Guessing at Team USA's 12-Man Roster for the 2016 Olympics
We live in a world (or at the very least, a country) of programmed anticipation. It's a world in which enjoyment of the present is clouded by expectation of the future and the most widespread satisfactions seem to come not from excellence, but from living up to manufactured hype.
One could pen thousands of words on this very subject, but for today we simply embrace it; with gold being the most likely outcome for Team USA in the 2012 Summer Olympics, we're already left to wonder what might become of 2016.
Much can, and will, happen in the next four years, but forward-thinkers that we are, we can least take a very preliminary look at a possible 12-man roster for the 2016 games to be held in Rio de Janeiro.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant, who has a legitimate claim to being the second-best basketball player in the world, is the easiest inclusion possible for the 2016 games. By that time, KD may very well have climbed the mountaintop, and at 27 years old, will be entering the prime years of his basketball-playing career.
Plus, it helps that Durant's commitment to the USA Basketball program hasn't wavered in the slightest since his inclusion as a finalist for the team in 2007. He'll surely be game as the face of the program next time around and could have the potential to completely blow the lid off of the entire tournament with his equally explosive but further refined scoring game.
It's been a pleasure watching Durant ply his trade thus far against international competition, and we can rest assured knowing that this summer won't be the last that we see of KD on this particular stage.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Another easy inclusion, and another Team USA mainstay. Rose would've been one of the leaders of the current team had an ACL tear not robbed him of the opportunity, but he'll be a functional co-captain when the Americans head to Rio in 2016.
Rose's last (and only) tour with Team USA came at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, and though he was completely upstaged by Durant over the course of the tournament, Rose quietly led all Americans in assists and performed admirably in an international setting that his game initially seemed ill-suited for.
Since that time, Rose not only won an NBA MVP award, but made the most profound jumps in his game yet. With more experience orchestrating pro-level offenses, expanded shooting range and improved defensive ability, Rose—who, again, did a reputable job to begin with—should be far better equipped to dominate in 2016.
LeBron James, Miami Heat
This is a bit of a shot in the dark, but I suspect that LeBron James might be interested in making Olympic basketball history with his inclusion—and victory—in yet another trip to the summer games. The present-day best in the business will undoubtedly still be among the league's elite at 31, and a spot will be kept warm for him based on that fact and his longevity within the USA Basketball program.
The only question is if James will still be interested in competing (and thereby surrendering invaluable offseason recovery time) four years from now. It's conceivable that the Miami Heat could be playing into June for the foreseeable future, making those July and August weeks all the more important for recuperation.
We have absolutely no reason to question LeBron's patriotism or commitment to Team USA, but the precedent is certainly there for older stars—particularly those coming off of long playoff runs in which they've typically played through injury of some sort—to pass on Olympic competition for the sake of a few months off.
James may very well follow suit, but I'm penciling him in for the roster nonetheless.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
This one could be a bit of a reach considering that Davis has yet to play a single minute of relevant professional-level basketball, but I'll bank on 1) his talent, 2) his versatility, 3) his 2012 Olympic experience and 4) the scarcity of young defensive bigs. It's for all of those reasons that Davis should be considered an early favorite next time around, and by then, he'll likely be a much more central fixture in Team USA's game plan.
Considering the US national team's style of play since it rebooted for the 2006 FIBA World Championships, a strong back-line defender is an absolute necessity. Team USA loves to pressure opposing ball-handlers and attack the passing lanes, and while that strategy allows the Americans to feast in transition, it also creates vulnerabilities (via gambling for turnovers) that requires a skilled big man to clean up.
Davis could certainly be that player going forward, and offensively, he's likely to bring more to the table for Team USA than Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler ever did.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
There was quite a clamor for Kyrie Irving to make the final Olympic roster after his tremendous showing in Team USA's July training camp, but Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook were all rightfully included ahead of the reigning Rookie of the Year. Irving is an incredible player, but a victim of a numbers game on a roster that already included too many skilled ball-handlers.
Team USA's depth chart at point guard should look quite a bit different in 2016, though, and by that point, it would be legitimately shocking for such an efficient, sweet-shooting playmaker to be left off the roster.
Irving's feel for the game would mesh beautifully with a roster full of star players, and he's exactly the kind of understated passer who could make Team USA better with his presence without stepping on any toes in the process.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
At 23 years old, Kevin Love is one of the best rebounders in the game, an expert at manufacturing offense on the fly and arguably the top stretch big around. How unbelievably good will he be by the time he's 27, and given that development, is there any possible way that—health permitting—he isn't included on the 2016 roster?
Love isn't quite on the level of Durant and Rose, but he's almost as sure of a bet to make it to Rio. Jerry Colangelo has expressed his belief in program equity, and as a representative for Team USA in two major international competitions (and possibly a third if Love chooses to play in the 2014 FIBA World Championships—since redubbed the "FIBA World Cup"), he'll have earned high consideration through longevity alone.
Toss in the fact that Love's game is perfect for international ball and that he's the rare big who can space the floor all the way to the international three-point line, and it's hard to even dream up scenarios that would merit his exclusion.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook has critics aplenty, but he's nonetheless one of the most talented and productive up-and-coming stars in basketball and is already playing at an All-NBA level with four years to go until Rio. I'd say that makes him an incredibly likely candidate to make the roster for the 2016 games, not to mention the fact that, like Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, Westbrook now has two bouts of international experience to his name.
That's important, even if Westbrook has underwhelmed a bit thus far in London. Mike Krzyzewski is still figuring out how to best utilize Westbrook's talents, and while that learning curve does raise some warranted questions about how his style meshes with that of international play, Westbrook is simply too talented to leave off the roster.
