Team USA: Projecting the 2016 Olympic Basketball Roster
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Team USA has just captured the gold for the second consecutive Olympic games after a remarkable 107-100 victory over Spain, a feat proven much more difficult since the emergence of basketball in countries all over the world.
While this was a fantastic, though expected, accomplishment for Team USA, director Jerry Colangelo and the committee that oversees basketball operations shouldn't be overwhelmed with joy, as the squad may be facing a colossal issue: Who will make up Team USA four years from now?
Don't expect the next Olympics roster to look much like this year's, as many of these players are seasoned veterans who now own two gold medals.
Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony all fall under this category, as these five rotation players competed in Beijing in 2008.
Nevertheless, the talent level across the pond, and even in South America, is on a steep increase. Before the introduction of professionals on Team USA, the Americans were considered the downright heavy favorites to win top honors.
Of course, the expectations are still the same, but there is no denying that the competition isn't a simple walk in the park.
Due to the widespread fame of 1992's "Dream Team," basketball is now a global game, where any country could potentially produce NBA-level talent.
In the end, the committee can't decide to throw just any team out to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, as the outcome would most likely match the one of the dismal 2004 team. Simply put, anything other than reigning supreme will just not be tolerated next time.
The 2014 FIBA Championships will be an interesting midpoint, and by then there will be more answers available. For right now, though, let's project the next Olympics roster.
Starting Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
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Just a few short years after losing arguably the greatest player of the decade, the Cleveland Cavaliers have created a promising roster with tons of upside, headed by the Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.
Irving, who showed flashes of brilliance last season, averaged nearly 19 points and five assists per contest, while restoring hope in a city that has an unfortunate sports history.
For the past two years, Team USA has rolled with a point guard rotation of Chris Paul and Deron Williams, a duo that has been an intricate part of the team's success. Next time the Olympics come around, though, Paul and Williams will be age 31 and 32, respectively.
Not exactly a great age to remain competing in the offseason.
The presence of Irving will make the absence of these two legendary guards a little easier to handle, as this young facilitator possesses a refined, smart game. Not only can he dish the rock efficiently, but the point guard can score when called upon.
Look for Irving to fight off the plethora of guards competing for the honor of Team USA's starting point guard role.
Starting Shooting Guard: James Harden
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Kobe Bryant has been a staple point for Team USA's starting lineup for the last two Olympics. While his skills and athleticism are undoubtedly deteriorating, his calm demeanor and championship attitude have been priceless for both gold-medal squads he has been apart of.
Well, it's time for the elder Bryant to pass the torch to his young successor James Harden.
Harden, who didn't have a consistent role in the rotation this time around, has a game that excels at the Olympic level. This sharpshooter can hit the international three with ease, and his playmaking ability is astounding.
In fact, Harden may have been the best playmaker on this past roster, sans LeBron James, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
Nonetheless, this Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard will help replace the production Team USA will sorely miss with the absence of Kobe Bryant.
Starting Small Forward: LeBron James
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According to Jeff Zillgit of USA Today via Twitter, LeBron James is questioning the likelihood of him playing in the next Olympics.
"It’s been a great run honestly," James told Zillgit. "I don’t know if I’m going to be part of the 2016 team."
While this is shocking news for the NBA community, this statement doesn't mean that the decision is final. After all, James has three more years to ponder if he wants to represent his country one last time.
Sure, James would be 30 years old and entering his fourth Olympics, as he was on the bronze-winning 2004 squad, but this small forward is a champion whose hunger to be the best will drive him to play for Team USA once again.
LeBron James, who was one of the main producers for this last gold-medal team, is too valuable to lose for Team USA. He is the best player in the world, bar none, and Jerry Colangelo will fight to keep him on the next roster.
Starting Power Forward: Kevin Durant
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If LeBron James was the first head of the two-headed monster on Team USA this year, Kevin Durant was definitely the second. This gold-medal squad could always rely on one of these two perennial All-Stars to show up and produce major numbers, and most of the time both happened to play dominantly.
In the 2012 London Olympics, Kevin Durant scored 156 points in tournament play, beating out Argentina's Manu Ginobili as the top offensive player by one single point. The scoring output culminated in a 30-point effort against Spain in the final round, propelling the squad to victory.
Durant will most likely be back for the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, solidifying himself as the world's most fearsome scorer.
Starting Center: Anthony Davis
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The last time a prospect played in the Olympics for Team USA before his first professional basketball game was Emeka Okafor in 2004. Almost certainly, Anthony Davis' career will transpire more successfully than that of the former UConn star.
