After so many injuries to players from the 2008 Redeem team and for others projected to be among the final 12 player going to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the 12-man roster of the United States men’s basketball team is ready, with five players (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony) from the gold medal winning team four years ago.
It was pretty much down to the last three spots, as injuries and limitations that nine players, the previous five + Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love were pretty much a sure thing for the trip to London. The latest three additions are another Oklahoma City Thunder player, James Harden; Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers; Andre Iguodala, as the ‘defensive stopper’ of the team, from the Philadelphia 76ers. Love, Chandler, Westbrook and Durant were on the 2010 squad that won the FIBA World Championships.
There wasn’t that much competition, or spots, left. Players went down like flies, even young guns like the number one draft pick, Anthony Davis, couldn’t scrimmage during the week because of a sprained ankle. He would have been healthy for the Olympics, but the staff felt that going with one true center (Chandler) and two big men (Griffin, Love) was enough against the international competition. Eric Gordon’s head was between contract offers and Rudy Gay took a step back this season. With James, Durant and Carmelo Anthony, there’s enough firepower at forward anyway.
Despite the forced changes, the atmosphere bubbling from the squad hints that the players believe this team might be better than the one that took gold four years ago. Kobe Bryant is high as a kite after the news of Steve Nash joining the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James, without his two Miami Heat teammates but with a title ring, is obviously thrilled at an opportunity to win a second gold medal.
Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose were supposed to be on the plane to London, but the Americans are obviously deeper than anyone else in all of the positions except for Center. Still, the team from four years ago had Howard and Bosh as his backup. The size and athletic advantage and depth around the rest of the floor is too much for most of the teams in the world, even Spain, who were the closest team to give the United States a fight in a fantastic final in Beijing, with the USA winning 118-107 eventually.
Expectations? Nothing but gold, nothing but putting on a convincing show through the tournament. According to Colangelo, the team’s executive director, this is a deeper and better one compared to the ’08 group. Not promising anything, but just sayin’.
Most of the talking and hyping up was done by Carmelo Anthony, psyched at another opportunity to play alongside LeBron James, their third Olympic games together, and win something, which alludes him in the NBA.
We feel like we’re definitely a great team. We have all the pieces that we need. We’ve got to put it together, but we feel like we’re the best team out there. When I think about ’08, we were really good then. But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in ’08,” Paul said. “All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in ’08.
I think we have guys on the team that’s definitely hungry at this point, especially young guys that want to go out and prove themselves. They’ve been showing that over the last couple of days in practice. What we put together in ’08, we will never duplicate that again. But this is a new team, this is a new situation and this team wants to form their own identity.
The full roster: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Chris Paul, Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers), Deron Williams (New Jersey Nets), LeBron James (Miami Heat), Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 76ers), Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves), Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks).
The basketball tournament in the 2012 Olympic Games begins on July 28, going until the final on August 12. The United States are in the same group along with Argentina, France, Lithuania, Russia and Tunisia. They open the tournament against France on July 29. The top 4 teams from each group advance into the quarterfinals.