Team USA's quest for gold begins with a few questions
So as we begin the long trek to Beijing, here are some of the questions that have arisen as Team USA starts the final phase of its quest for gold:
Q: How is this team better than the team that lost to Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan?
A: First of all, the point guard position is much more solid. Instead of Kirk Hinrich (who finished as the starter in Japan) and Chris Paul (who began as the starter), the Americans now have Jason Kidd, Paul and Deron Williams as their playmakers.
They also have added Kobe Bryant, who will concentrate on being a one-on-one defensive stopper more than a scorer.
Q: How is this team worse than the 2006 team?
A: Can't really say the Americans are worse in any way. What they are, just as they were in Japan, is untested. They made it through last summer's Tournament of the Americas without playing a single close game, and they won't play a tough opponent in Beijing until their third and fourth games of the first round, when they'll face Spain and Greece.
And when they play the Greeks, keep an eye out to see whether Team USA's lack of size is a problem; it was two years ago when the Greeks stunned the Americans in the World Championship semis.
Q. Is Dwyane Wade healthy enough to help?
A: That's a major, major question as camp gets under way. Wade is expected to be the team's sixth man, but Michael Redd, Williams and even Tayshaun Prince could usurp that title if Wade is as shaky in the next few weeks as he was for Miami last season coming back from knee and shoulder surgeries.
Q. What is the general take on Mike Krzyzewski's coaching Team USA in the Olympics?
A: That's an open-ended question, and it probably will be best answered after we see how Coach K responds to adversity when it first arises in Beijing.
In Japan, it didn't come until the semis, and Coach K did not acquit himself well by stubbornly sticking with a small lineup against Greece when either Dwight Howard or Elton Brand could have made a big difference.
Q: Why is Jason Kidd in the starting lineup instead of Williams or Paul?
A: Because he's the quintessential facilitator, and he'll bend over backward to make sure the team's best scorers get the ball in position to put up points. He also has an undefeated record with the U.S. senior national team, going 38-0 in major competitions. He's the only member of the U.S. team to have won an Olympic gold medal, which he did eight years ago in Sydney.
When the team's bigwigs sat down after their 2006 third-place finish, they decided that upgrading the point was the most important adjustment they needed to make.
A: Depends on whether this team runs into the same type of early adversity that the 2004 team did. Brown suspended two players for the first exhibition game four years ago because they were late to a team meeting, which got them off to a rough start. And when that Olympic squad landed in Germany and got trounced by Italy in its second exhibition, panic began to set in.
By the end of the first week of August, we'll see how Team USA looks in friendlies against two very strong teams -- Russia and Lithuania. If they struggle, the drama will begin to become self-evident.
Q: Will Kobe be able to subjugate his game, or at least adjust it for an entire month-plus?
A: Another open question. It'll be interesting to see who will take the last shot if they're ever in a tight game in the final seconds. Three guys -- Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony -- probably feel they most deserve to shoot for the win.
Q: Who is Team USA's leader?
A: Kidd is the leader, for age and experience reasons. But if he struggles on the road to Beijing, it'll be interesting to see who will try to step up and fill that position. A lack of leadership has been a problem for the U.S. in the past. In Athens, the team tuned out its leader -- Coach Brown.
Q: Which Team USA member will turn the most heads in Beijing (a la Vince Carter eight years ago in Sydney)?
A: The safe guess is Anthony, who has proven the past four years to be a better FIBA player than an NBA player. The dark horse is Kobe, who never has been asked to subjugate his offensive game as he will this time.
Q: What are the keys to Team USA's bringing back the gold?
A: The biggest key is to peak at the end, not the beginning. Only three games really matter -- the quarterfinals on Aug. 20, the semis on Aug. 22, and the gold-medal game on Aug. 24.
Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics.
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