Friday, July 29, 2011

Issues for USA Basketball

Source : Adrian Wojnarowski Yahoo Sports
Kobe Bryant wearing USA jersey
USA Basketball is still waiting on official announcements from some NBA superstars whether they will play in the 2012 London Olympics, but the global stage and shoe endorsement responsibilities ultimately dictate their inevitable participation. This is the rite of passage for the league icons now, even a chance for those without rings to grab a championship for themselves.

Kobe Bryant wants this to be the year where he catches Michael Jordan with six NBA titles and two Olympic gold medals. No one has to wait on his word, because he’s dying to get back to the Olympics again.

One year before the start of the London Games, here are four storylines on the horizon for the defending gold-medal U.S. basketball team:

Impact of the labor NBA dispute

Kobe Bryant celebrates after beating Spain in the gold medal game in the 2008 Olympics.

In the doomsday scenario, where labor strife causes the cancellation of the 2011-12 NBA season, and the work stoppage drags into June and then July, there’s little, if no chance, the great American players could play in the Olympics. Team USA is too tied to the NBA – too much of a David Stern production – for the players to break ranks and play. In the post 9-11 world, that’s a tricky subject PR-wise for the players, but several union, USA Basketball and agent sources believe this worst-case labor scenario would cost Team USA its NBA stars.

As the managing director of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo answers to Stern, and the league – along with its ATM machine, Nike – has immense impact on the coaching staff and roster. How could the NBA allow its coaches – Team USA assistants Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni – to coach NBA players during a lockout? Still, that’s the worst-case scenario, but it’s one that USA Basketball will have to consider should the labor dispute push deep into the NBA season. In this instance, Team USA would have to field a team of American players who’ve built careers overseas, as well as D-League players, and perhaps a superior college superstar or two.

Dream Team II?

The London 2012 Olympics will represent the 20th anniversary of the original 1992 Dream Team – heretofore considered the most talented Olympic team ever assembled – in Barcelona that helped transform basketball globally. The 2012 team has the potential to be even better.

Remember, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin were at the end of their careers in 1992, and consider the roster the United States could bring to England next year. Take Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd and an aging Jason Kidd off the 2008 gold medal roster and add Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and any one of several burgeoning young stars for the bench, like Kevin Love or Blake Griffin.

Kobe Bryant will be the oldest American player at 33, but he’s still a world-class talent and remains the United States’ most trusted player come tough spots late in games.

As the United States searches for a motivation to play together, and play well, they no longer have the easy sell of 2008: Get back the gold medal. This is why the 20th anniversary comes at such an opportune time for Team USA, because the chance to cement themselves as a forever team could be a useful driving force.

Nevertheless, this team is so talented, will it even matter in the tournament?

Spain’s last stand?

Pau Gasol led Spain to the silver medal in the 2008 Olympics.
Pau Gasol with Spain National Team

Team USA will be an overwhelming favorite, but the international game is different, and it’s na├»ve to think there won’t be a test come the medal round – a moment of truth when shots aren’t falling and a rival team – perhaps Spain – will force the Americans into a jam.

This is the last stand for this talented core of Spaniards, who could be the deepest, most talented international team since Russia’s juggernauts before the breakup of the Soviet Union. Pau Gasol is still Spain’s cornerstone, and his brother, Marc, has become an elite center. How much Ricky Rubio grows in the next year will go a long way in determining the Spanish threat in London.

And here’s something that’s going to be an immense boost to the Spanish: Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka has become a naturalized citizen and can play on the Spanish national team.

Remember, the Spanish were within one point of the Americans in the fourth quarter of the gold-medal Game in Beijing. They’ll be better this time, too.

Will they fail chemistry?

Four years later, a lot has changed for the biggest stars in the sport. This won’t be Beijing again. Things went smoothly with that gold-medal team, but egos are different now. Players are in different places in their careers. Miami’s Big Three will largely change the dynamic within the next Olympic team, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh becoming a clique that isn’t so popular with Bryant, Rose, Dwight Howard and others.

How will this team assimilate Durant into it after he dominated for USA Basketball at the 2010 world championships in Turkey? Also, there’s the LeBron factor. He’s never been easy behind the scenes with USA Basketball, and here’s a question they know they’ll have to answer: Will LeBron be less manageable after finally winning an NBA title with Miami next season, or after falling short again?

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