Redeem Team out of sight, out of mind
Team USA undergoes 'cultural evolution' heading into world championship in Turkey
LAS VEGAS -- In a twisted sort of way, Team USA is better off with what it has than with what it doesn't have.
Or to put it another way, the focus this week and for the rest of this summer heading into the FIBA World Championship in Turkey is not going to be on the players who turned the NBA on its head in early July, the same three Redeem Teamers who helped right the basketball universe two years ago by winning the gold medal in Beijing.
None of them is here, although some probably will be back two years from now to prepare for the 2012 Olympics.
And that, at least for now, is a distinct benefit for the players who are here for the opening of Team USA's minicamp Tuesday and who will not have to deal with the tangential issues that have kept LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the forefront of the discussion in the basketball universe for the past -- what has it been, 60 days? 90?
Out of sight, out of mind.
And out of the conversation -- at least until this team gets tested or even loses a game between now and the gold-medal match in Istanbul on Sept. 12.
What is important now is not what happened in the past month but what is about to happen in the next two months: The United States will be attempting to win the world championship for the first time since 1994, when Kevin Durant was all of 5 years old.
"It's a cultural evolution," coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN.com on Monday.
"There's always some new challenges, and we're always trying to get better," said team director Jerry Colangelo. "And if you have the right people in place with that kind of an attitude, we'll never be an organization that rests on its laurels. It just won't happen as long as you have people here that think that way."
"Continuity" has been the buzzword for the U.S. basketball federation the past five years, but much of the roster continuity Team USA thought it would have has dissipated now that all 12 of the players from the 2008 gold-medal team withdrawn from this year's team.
The continuity that has endured begins with the team hierarchy, starting with Colangelo, reaching down to a coaching staff whose members have all signed on to continue in their roles through the 2012 Olympics and now also including special adviser Jason Kidd, who won't play but "was more important to that 2008 Beijing team than people will ever realize," as Krzyzewski put it.
Who Will Make The Cut?
LAS VEGAS -- In five weeks, Team USA's roster will be set.
The 22 players who reported for the start of minicamp Tuesday will have been cut down to 12, and the Americans will begin their quest to win the FIBA World Championship for the first time since 1994.
Plenty can happen between now and then, and it's a 99.9 percent certainty that LeBron James or any of his Beijing brethren will not be walking through that door between now and mid-August.
So as we begin what will be a nearly two-month sojourn from Las Vegas to New York to Springfield, Mass., to Madrid to Athens to Istanbul, it is both worthwhile and fun to take an educated guess at who will be on the 12-man roster when Team USA opens pool play against Croatia on Aug. 28.
Here is my best guess at the composition of the squad (and although it is an early guess, it is an educated one based partly on conversations with various NBA and USA Basketball officials, partly on my own experience having covered Team USA at every major international basketball competition since 1996):
-- Chris Sheridan
"Look at Kevin Durant, for example," Krzyzewski said. "This is his fifth straight summer with us. Or Lamar Odom, who did this already with the 2004 Olympic team but was one of the most eager in raising his hand and saying 'I want to be a part of this again.'"
From 22 to 12
The minicamp roster stands at 22 with the addition of JaVale McGee after his strong summer-league performance for the Washington Wizards, though additions could still be made if circumstances merit changes.
Joining him at center are Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez and Tyson Chandler; the forwards are Jeff Green, David Lee, Kevin Love, Odom, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala and Gerald Wallace; and the guards are Durant, Chauncey Billups, Tyreke Evans, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo.
The 2010 version of the national team had its first meeting Monday night, with the motivational message designed to come more from the video presentations the team was shown than from the speeches it heard.
"I'm not going to talk about Beijing at all, and I wasn't going to talk about Japan any more than in the context that we haven't won [the world championship] since '94. But other than that, I don't think there's any need," Krzyzewski said. "It's kind of like my Duke team this past year: Those kids can't play to help me win my fourth national championship, but I can be the coach of their first national championship. They can identify with what they are doing."
Durant is undoubtedly the most talented member of a team that will open the five-day training camp Tuesday with 22 players fighting for 12 spots.
The roster is expected to be whittled to 15 or 16 players by the time the team reconvenes in New York on Aug. 9 for training camp, and an extra player or two could be added to the final 12 for the trip across the Atlantic Ocean as the U.S. team prepares for the worlds with what will be its toughest pre-tournament schedule since 2004. Team USA plays an exhibition slate that includes back-to-back games against Lithuania and Spain in Madrid (Aug. 21-22) and a game against Greece in Athens (Aug. 25) before it arrives in Istanbul on Aug. 26.
The Americans are quite strong at both guard positions but have a depth chart that begins to show some dropoff when you start looking at the forwards and centers.
As usual, positional versatility will be an advantage for those trying to survive the final cut, which is why someone such as Billups or Westbrook, who can play the point or play shooting guard -- much as Williams did in Beijing -- arguably will enter camp with a slight advantage over those players who are pigeonholed into one particular spot, such as Rondo, a pure point guard; Gordon, strictly a shooting guard; or the Lopez brothers and McGee, pure centers.
As Krzyzewski points out, not only did he use James primarily as a power forward in Beijing but he employed him as a point guard, too.
"If we had some of our guys back, it would be a different mix, for sure," Colangelo said. "But that's not the case, and it doesn't make it right or wrong, or good or bad. But it's exciting, it's exciting to have a new group and to try to do it again in a new way with a different group, and I think the whole staff feels that way."
The world championship has brought heartbreak to U.S. teams for more than a decade and a half.
Four years ago, the Americans were stunned by Greece in the semifinals, with their unfamiliarity with the opposing personnel, their panic when playing from behind and their inability to defend the pick-and-roll combining to produce their downfall.
Eight years ago in Indianapolis, they lost with a roster of NBA players for the first time ever, ultimately finishing sixth with losses to Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain. And in 1998, they finished third while fielding a roster devoid of NBA players because the league was shut down by a lockout.
Only one player from the gold-medal-winning 1994 team, Shaquille O'Neal, remains an active NBA player. Four (Joe Dumars, Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Mark Price) have moved into front-office or coaching positions; two (Steve Smith and Reggie Miller) have gone into broadcasting; and three more (Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, plus Shawn Kemp and Derrick Coleman) have disappeared from the basketball landscape entirely.
Team USA: Warmup Games
Here's Team USA's remaining schedule of exhibitions leading up to the 2010 FIBA men's basketball championship slated for Aug. 28-Sept. 12 in Istanbul, Turkey:
• Aug. 25: USA vs. Greece, Athens, Greece, Noon ET, ESPN2, ESPN3.com
Loaded? No. At least not to the degree the team was two years ago in Beijing, or even four years ago outside of Tokyo.
But this year, because of what has transpired in free agency, it might be better to be motivated than loaded.
The focus will not be on who will be wearing a Miami Heat jersey or who will no longer be welcome in Cleveland or who will become Batman to someone else's Robin.
It'll be on coming back from Turkey and being able to say something James, Wade, Bosh and their ilk cannot: "We might not have Olympic gold medals, but we are the FIBA world champions."
And outside of the United States, the world championship is regarded as a more important and more prestigious competition than the Olympics.
Doesn't matter which guys you do -- or don't -- have on your roster.