Breaking down the key questions surrounding Team USA
They held minicamp for one day in Las Vegas just a few blocks from where Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce of the NBA-champion Boston Celtics were frolicking at the Palms pool, and they hit New York two days later with an all-day media blitz that left Cleveland wondering whether LeBron James will be a goner in two years.
Now, Team USA is on vacation for the majority of this month before training camp reopens July 21 in Las Vegas.
The Americans will be together for 36 consecutive days after that, a trip that'll take them from Vegas to San Jose, Calif., to Macao to Shanghai to Beijing before they board a charter flight back to the United States and clear customs in Minneapolis on Aug. 26.
Then, they get a month off before NBA training camp begins.
So before things get started up again, let's take a look at a few key questions and answers surrounding this so-called Redeem Team, the United States senior men's national team that'll try to end America's eight-year gold-medal drought.
Q: Has the potential big-man problem been solved?
A: The potential problem, for those unaware, is that Team USA put only three true big men -- Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer -- on its roster. And after some second-guessing, the decision was made to invite Tyson Chandler along on the trip to Asia, too, as the team's No. 1 alternate. So, if anyone is injured prior to Aug. 7 (the day the final roster must be submitted), Chandler will be the replacement.
However, in order to replace one of the 12, each of whom has certain rights as an Olympian under IOC rules and U.S. law, there must be an injury to one of the 12 that can be verified by a neutral observer. That's why Larry Brown was unable to throw Stephon Marbury off the U.S. team in 2004 just before they arrived in Athens.
So, to answer the question, no.
Q: So, who are the starters going to be?
Q: And the rest of the rotation?
A: Dwyane Wade starts out as the sixth man, but his hold on that spot will depend on how well he plays in the Americans' five exhibition games prior to Beijing. If he looks like the D-Wade of 2005-06, he'll hold the spot. If he turns back into the turnover machine he was last season, he'll be supplanted in that role -- most likely by Michael Redd.
Chris Paul and Deron Williams will compete for the backup point guard spot behind Kidd, with Paul having a slight edge since Williams can also play the 2-guard spot. Bosh backs up Howard at center, Boozer backs up Anthony at the 4, and Tayshaun Prince can be used at the 2, 3 or 4 spot depending on the circumstances.
Q: When can we catch a glimpse of these guys?
A: Their one and only game in the Western Hemisphere takes place July 25 in Las Vegas when they play Canada at the Thomas & Mack Center (the game will be televised on ESPN2). Other exhibitions will be played July 31 against Turkey and Aug. 1 against Lithuania (in Macao), and Aug. 3 against Russia and Aug. 5 against Australia (in Shanghai). Their first game of the Olympics is Aug. 10 against the host team, China.
Q: Is Yao Ming going to play in that game?
A: From all indications, yes. Yao was expected to join Team China for training in early July. He'll play along a front line that should include Yi Jianlian, now of the New Jersey Nets, and Mengke Bateer, who played sparingly for several NBA teams.
Q: What comes after that for Team USA?
A: The Americans know the identities of only two of their other first-round opponents: Angola and Spain. The other two opponents will be determined in a new pre-Olympic qualifying tournament to be held July 14-20 in Athens.
The field for that tourney includes Greece (which will not have Jazz draft pick Kosta Koufos), Germany (which has added Chris Kaman of the Clippers to a squad that already includes Dirk Nowitzki), Croatia, Slovenia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Lebanon, Korea, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Canada and New Zealand. Three teams will qualify for the Olympics, and a draw will be held at the conclusion of the tournament to determine which two teams go in Group B with the U.S., and which team will be placed in Group A, which already includes Argentina, Russia, Lithuania, Australia and Iran.
Q: Aside from the Americans, who are the best teams?
A: Argentina is the defending Olympic champion, but there's a question as to how effective Manu Ginobili will be as he continues to recover from an ankle injury. He flew to San Antonio on July 2 to receive an anti-inflammatory shot in his ankle. Other NBA players on Argentina include Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola, Fabricio Oberto and Carlos Delfino. The only non-NBA player in Argentina's starting five is Pablo Prigioni, who plays professionally for Tau Ceramica in Spain.
Spain is the defending world champion, with a deep roster of NBA players or soon-to-be NBA players, including Paul and Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jorge Garbajosa. Point guard sensation Ricky Rubio, 17, is also expected to compete for Spain.
Russia, which upset Spain in the final match of Eurobasket '07, is led by Utah's Andrei Kirilenko and American point guard J.R. Holden (of CSKA Moscow), and Lithuania is always a solid contender led by former NBA guard Sarunas Jasikevicius and 2-guard Ramunas Siskauskas, who filled in admirably at the point last summer when Jasikevicius was injured during Eurobasket.
Greece should qualify, too, and should not be taken lightly despite significant changes to its roster. The Americans looked past the Greeks two years ago at the World Championship in Japan, and Greece pulled off the upset of that tournament by defeating the United States in the semifinals.
Q: China doesn't make that group of contenders?
A: No. As strong as China is up front, its weak spot continues to be its guards. And until the Chinese guards can master the act of breaking the press, they can't crack the top half-dozen teams in the world.
Q: How big of a favorite is Team USA?
A: Most international sports books are listing Team USA as the 1-3 favorite, followed by Spain at 7-2 and Argentina at 8-1, Russia at 15-1 and Lithuania at 20-1. Looking for the ultimate long shot? Iran's odds of winning the gold are 2,500-1.
Q: And you, Sheridan, who you picking?
A: Too soon to say. I expect Team USA to cruise through the first round, but the quarters, semifinals and gold-medal match (should the Americans make it) will bring an entirely different level of competition. I want to see how they perform in their friendlies against the big squads from Russian and Lithuania before committing to a pick. My pick will also be impacted by whether they're able to find a way to get Chandler onto the active roster. So you can expect to see my pick, and read my explanations for it, a day or two before the tournament starts.
Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics.
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