What awaits for Team USA?
NEW YORK -- Its predecessor was known as the Redeem Team, but the current version of Team USA is still searching for a nickname -- not to mention an identity.
The team will take a step forward in both directions Sunday afternoon when it faces France at Madison Square Garden in the first game of an international doubleheader (China plays Puerto Rico in the nightcap) as part of a warm-up for the FIBA World Championship. It will be the only game action the U.S. see until next weekend in Madrid when it plays a back-to-back on hostile ground against Lithuania and Spain.
With minicamp long over and training camp nearly complete, it is time to ask a few basic questions and provide a few basic answers on the 2010 version of the U.S. national team:
Where are all the big names, the guys who won gold in Beijing?
After some tough talk from team director Jerry Colangelo over the winter that they'd be jeopardizing their spots on the 2012 London Olympic team, all 10 possible returnees (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince) have been given a free pass to skip this summer's world championship in Turkey. Many of those players have been with the U.S. team every summer since 2006, and while some cited injuries and/or personal commitments, the bottom line for most of them was that they didn't want to sacrifice 40 days of their free time.
What will be at stake in Turkey?
A: For one thing, an automatic spot in the 2012 Olympics goes to the winner, while everyone else must try to qualify through regional tournaments in the summer of 2011 or in a last-chance tournament early in the summer of 2012. The world championship is held in higher esteem in other countries than it is in the United States, where Americans tend to look at the Olympics as the ultimate sporting competition. The United States has not won the worlds since 1994, having placed third in Greece in 1998, sixth in Indianapolis in 2002 and third in Japan in 2006.
Who will be on the team?
There are a couple of veterans, but it is mostly comprised of NBA youngsters who came into the USA Basketball pipeline in recent years by playing for the "select team," which practices against Team USA. There are still 15 players on a roster that must eventually be cut down to 12. They are: Kevin Durant, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Kevin Love, Jeff Green, Tyson Chandler, JaVale McGee, Rudy Gay, Lamar Odom and Andre Iguodala. Only Odom (2004 Olympics) and Billups (2007 Tournament of the Americas) have experience playing in major international tournaments.
Who is most likely to get cut? And when?
Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have been saying they will take 14 or 15 players to Europe for a 10-day tour leading up to the worlds, including the two games in Madrid and a friendly in Athens against Greece. Gordon and Green are most certainly on the bubble, but getting from 13 to 12 is going to be tricky. McGee is the most obvious final-cut candidate, but it would leave an already-small U.S. team without a true backup center for the injury-prone Chandler. The U.S. federation does not have to decide on the final 12-man roster until Aug. 26 -- two days before the start of the world championship.
What will be the calling card for this version of Team USA?
Speed, speed and more speed. Because they are so small, and because so much of their talent is concentrated in the backcourt, the Americans will try to play an up-tempo style and rely heavily on the short FIBA 3-point line. If they struggle, it'll be against teams that can slow the pace and control the boards.
When do the games start to matter?
Truthfully, not until Sept. 4, when the single-elimination round of 16 begins. And making it to that round will be a cinch, as four teams from each six-team preliminary round group will advance. The U.S. is grouped with Brazil, Croatia, Slovenia, Tunisia and Iran, and it'll take just two victories to make it out of the preliminary round. Even if the Americans lose their first three games on Aug. 28 (Croatia), Aug. 29 (Slovenia) and Aug. 30 (Brazil), they'll have no problem getting past Iran on Sept. 1 and Tunisia on Sept. 2 to advance.
Who is capable of beating them?
Anything can happen on any given night, but two teams look the toughest: Spain and Argentina. Spain is the defending world champion and will have everyone back from the squad that won EuroBasket 2009 (except Pau Gasol, who is sitting out). Spain's roster includes Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jorge Garbajosa and Fran Vazquez. Argentina will have all its top players except Manu Ginobili on a roster that includes NBA veterans Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino and Fabricio Oberto.