The NBA playoffs and NBA season is taking its toll on the U.S. Olympic roster pool.
Already the U.S. has lost Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge and Chauncey Billups off its finalists roster. It forced the team to add Anthony Davis and James Harden to its collective roster pool. It also had the U.S. pushing back the date to submit its final roster and received an extension on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s deadline to name a final roster.
The U.S.’s 12-man roster will have to make the same commitment to defense that the 2008 Olympic team did, but it will be a mix of the gold-medal winning 2008 team and the gold medal-winning 2010 team at the World Championships. This puts the U.S. behind the 8-ball in building the team and the program. After all, the 2008 team was really born at the 2006 World Championships and the three-year commitment Jerry Colangelo asked of its participants to play in two major international competitions (plus the Tournament of the Americas qualifying tournament).
Many of the 2008 team members were allowed to skip the World Championships in 2010 and, by virtue of winning that, there was no Tournament of the Americas necessary to qualify. This means the U.S. will be coming together much like it did in the post-Dream Team world, a collection of All Stars virtually assembled only a few weeks before the Olympics actually begin.
It begs the question: will the U.S. actually be the favorite to win the gold medal at the Olympics this year in London?
From top to bottom, the U.S. will have the most talented roster. That was never (and probably will never) be a question. The 12th man on the U.S. Olympic team is a superstar for his team in the NBA. Talent is not the issue.
The issue is coming together as a team. The defensive principles that Mike Krzyzewski wants to instill should already be there since just about every player competed for U.S. basketball in the past.
You then have the issue of fatigue of several players expected to compete. Olympic training camp will open about a week after the NBA Finals are set to end. So if, say, the Thunder and Heat play in the Finals, that would mean Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade would be trying out for the team with merely two weeks of rest in between. I think you would say four or five of those six players are favored to be on those rosters.
This is where other teams in the Olympic competition may have a slight advantage. They have players who have played with each other for years through their systems.
Spain will be without Ricky Rubio but have seasoned veterans of international play in Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jorge Garbajosa and Jose Calderon. Argentina still has the ageless core of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto and Carlos Delfino. Those teams will have young players ready to fill in too. Then there are upstarts like France and Germany who would like to challenge for a medal.
This is still the U.S.’s tournament to lose.
The guys who will be competing for a spot on the Olympic team know the drill for these competitions. They know what Mike Krzyzewski expects of them and generally what their roles will be. Andre Iguodala and Tyson Chandler understand they will be the defensive stoppers. Carmelo Anthony understands his role as the team’s power forward — it is actually a position and role he has thrived at in international play.
This is still a team to reckon with in the Olympics because anyone can catch fire.
There are weaknesses. Without Howard and Aldridge, Anthony and Kevin Love might be the best post players on the potential roster. There is no post scoring from this team — something that could lead to a lot of zone defenses. The lack of a true shooter on the roster might also hurt. The U.S. might have to turn to newcomer Eric Gordon to fill that role as the outside shooter.
The options at point guard might be slimming down too. Chris Paul struggled in 2008 to play the more physical international style. Coach K relied on Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams more in 2008 and relied on Rose and Westbrook in 2010. Westbrook is not a true point guard, but he might be getting the key ball handling duties with Williams.
You can see, that there might be a stretch in finding weaknesses in this U.S. roster. It is just all about how the team comes together and whether or not the Americans are able to make shots during the two-week tournament.
The key, like it was in 2008, will be for the U.S. to show the same commitment on defense to absolutely stifle teams. If they are committed to doing that, the U.S.’s depth will once again overwhelm teams in the Olympics.