- Seth Wickersham, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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ATHENS, Greece -- Five ways to improve USA basketball in the Olympics, or one for every foul Tim Duncan collected in 19 minutes during the Yanks' 89-81 loss to Argentina Friday night:
1. Can we get a shooter, please? And we're not talking about someone who can sit back and hit an open 3. We're talking free throw shooters, too. The U.S. was 14 of 20 from the might-stripe against Argentina, which was good compared to hitting 22 of 33 in the loss to Lithuania in pool play. The Americans aren't going to win gold at these Olympics because of a lot of reasons, but anyone who watched who they played against noticed that every team had a sharpshooter, who found ways to get open and didn't miss. Milwaukee's Michael Redd wasn't on the team, and all Redd did this past season was score 21.7 points a game, only one point behind Duncan's 2004 average, and higher than any other '04 Scheme Team member. What's more, he shot 86 percent from the line.
In the Americans' loss to Argentina only one player (the suddenly hot Stephon Marbury) shot over 50 percent. Meanwhile, using a combination of screens and picks, and knowing he was the only player the U.S. had to shut down, Manu Ginobili hit 9 of 13 shots and scored a game-high 29 points. There's no reason why you can't find an American NBA player (Paul Pierce? Cuttino Mobley? Redd?) who is worth that type of performance.
2. Pick more teammates. Larry Brown complained the entire Olympics that Team USA only had 10 days of practice to get ready, while other teams had been playing together for years. OK, fine. So why not get more teammates on the squad? Don't you think Jason Kidd would want to play a lot more if he knew that he'd be feeding Kenyon Martin for two weeks? The two know each other inside out.
The only guys on the team who were used to playing with each other were LeBron James and Carlos Boozer. They were never on the court together Friday night.
3. Get fewer guys who own their own sneaker. Seriously, do we need this many superstars? The most consistent players for Team USA were Boozer and Shawn Marion, not Allen Iverson, not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony. How badly would Sam Cassell, who not only can shoot but also doesn't care about doing anything but winning. Most USA players were confused about their roles in the Olympics, and they played like it. Get more second-tier guys who are good at one specific thing and fewer showstoppers. Not only will the egos go down but also they'll care more. "You're supposed to approach (the Olympics) as an honor," said Iverson, clearly implying that many players didn't. We need to find the ones who do.
4. Either play the youngsters or get off 'em. Why pick LeBron, Emeka Okafor, and Anthony if you're not going to use them? Larry Brown still hasn't answered that question. The days of the U.S. cruising to gold are over, and so with it must got the days of having the toddlers around to learn from the older guys.
5. Buy the refs. It's the only way to keep Duncan on the floor.
Seth Wickersham covers the Olympics for ESPN The Magazine.
There are five simple ways to make Team USA better for the 2008 Games.