Program mainstays this good tend to get the chance to stick around, and I'd expect no less for Westbrook in 2016.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin had the honor of actually making Team USA in 2012 before being cut, dropped, withdrawn or whatever rhetoric you prefer. Injury reared its ugly head, and though Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the USA Basketball staff had decided on Griffin for the final Olympic roster, they were left at the mercy of bad luck and a meniscus tear.
For all of his flaws, Griffin should be a nice addition to the USA basketball program. There may not be enough space for him to dive through the lane for dunks against purer zone defenses, but he's proven himself to be a crafty scorer around the basket and capable of spinning and contorting his way into open shots. He's a tremendous player that's been picked apart for his temperament and lack of range, but Griffin is already one of the best offensive big men in basketball, and a much better facilitator than most fans give him credit for.
He may not be the perfect stylistic fit, but Griffin is wonderfully talented and great at filling in the gaps. Even if he's not a solid low-post scoring option, he'll generate points based on salvaged possessions and created shots—valuable skills on a roster this star-laden.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Had Anthony Davis not been selected to replace Blake Griffin on the Olympic roster, DeMarcus Cousins was surely next in line—Jerry Colangelo's comments about his maturity be damned.
Say what you will about Cousins and his expressive nature, but the 21-year-old is already an elite rebounder and makeshift scorer, capable of fulfilling a variety of offensive roles and eventually developing into a standout defender. He clearly has a lot of work to do in terms of improving his efficiency and cutting back on the silly fouls, but Cousins would be a wonderful long-term addition for the USA Basketball program and a change of pace for a national team that's been wing-dominant since its renovation.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
James Harden is fairly considered to be the third star behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but that classification is more than a bit misleading. He's third in line in the same way that Chris Bosh is in Miami, that Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker were in San Antonio or that Andrew Bynum was in Los Angeles. He's an incredible individual talent masquerading as a complementary player and a huge part of Oklahoma City's remarkable success.
Plus, due to that profile, Harden is a wonderful choice to fill out a roster of other star players. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective, can space the floor effectively as an outside shooter and can help to initiate the offense in a pinch. He brings a tremendous package of skills to the table in an easily accessible style, all of which makes for Team USA's gain.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Here's where things get a bit tricky. Andre Iguodala may be upstaged or disinterested by 2016, Dwyane Wade may be a bit too weary and Kobe Bryant possibly retired. That leaves the crop on the wings a bit thin, and thinner yet if Carmelo Anthony decides to pass on another Olympic commitment.
Arbitrarily assuming that Anthony passes on an opportunity to compete for Team USA in another Olympic games, the Pacers' Paul George could prove to be a compelling candidate. He's far more similar to Iguodala than any of the other star USA wings, but George could fit in nicely as a spot shooter, open-court weapon and on-ball defensive stopper.
With Iguodala and Bryant off the squad and James getting older, Team USA will be in need of a new top wing defender suited to handle the best scorers from around the world. George still has a ways to go in terms of matching that group, but he has the physical tools and the foundational instincts to someday be a premier defensive wing.
This pick is a bit of a gamble based on potential, but given where George is now (a plus defender, a decent cutter and an emerging three-point threat) and how much room he has to grow into his game, it's certainly conceivable that he could be ready for a spot on the national team by 2016.
Eric Gordon/Ty Lawson/John Wall/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
The final roster spot typically comes down to a matter of preference, and as such, I'm calling this a split decision. Team USA typically doesn't like overloading its roster with bigs, and with Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, LeBron James, Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins already selected, that likely means the inclusion of another perimeter player.
One option is Eric Gordon, currently of the New Orleans Hornets. Gordon was under serious consideration for the 2012 squad, only to be nudged out by the inclusions of James Harden and Andre Iguodala. Team USA circa 2016 should be a bit less crowded on the wings, and Gordon—a nice curling shooter and physical (if undersized) defender—has a legitimate shot of making the final cut.
Denver's Ty Lawson, an under-the-radar Team USA natural, could be another great fit for international play. Lawson is one of the fastest end-to-end players on the planet, a skilled outside shooter and another fantastic facilitator of the offense to add to the USA Basketball stable. He could play either alongside another nominal point guard or in place of them should injury strike, and really, with your 12th roster spot, those are the kinds of possibilities you're planning for.
Lawson has improved dramatically in each of his first three NBA seasons, and while it's certainly debatable whether he'll wind up being an All-Star-level talent, I'm firmly in the Lawson camp. His physical gifts are charismatic all on their own, but it's Lawson's feel for the game that could fit in nicely with the Team USA crop.
Then again, if John Wall rounds out his game, he could make even entertaining the option of including Lawson seem silly. Wall is a tremendously gifted player who hasn't been given a fair shake as of yet, and as such, it's difficult to determine what he's truly capable of. Each bit of stagnation or regression can partially be explained by the Wizards' miserable supporting cast, and with the season to come being Washington's first stab at building a decent roster, we may soon have a better idea of how equipped Wall is to vie for a spot on Team USA.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist deserves some consideration on the same grounds that merited Paul George's "selection," though obviously, his place in this conversation is a bit more hypothetical given his lack of NBA experience and underdeveloped shooting touch. Perhaps I'm just higher on MKG than most, but in four years' time, I think he could prove to be a tremendous defender and a useful—if unconventional—offensive talent.
But obviously, this last spot encourages plenty of debate. Who would you consider? LaMarcus Aldridge? Greg Monroe? Bradley Beal? There are plenty of options and so many valid alternatives. It just depends on how you see this team forming and, just as importantly, how you see the development of certain players panning out over the next four years.