USA vs. Argentina: Why 2012 Marks the Golden Age of Team USA Basketball
With a barrage of scoring from Kobe Bryant in the first quarter, LeBron James in the third and then Carmelo Anthony in the fourth quarter, Team USA dismantled an Argentinian team that was far stronger than any squad faced by the original Dream Team.
Now, when the United States takes on Spain in the gold medal game at the 2012 London Olympics, Team USA will be playing for far more than just the top spot on the podium.
If LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kobe and company are able to listen to "The Star-Spangled Banner" play through the loudspeakers in London, just as it did four years ago in Beijing, they'll have successfully ushered in the golden age of Team USA basketball.
Not even the original Dream Team can say that after its historic run through the competition in 1992.
With another sweep of the competition—tougher competition at that—and a huge average margin of victory, and a strong chance at extending the era of American domination well into the future, how can we not say that this era is even better than the one from the '90s?
If you watched Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili look on helplessly as the Americans stormed into the Spain showdown, then you'll know quite well that we have to admit we're now in the golden age.
Then again, you could have followed along on a live blog or simply read your Twitter feed and gotten the same reaction as Team USA surged to an insurmountable lead in the second half.
After the game, Melo sung the praises of his team (via ESPN.com):
Anybody on this team can get going at any point. That's the dangerous part of this team. You never know who's going to get it going. Tonight, Kobe started it. Durant got it going and I got hot out there, too.
You might not know which player is going to start the onslaught, but you know that domination will ensue whenever the Americans step onto the basketball court. As this squad proved against Argentina, we might as well make that a truism.
In the very near future, the statement that the golden age of Team USA basketball is upon us will be self-evident as well.
Can't Be Better Than Perfect
Team USA is now on a run of dynastic proportions, one that puts them up there with the legendary sports teams of the past.
Since the letdown in Athens, now eight years in the past, the American basketball program has taken flight once more and is now poised to sweep through each of the past two Summer Olympics without dropping a single game.
Last I checked, it's hard to be better than perfect. Perfection is supposed to be unattainable, something that the greatest teams strive for but never quite reach.
However, with a win over Spain on Sunday, the modern version of Team USA would have achieved perfection in both Beijing and London. We've watched greatness personified when the 12 members of the Olympic roster have taken the court and systematically dismantled opponent after opponent.
With an average margin of victory of 35.7 going into the gold-medal clash with Spain, the Americans haven't just lived up to the high expectations, but rather left them in the dust just as they've left team after team in transition.
Using a barrage of three-pointers, the United States has barely even been challenged in the second half of games. Instead, the team has used the second halves of contests—if you can even call some of them "contests"—to break records.
Team USA has shattered the Olympic record for points in a game, drilled more shots from long-range in a single game than anyone before and helped Carmelo Anthony establish himself as the single-game scoring leader in American history.
If there's been a goal set for this version of Team USA, they've met it. If a challenge has been made, they've accepted and then completed it.
For the most part, they've been as perfect as is humanly possible.
The scary part is that they could have been better.
Lineup Could Have Been Better
This American squad features great player after great player, but the lineup could have been significantly better if a magic fairy had healed the injuries of every basketball player in the world. Greg Oden's eyes just lit up.
With LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony, the Americans have seven of the 10 best basketball players in the world (Deron Williams is at No. 11 in my rankings, for those of you that are curious).
Dwyane Wade wasn't going to play with the squad, but Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard both would have been on the roster if ACL injuries and bad backs didn't exist. Or if the magic fairy did.
Can you imagine how sickeningly good Team USA would have been if D-Rose had replaced D-Will and Dwight sent Tyson Chandler to the bench to keep what was previously Anthony Davis' spot warm?
Would a 40-point average margin of victory really have been out of the question?
There's been a lot of talk about how many Hall of Famers the original Dream Team rostered—11 of the 12 players on the roster made it to the Hall, with Christian Laettner serving as the lone exception.
It's obviously too early to guarantee anything, but eight of the current 12 players on this roster look to be strong candidates for enshrinement if their careers follow a normal course: LeBron, Durant, Kobe, Westbrook, Love, Melo, Paul and D-Will.
You could have added Rose and Dwight to that list if they were healthy.
As time progresses, making a Hall of Fame becomes harder. There are more measuring sticks to be compared to, more members to compete with and higher expectations.
10 potential Hall of Famers on an idealized 2012 lineup is, well, almost perfect.
While the 2012 Americans currently have a lower margin of victory than the original Dream Team, they've blown away a much tougher level of competition.
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the rest of the legendary players on the 1992 roster played their closest game against Croatia in the gold medal game, when they won by "only" 32 points.
The only two names on that Croatian squad that even the biggest NBA fans will quickly recognize were Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and maybe Dino Radja. However, at this time, Kukoc hadn't even entered the NBA and was a mysterious presence waiting to play for the Chicago Bulls.
Arijan Komazec was the only other players on Croatia to average more than 10 points per game.
The European infusion simply hadn't hit the NBA yet, so the level of talent in international competition was suppressed and unused to going up against the best that The Association could offer.
Now, compare that to this year's Olympics.
After beating an Argentine squad that prominently featured Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, the Americans must play Spain.
There are not one, not two but three of the top 40 players in the NBA on the Spanish roster. In addition to Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the Americans will have to deal with Rudy Fernandez, Juan-Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon.
The current version of Team USA might not have put up as many ridiculous margins as the original Dream Team, but they've won by a sizable amount against so many better teams.
Role of Media
Now that we're firmly in the Internet area, there's a greater level of speculation and analysis than ever before.
This is perhaps the most underrated reason as to why 2012 is ushering in the Golden Age of Team USA basketball.
We can catch every game on our televisions, and if you can't access a TV, online streaming is present as an instant backup option. We can log onto Twitter and see real-time analysis and opinion concerning the live action on the court.
Replays and highlights are available before the game is even over.
If you use it correctly, the media has turned Olympic basketball into something that can be enjoyed to an even greater extent.
Set Up To Continue Thriving
Finally, Team USA's spot at the forefront of the basketball world isn't drawing to a conclusion with the gold medal matchup against the Gasol brothers and the rest of the Spanish squad.
The dominance can and will continue on into the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro.
So many of those players will still be in their primes in four years. Some are still going to be getting better, and those that aren't will be easily replaced by the bevy of young talents waiting for their own opportunities.
Durant, LeBron, Love, Williams, Westbrook, Paul, Melo, Harden, Iguodala and Davis could all easily be in a position to return for a run at another gold.
In what is a terrifying thought for international teams, the competition for spots is going to be quite heated.
Bleacher Report's own Rob Mahoney speculated as to what the 2016 squad could look like, and the result is a roster just as loaded as the one we've been watching over the last few weeks.
Any golden era of basketball must be set up to continue, and the United States has young pieces in spades. As basketball continues to gain popularity and become a year-round sport in the same vein as the NFL, the young players are only going to start getting better and more plentiful.
Just like all true dynasties, this American squad won't suffer through any sort of rebuilding era when it's forced to reload.
The golden age of Team USA basketball is upon us, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
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