Injuries force roster changes, but USA basketball team is better for it
LAS VEGAS -- This was Jerry Colangelo's idea when he took control of the foundering "Dream Team'' concept in 2005: To build a program of exceptional NBA talent capable of overcoming all kinds of negative circumstances.
The 12-man USA Basketball roster for the London Olympics that was revealed Saturday by Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski is an imposing blend of NBA athleticism, versatility and international experience. It becomes all the more impressive when you consider who was unavailable -- including Dwyane Wade, who was the leading scorer of the 2008 Olympic gold medalists, and five big men (Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Andrew Bynum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Lamar Odom) whose absences might have decimated American hopes in previous tournaments.
Because of the pool of talent that has been assembled over the years, the U.S. was able to change course and create an explosive blend of unpredictable lineups that will be able to attack pick-and-rolls, pressure the ball all over the court and create mismatches. Tyson Chandler is the only true center on the team, but the goal is to turn that appearance of weakness into a strength as Kevin Love, LeBron James and Blake Griffin shift to the pivot to create unorthodox problems of their own.
"If someone had projected the 12 names six or nine months ago it might have had a different look,'' said Colangelo, the USA Basketball managing director. "It's a very versatile team that's much more mature than they were in '08. We think we're deeper, we think we're better.''
The following roster isn't necessarily final, as the U.S. may yet need to call upon any or all of the three alternates who didn't make the final 12 -- Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis -- to replace an injured player as late as 48 hours before the opening game of the Olympics July 29 against France:
These dozen players will spend the next three weeks playing five exhibition games while conducting training camps here and in Washington, D.C., Manchester, England, and Barcelona before moving to London.
The final three spots on the team were decided by Colangelo and Krzyzewski after practice Saturday. They went to Griffin, Iguodala and 6-5 Harden, the combo guard who was a late addition to the pool following a breakout season in which he won the Sixth Man Award while helping lead the Thunder to the NBA Finals. He joins Oklahoma City teammates Durant and Westbrook to form the first NBA trio to represent the U.S. in the "Dream Team'' era.
Iguodala, the 76ers' 6-6 swingman, is a solid all-around contributor on offense who can offer shut-down defense against every position but center. Both he and Griffin emphasized that they will be playing complementary roles. "You want to surround your key players -- LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, Carmelo -- with the necessary pieces that might serve their success,'' said Krzyzewski.
Griffin said the knee injury that limited him during the NBA playoffs has healed, as he proved when he reported to camp here early at the request of USAB. He expects to play almost exclusively at center. When Krzyzewski and Colangelo told him he made the team Saturday, the first person he called was his mother. "I told her I got cut and was heading home,'' he said. He was able to keep the joke going for no more than 15 seconds, he figured, because she had been online all day and had decided for herself that he was practically a sure thing to help fill the need for size.
Injuries conspired to prevent Gordon and Davis from making the team. Gordon missed most of last season and Colangelo said they were concerned whether he would be able to hold up physically. Davis, the No. 1 overall pick of last month's draft, recently suffered a sprained ankle that prevented him from scrimmaging Friday and Saturday, making it difficult to choose him ahead of experienced and healthier NBA talents.
At 6-10, Davis would have lengthened the U.S. front line. But Chandler isn't worried about being the only true center on the team. "You've got a lot of shooters,'' he said of the international big men he'll be facing in the Olympics. "They step out and take a lot of jump shots.''
The one opponent that will try to control the air space is Spain via the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, who are hoping to meet the U.S. in a rematch of the 2008 gold-medal final. But the 6-8 James was quick to note that he recently triumphed in an NBA postseason in which he found himself having to guard Kevin Garnett, among others. "I don't think size matters too much at all,'' he said. "Speaking of Miami, people said we were undermatched every time.''
The team represents a blend of experiences and lessons gathered over the years. James and Anthony will be playing in their third straight Olympics. Griffin and Harden are the only players who lack a gold medal from the 2008 Olympics or 2010 FIBA World Championship. The roster is loaded with big guards to help with pick and rolls and versatile wings with the length to aggressively create mismatches. "We understand the attention to detail that's going to be required for us to beat some of these teams,'' said Bryant of the need to study video and scouting reports in order to grasp the tendencies of opponents. "Against these teams we're going to have to do that even more, because we really don't know these guys.''