LAS VEGAS -- There was a time, a time not too long ago, when the prospect of playing for the United States national team was considered a chore. Beginning in 2002 with the U.S.'s undignified sixth-place finish at the world championships and continuing in 2004 with their only slightly more acceptable bronze medal at the Olympics -- the first time Team USA had not won gold since professionals began playing in 1992 -- playing for the red, white and blue had lost its luster. Instead of embracing the opportunity to play for their country, American players began to fear it. One by one the NBA's heavy hitters balked at the chance to play.
Team USA's struggles during that period weren't just the fault of the players. It was management, too. After the '02 debacle, the U.S. selection committee, who again battled a wave of players refusing to play, loaded the 2004 team up with great individual players like
However, four years later the U.S. is back on top, thanks largely to superior management by USA Basketball Chairman
Which brings us here, where 23 of the NBA's top young players will eagerly participate in a two-day minicamp (and a intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday) to try and impress the USA Basketball staff enough to earn a coveted spot on the U.S. roster. Though there is a very realistic possibility there won't be a single spot available. Colangelo says he has spoken to every member of the '08 team and they each have expressed interest in playing both in the 2010 world championships and the '12 Olympics in London.
Of course, that can change. Kidd will be 39 in 2012 and may not be up for an extended summer. And injuries are always an unknown variable.
But let's assume that there will be roster spots available. Let's say three are up for grabs. Who has the best shot? Here are five Vegas participants who loom as the strongest possibilities: