Team USA facing tricky transition from inside and among opponents
LONDON -- Jerry Colangelo hopes to have Team USA's next championship set up by Christmas.
He (and probably a few U.S. players) will make a last run at retaining Mike Krzyzewski, who insisted he will retire from international basketball after coaching the U.S. men to a second straight gold medal Sunday and a 62-1 record over the six years he spent redeeming American basketball. A source with knowledge of Colangelo's thinking predicted the next head coach will come from the NBA, which would rate Gregg Popovich of the Spurs and Doc Rivers of the Celtics among the favorites.
A key dynamic in the successful partnership of Krzyzewski and Colangelo was that neither had ties to the NBA. The players never had to worry about playing against either of them during the NBA season.
"The fact that I never compete against them, we have our own relationships and same thing with Jerry -- it's one of those underlying really good things," Krzyzewski said. "But I don't know how much it means. We just kind of fell into it. That wasn't planned."
In fact, according to Colangelo, Krzyzewski's non-involvement with the NBA was an important consideration in hiring him.
"That's an issue where there was always concern," Colangelo said of hiring a coach who could establish trust with players throughout the NBA. "That was more difficult to deal with, I think. The fact that he was in the position he was in and he had no agenda other than his love for the game and coaching his team, it was perfect."
If Colangelo were to hire outside the NBA, he could consider U.S. assistant coaches Mike D'Antoni or Nate McMillan (neither of whom is currently employed in the league) or Tom Izzo of Michigan State, who, like Krzyzewski, has refused offers to coach in the NBA.
Colangelo said he is in no rush to resolve Kryzewski's future in order to retain him or replace him.
"He needs a little space," Colangelo said. "He needs to come down after all of this over the next few weeks and months. If I have everything in place by the first of the year, that's my thinking."
Another issue that won't be resolved so quickly is the NBA's proposal of an age limit for the Olympics. FIBA has responded skeptically to the idea, and even if it were to be ratified, the new rules almost surely would not be enacted until the 2020 Olympics.
Colangelo said he would be waiting for an official outcome before responding. If the U.S. someday must assemble an Olympic team of players who are 23 or younger, then he is certain that his program will have plenty of players from which to draw.
"The good news for us is we're not going to scramble," he said. "We don't have to scramble. It goes back to the infrastructure, back to the 16-, 17-, 18-, 19-year olds who are the defending gold medalists [internationally on behalf of U.S. teams]. They're all there, they are all ready, and it's a matter of who you pick and how you pick them -- if you have to. To me, that's a big advantage for us because there's no one out there that has that kind of infrastructure."
This Olympic basketball tournament was so competitive because so many national teams were peaking. The last five U.S. games -- against Lithuania, Argentina (which played the U.S. twice), Australia and in the final against Spain -- were all in doubt in the third or fourth quarters. But most of the contenders are likely to lose their best players four years from now -- whether it's Pau Gasol and Juan-Carlos Navarro of silver-medalist Spain, Andrei Kirilenko of bronze-medalist Russia, Manu Ginobili of Argentina, Tony Parker of France or Marcelinho Huertas of Brazil. The upcoming generation of non-American players does not appear to be up to the high standards of that group.
Because of the groundwork laid by Colangelo, the U.S. can hope to retain many of its current stars -- including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, all at or approaching their peak -- and also work in younger stars like James Harden, Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose (who was sidelined from the Olympics by knee surgery).
"If you ask them tonight, I'm sure they would say, 'I want to be back,' " Colangelo said Sunday night of 11 of his current players (Kobe Bryant, 33, has already said he won't return). "But that's not the time or place -- again, you want to get away from it for a while."
The players won't have very long to digest their accomplishment in these Olympics and take account of their futures. NBA training camps will open in six weeks, and the season will be upon them before they know it.