'08 Olympians to skip basketball worlds
The good news for Team USA is there should be two former Olympians on this summer's roster for the World Championship in Turkey.
That news is mitigated by the fact that they were Olympians in Athens, not Beijing.
Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said Sunday that all eight core members of the so-called Redeem Team that won a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics have informed USA Basketball they have decided to skip this summer's tournament in Turkey, where the United States will attempt to win the world championship for the first time since 1994.
"I don't have any level of disappointment. I'm a realist," Colangelo told ESPN.com. "If you've spent as many years in the game as I have, you don't get too surprised at anything, nor too disappointed with anything. You roll with it.
"The best thing that can happen is for us to be successful this summer, and I'm optimistic we can be."
That optimism is not exclusive to Colangelo, as international sports books are currently listing the United States as a 5-12 favorite. Odds have not yet been posted on each of the other 23 teams (Spain is the defending champion), but the field is currently listed at 3-1.
As recently as four months ago, Colangelo was expecting at least seven of his eight core players from Beijing to return, and for Kevin Durant to slip into whichever spot was vacant.
But Deron Williams declined his invitation Saturday night, joining LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony in withdrawing. Also, Tayshaun Prince and Carlos Boozer, the 11th and 12th players on the depth chart in Beijing, have withdrawn, too. All of those players either cited injuries, family commitments or the effects of their hectic free-agency recruiting period.
Others expected to be top contenders for the roster in Turkey include Durant, David Lee, Chauncey Billups, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Brook Lopez and Andre Iguodala. The strongest competition will be at point guard. Aside from Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo (who has flip-flopped again and now plans to play), Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry are on the preliminary national roster. Versatility will again be a key factor, with the coaching staff led by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski looking for players who can fill multiple positions.
"I think there's going to be a number of teams that'll look at us and think that we're susceptible or whatever because we don't have our Olympic team, but I don't think they should underestimate the quality of players we have on this roster. How it plays out remains to be seen," Colangelo said. "What I'm really hanging my hat on is there's a bunch of guys that want to play and are full of excitement and want to participate, and that'll be fun for all of us this summer because it's a long haul.
"So when you have some young excited guys, it'll make it easier."
Again backing off his earlier stance, Colangelo said the withdrawal of the players from Beijing would not hinder their chances of being considered for the 2012 London Olympic team. The Americans' victory over Spain in the gold-medal game in Beijing gave the United States its first victory in a major senior men's international competition since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Colangelo first approached the Beijing team members about playing in Turkey at the 2009 All-Star Game, and all eight core members told him they would play -- commitments that Colangelo made public.
"At the time I made those comments, it was predicated on what I was told at the time relative to those that were indicating they wanted to play. Injuries have taken some toll, there are 3-4 guys who are really injured, and then I think the whole free-agency situation, no one knew how it would all play out and that's taken a toll, too," Colangelo said.
"Their decisions were made before they made their deals, and emphasis on free agency -- it was pretty hard to project how that would play out two years ago, or even a year ago. And for whatever the reasons are, it is what it is, and my position is they have still equity in the team, and they're on the roster."
The U.S. team will hold a mini-camp in Las Vegas from July 19-23, culminating with an open scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus July 24.
The team will then re-convene in New York on Aug. 9, travel to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Springfield, Mass., and play an exhibition game against France at Madison Square Garden the afternoon of Aug. 15. Exhibitions will follow against Lithuania on Aug. 21 in Madrid, then the following night against Spain before Team USA travels to Athens to play the Greek national team on Aug. 25 -- the day before the 12-man roster must be set.
Pool play at the worlds begins Aug. 28, with the U.S grouped with Croatia, Slovenia, Brazil, Tunisia and Iran. Four teams will advance from each of the four groups.
The single-elimination knockout round begins Sept. 4 and runs through the gold-medal game Sept. 12.
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.