Rajon Rondo withdraws from Team USA
ATHENS -- Rajon Rondo looked like a man with a lot on his mind as he sat under the basket, all by himself, while the rest of the members of Team USA congregated in the bench areas or put up a few extra shots following the conclusion of practice Tuesday at OAKA Arena.
"I think I'm on the bubble," Rondo told ESPN.com. "Just looking at the obvious -- I got a DNP last game. That pretty much speaks for itself."
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Just a couple hours later at the team hotel, after a meeting with the coaching staff and the team hierarchy, Rondo had a one-way plane ticket back to the United States.
There would be no need for a final cut, with Rondo withdrawing from the team.
"It's what's best for the country," said Rondo, who said his DNP-CD (did not play -- coach's decision) on Sunday was his first since his rookie NBA season. "It's part of it. We knew coming in it was still tryouts until we make the team that goes to Turkey."
USA Basketball issued a press release Tuesday night announcing Rondo's withdrawal from the team, four days prior to the start of the FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
So the roster is set: The guards will be Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon; the wing players will be Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay and Danny Granger; and the front line will be comprised of Lamar Odom, Andre Iguodala, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Rondo offered to withdraw to take care of "some family matters to attend to and some things to take care of before the NBA season."
"[Rondo] did an outstanding job during our training, we appreciate the effort and commitment he made to our program and he completely has our support," Colangelo said in the statement announcing Team USA's final roster.
After losing his job as the starting point guard to Rose last weekend in Madrid, Rondo's stock had fallen to the point where he was third on the point guard depth chart behind Rose and Westbrook.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he will go with the same starting lineup in an exhibition Wednesday night against Greece that he used in Sunday's one-point victory over Spain, using Rose at the point, Billups at shooting guard, Durant at small forward, Iguodala at power forward and Odom at center.
Before Rondo's withdrawal was announced, Krzyzewski also said he would try to give all 13 players some playing time, as long as circumstances permitted it.
"It's not so much what Rajon has to show, it's what our team needs. We've found a good lineup, and the international game is so different from the NBA game, you can ask any of these guys," Krzyzewski said. "Part of it is to make sure that we try not to have two nonshooters out on the court, and there's the physicality, too.
"Derrick right now being with Chauncey is a good [combination], and Stephen, he provides a different thing, because if they are going under [screens] and they keep going under on him, then he has a 3. So it forces another team to change the way they defend our team. So it's things like that, and how we feel strategywise what'll be best for the team," he said.
Rondo played poorly (1-for-4, two points, one assist, four turnovers) in the Americans' game Saturday against Lithuania in which the U.S. team failed to establish a fast pace and scored just seven points in the first quarter, and Rondo and Chandler were replaced by Rose and Odom in the starting five the following night against Spain.
Rondo's knack for rebounding was one of the factors working in his favor, but his inability to consistently hit jump shots and free throws (he was 5-for-19 -- 26 percent -- in the NBA Finals) was a negative that the team feared would be exploited by the competition.
Another factor working against Rondo was the team's lack of size.
Odom, Chandler and Love are the only players who play power forward or center on their NBA teams, which has forced the Team USA to use Granger, Gay and Iguodala at the 4 spot from time to time.
Also, despite the fact that Billups and Curry are playing at shooting guard, both are primary ball handlers on their NBA teams -- as are Rose, Westbrook and Rondo. And a team with five point guards (along with a sixth guard in Gordon, who has been one of the most consistent players in practices) could be viewed as a team with a key structural flaw.
"I'm confident," said Love, who sat out Sunday night's game against Spain after sustaining a mild concussion the previous night against Lithuania when he tried to draw a charge and banged the back of his head against the floor when he was plowed over. "I've been playing well in practice. I'm just hoping I get the opportunity, but I know there's a lot of great players that have a chance to make the [last] spot.
"But as far as the front line, I think a lot of people are saying we're thin. Even the coaches are saying that," Love said.
The remaining 12 players will travel Thursday to Istanbul, where Team USA opens play Saturday night against Croatia.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com.