Kobe and LeBronare on board for this summer's world championships; now all the U.S. needs aresome sharpshooters
When NBA playersrefused to commit to the 1998 world championship in Greece because of theimpending lockout, USA Basketball asked Brad Miller--an undrafted free agentwho had just completed his senior season at Purdue--to be one of its centers.Miller anchored a last-minute roster of Yanks already playing overseas andminor leaguers, a group that included such immortals as Mateen Cleaves, JimmyKing and Jason Sasser. The so-called dirty dozen earned a bronze medal, a rareinstance in recent years of an American squad playing up to its potential.
After the U.S.'sdismal performances in the 2002 worlds (sixth) and the '04 Olympics (third), SIis recommending that Miller be selected again to play in this summer's worldchampionship in Japan. His outside touch and passing skills would be welcome ona team that has tended to brick open jumpers, settle for one-on-one isolationsand, especially, abandon fundamental play. "It kind of killed them lasttime out," says Miller, 29, a two-time All-Star. "They had allathletes, and it was just basically try to throw it up there and go getit."
Miller is amongthe roughly 40 candidates that USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelohas interviewed for a spot on the team. Shortly after this month's All-Starbreak, Colangelo will announce his roster; at week's end only Kobe Bryant andLeBron James had publicly been guaranteed spots. (Tim Duncan has alreadyremoved his name from consideration while other superstars, such as KevinGarnett and Jason Kidd, have expressed considerable reluctance to make thenecessary three-year commitment to the team.) SI's advice to Colangelo,however, is simple: Assign the remainder of the slots to players who have morein common with Scottie Pippen than with Michael Jordan. Focus on shooters, andrate chemistry ahead of talent. Invitations shouldn't go to Vince Carter andTracy McGrady but to Chauncey Billups and Troy Murphy. Neither of them hasplayed in an All-Star Game, but both are capable of knocking down open shots(priority No. 1 in international play) and can fit into a team-firstsystem.
That's why SIalso strongly urges Colangelo to recruit Grizzlies forward Shane Battier.Though his production is modest (11.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game),Battier's skills as a shooter, playmaker and defender make him the perfectcomplement to Bryant and James. Given the league's relentless global marketingefforts, there will no doubt be a temptation to choose style (read: well-knownnames) over substance to fill out the roster. If that happens, expect anotherspectacular failure from the U.S. this summer.