The march to Rio 2016 begins Tuesday for USA Basketball, when the two-time defending Olympic champions assemble in Las Vegas for a three-day minicamp. USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo has promised a low-key event, which culminates in a public scrimmage on Thursday, and official decisions on USA’s final 12-man roster won’t be made until shortly before the competition tips off next summer.
Still, intrigue abounds for Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff. USAB has invited 34 players to the camp—headlined by 2012 London gold medalists LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis—and the group also includes a number of notable additions and omissions.
What’s at stake?
USAB is not only looking to defend its gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Olympics in London, it’s also looking to extend its streak of international dominance that includes 63 straight wins (dating back to 2006) and gold medals at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey and the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
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After a smashing performance in Spain, in which a B-team led by Davis, Kyrie Irving and Kenneth Faried went 9-0 with a whopping +33.8 point differential, USAB will enter 2016 as FIBA’s No. 1 ranked team and as the overwhelming favorites. With international stars like Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili aging, it’s not hyperbolic to suggest that USA could field a roster with nine of the top 10 talents in Rio (Spain’s Marc Gasol being the 10th). That comical talent advantage, and the expected presence of James, will continue perpetuating a “gold or bust” mentality that has become commonplace for a program that floundered from 2002 to 2006.
Who is new?
The new faces include 2015 Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, 2015 Most Improved Player Jimmy Butler and 2015 All-Defensive First Team selections Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan. LaMarcus Aldridge, a three-time All-NBA selection, is on the list after years of flirting with, but never actually playing for, USAB.
Who is back?
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Who isn’t back?
Four players from the 2012 gold medal team were not included: Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Andre Iguodala and Deron Williams. All four will be 32 or older next summer. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, two 2008 Beijing gold medalists who missed out on 2012 because of injuries, are also not included.
Indeed, USAB’s 2016 roster is shaping up to be relatively young, as its oldest player could very well be Anthony, 31, or James, who turned 30 last December.
Who else got 'snubbed'?
The biggest surprise non-participants are Derrick Rose, who won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, and Damian Lillard, who was cut from the 2014 roster. Both point guards face an imposing position crunch: Rose’s game was hit-or-miss in Spain after suffering multiple season-ending knee injuries in recent years, and Lillard admitted in a CBSSports Radio interview earlier this summer, “After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.” On merit, Derrick Favors deserved an invite, too.
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Why did USAB invite so many players?
Here’s one obvious question: Why did USAB bother inviting so many players when there are eight 2012 gold medalists, none of whom are particularly old, still in the mix for 2016?
There are at least two answers. First, of course, are injury concerns that go beyond the horrific leg injury suffered by Paul George during a USAB showcase last summer. Durant (foot), Anthony (knee), Westbrook (hand, face), Griffin (elbow), Irving (knee), Love (shoulder), Howard (knee), Leonard (eye), Butler (elbow), John Wall (wrist), Bradley Beal (leg), Mike Conley (face) and Chandler Parsons (knee) are among the camp invites who dealt with significant injuries during the 2014-15 season and 2014 postseason. That’s more than a dozen guys!
There’s also a scheduling quirk at play here, too. After first rebranding the World Championships as the World Cup in 2014, FIBA has opted to change the event’s schedule in hopes of distinguishing it from soccer’s FIFA World Cup. Rather than playing the next FIBA World Cup in 2018 and continuing a four-year cycle that has been in place since 1970, the event has been delayed to 2019 in China. USAB, then, will need to field 12-man rosters for 2019 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without a rest year in between. Convincing players, especially returning players, to give up back-to-back summers will likely be a tougher sell than the current system, and USAB is smart to keep a lot of irons in the fire, even though ‘19 is still four years away.
What does the early depth chart look like?
When it comes to final roster decisions, USAB has an expressed preference for rewarding players that have participated in its previous camps and performed in previous competitions. In the past, Krzyzewski has also said he is looking for two-way players who can play multiple positions, who can have success with and without the ball and who can thrive in an up-tempo style, while noting that he generally tries to form an eight-man core that is complemented by four role players (say, an extra big man, a three-point specialist, a defensive wizard, etc.).
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With those conditions in mind, here’s SI.com’s attempt at formulating a depth chart. Note that this grouping uses the players’ NBA positions, and many players slide up a position (from small forward to power forward, for example) in international competition. Keep in mind, many depth chart decisions (like DeRozan over Butler and Faried over Green) are influenced by previous USAB experience and are obviously subject to change between now and Rio.
PF: Kevin Love (*+), Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kenneth Faried (+), Draymond Green
* = Olympic Gold Medalist
+ = World Cup Gold Medalist
Who should make the team?
SI.com took its first crack at selecting a 12-man USAB roster for 2016 Rio right here.
Will USAB's minicamp be televised?
Yes. NBATV is providing live coverage from the camp, featuring Matt Winer, Steve Smith, Stu Jackson and Jared Greenberg, beginning at 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday.