Gold standard for Team USA

July, 27, 2007
While everyone was keeping such a close eye on the Tim Donaghy scandal, there was a drop off in attention being paid to Team USA. This just might be the best U.S. national team put together since the 1992 Dream Team -- if everything pans out according to managing director Jerry Colangelo's plan.

Then again, it might only be the best team since the 2003 Olympic qualifying team. That's a matter that's going to be open for debate in late August and early September when the U.S. team takes its annual stroll through the Tournament of the Americas, this time in Las Vegas.

While the American team has struggled like never before in the last three big tournaments, the 2006 and 2002 World Championships and the 2004 Olympics, those five lean years have not been without one hidden gem -- the 2003 U.S. Olympic qualifying team that traveled to San Juan four summers ago.

That roster included Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby and Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin and Nick Collison.

I remember McGrady telling me a story after the gold-medal game -- a 33-point crushing of Argentina -- how the players had grown so tired of hearing assistant coach Gregg Popovich praise the team from Argentina, they wanted to beat them extra bad just to teach him a lesson about how good they were. Here is a link to the game story I wrote that evening, a game that still qualifies as the best pound-for-pound performance I've ever seen while covering nearly every single game the national team has played since 1996.

So that's the standard I'm going to measure the 2007 team against, because I do not expect them to have anything remotely resembling a problem as they cruise to a gold medal and one of the two Olympic berths at the Tourney of the Americas. With Argentina missing all its seasoned pros except Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino, the defending Olympic champions will not be a threat.

Brazil is an up-and-comer, especially if Anderson Varejao, Nene and Leandro Barbosa all play, but I expect the Americans to shake them off after 28-32 minutes when the teams meet in first-round play Aug. 26. Also in the Americans' first-round group is Canada, which will not be a threat even if Steve Nash does decide to play, which is not the impossibility it once might have seemed according to Friday's Toronto Sun in a staff report filed from the Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro.

If you missed coverage of Team USA's intrasquad scrimmage Sunday in Vegas, which by the way was infinitely better entertainment than the NBA All-Star game held in the same gym back in February, here's a link to my postgame story.

There will be 17-19 guys in camp when the team reassembles Aug. 14 to get ready for the Tournament of the Americas, and the roster must be reduced to 12 by Aug. 21, the night before the Tournament of the Americas begins. (One interesting side note I learned in Vegas: The Olympic roster is going to be due next June 28, even though the Olympics don't begin until Aug. 8.)

Here is my early pick for what the 12-man roster will look like: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kirk Hinrich, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kidd, Mike Miller, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Michael Redd.

If you exclude the players who missed last weekend's minicamp, that means I'm picking Shane Battier, Kevin Durant, Tayshaun Prince, J.J. Redick and Deron Williams to be cut.

Update: I spoke to Colangelo on the phone this morning after filing this blog entry, and he said Andre Iguodala of the Sixers, David Lee of the Knicks, Devin Harris of the Mavericks, Monta Ellis of the Warriors and Al Jefferson of the Celtics have accepted invitations to play for a USA Basketball practice squad that will scrimmage against the national team Aug. 13-21.

Brandon Roy of the Trail Blazers was expected to be included, too, but a scheduling conflict will keep him out. Colangelo wants to get five more commitments to the 10-man practice squad, which he wants to bring into the USA Basketball pipeline with a long-term eye toward the 2010 World Championship in Turkey and the 2012 Olympics in London.



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