini-camp for the Men’s Senior National Team. “But they should know better. Derrick Rose is the cautionary tale for all of these guys. It all depends on where [LeBron] is that year. How healthy is he? How tired might he be from grinding his way through the playoffs? You just never know.”
Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have already committed to participate in the World Cup of Basketball next summer in Spain and will surely be a part of the pool for 2016, provided they are healthy. Durant said there are several other stars from the team that won gold at the London Olympics last summer, he mentioned Russell Westbrook and James Harden specifically, who are interested in joining them.
When asked specifically about James, he said he hadn’t spoken to him about it. “Those guys are older,” he said and then laughed. “Their time is precious.”
Colangelo’s declaration that Durant is the “face of the program going forward” was acknowledgement of the obvious; he’s just 24 and has a larger window than James or any of the other older and more established stars. It was not an indication that James, Anthony and any of the other veteran stars are done with USA Basketball.
In 2016 James could very well play a role similar to what Kobe Bryant played in London. Bryant served as the elder statesman of the group and its leader, while stepping aside offensively and allowing Durant, Anthony and James to serve as the catalysts on the floor.
In the immediate aftermath of last summer’s gold medal run, the rumblings about U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s run being over began percolating. Months later an announcement on his replacement was expected. But he had a change of heart and reaffirmed his commitment to the program and the process for the long-term. Simply put, things change. And Coach K’s influence on James in three years could be significant, if they decide his services are vital to the U.S. cause.
Plus, it’s hard to walk away or even take a step back when the U.S. is in the midst of reestablishing its dominance on the world stage. And the fact is, no one has a crystal ball. No one knows for sure who will be available for competition three years from now.
There is a ton of talent on display here this week and there will be even more NBA stars vying for spots on next summer’s team that will compete in Spain. There’s no doubt that the competition for roster spots will be fierce three years from now in an Olympic summer.
USA Basketball’s pool of talent should be as deep as its ever been, given the way the program has been reconstituted under Colangelo and Krzyzewski. New faces will pop onto the radar as more established ones move on or fade out of the program. There are All-Stars involved in the program that might never make a 12-man roster for a competition. But the surplus of talent will remain, with or without James included.
“The [three] things for all these guys; it’s contract, family and health. And any personal stuff is the reason we have the pool [of players],” Krzyzewski said. “Because anything that can happen human, can happen to Kevin Durant or Kevin Love. That’s why you need more than the main 12 guys. It’s worked well, it’s worked very well, so far.”