Nevertheless, Anthony Davis' experience with international play and defensive post-presence will almost surely solidify his spot as starting center in Rio De Janeiro. With so many talented scorers projected to be on Team USA, Davis' role will be similar to that of Tyson Chandler's this year.
Providing solid rebounding and gritty defense will be the basic framework of the duties Team USA will expect from Davis.
Backup Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
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While Westbrook's inconsistency issues don't make him a prime candidate to take over starting duties for Team USA, his energy and athleticism perfectly suit a heavy bench role.
Not only is he a dominant defender when he puts his mind to it, but there are few players in the entire world who can stay in front of a penetrating Westbrook, let alone in the next Olympics.
Despite the fact that 4both his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates on the roster will be starting, Westbrook's production will be just as important to the success of Team USA in 2016. This high-flying point guard will most likely be the best bench scorer on the roster, and will be called upon to jump start the offense when it becomes stagnant.
Backup Shooting Guard: Eric Gordon
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Eric Gordon, despite trying out for the Team USA roster, didn't make the final cut for this year's Olympics. Next time, though, will be a completely different story.
Without Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Deron Williams, Team USA will be searching far and wide for any consistent three-point shooters, such as Gordon. The New Orleans Hornets guard doesn't just knock down the ball from behind the arc with efficiency, but also has experience playing abroad, as he was a rotation player at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Istanbul, Turkey.
Gordon won't be called upon to run the offense, or even create an abundance of open shots for himself. Instead, his role will be to knock down the open jumper when a penetrator like LeBron James decides to dish the ball out to the perimeter.
Backup Small Forward: Jabari Parker
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Jabari Parker is currently a high school senior playing for Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, Illinois. Currently, the small forward is mulling over the decision of which college he would like to take his talents.
A 17-year-old with a polished and mature game, Parker is considered the top recruit since LeBron James. The swingman already possesses NBA-ready size—6'9", 222 pounds—and athleticism, but his ability to handle the ball at his height is what really has scouts drooling.
From orchestrating the offense to facilitating in transition, there are few scenarios that Parker is not comfortable in, much like James.
What better player to teach him how to thrive at the international level than the player who he is so often compared to? By the time the 2016 Olympics rolls around, Parker will already have completed his second professional season, if he decides to enter the draft right after his freshman year at the collegiate level.
Backup Power Forward: Kevin Love
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Kevin Love prefers to play the power forward position, but, due to the lack of size on this year's Team USA, the Minnesota Timberwolves big man was relegated to the backup center role. In the 2016 Olympics, Love will be back in his preferred role playing the 4-spot, as the roster will boast more proven post players.
At the power forward slot, Love will be able to shoot the three-ball, an unorthodox, but handy, skill for a big man. Additionally, Love won't have to compete against international centers that tower over his 6'10" frame.
Love didn't have a great first Olympics appearance, as he would often be benched in favor of Tyson Chandler or LeBron James, but expect a better showing next time around.
Backup Center: Dwight Howard
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Dwight Howard, on a mission to regain the heart of the NBA community, will once again compete in the Olympics, after an eight-year hiatus from international competition.
Howard, who was a starter in Beijing, never really excelled due to the different officiating than the NBA. Referees at the Olympics don't allow much physicality, a staple point to Howard's game, and are more friendly towards the big man with a solid mid-range jumper and a finesse post-game.
The new Los Angeles Laker, of course, doesn't possess either of these abilities in his game.
Nevertheless, Howard will have opportunities to start at center when Team USA matches up against larger centers. Davis is more of a power forward and may not be able to guard effectively the likes of Marc Gasol or Jonas Valančiūnas. That's when Howard jumps into the starting role.
In the end, Howard and Davis will share starter duties, but the New Orleans big man will be given the honor of being labeled the true starter.
Third-String Guard: Derrick Rose
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A torn ACL, which Derrick Rose suffered in his left knee, is a hard injury to recover from, and many players never fully do.
A guard like Rose, who relies so much on his athleticism, possesses an uncertain future, as the Chicago Bulls perennial All-Star may have to alter his game to compensate for his unfortunate predicament.
If Rose, who just won the regular season MVP two years ago, comes back eighty percent the scorer/facilitator he used to be, expect Rose to have a spot on the 2016 roster.
In fact, Rose will almost certainly compete for the team's starting point guard position if this injury doesn't hamper his game at all.
Third-String Forward: Blake Griffin
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Much like Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin relies on his physicality to score and grab boards, which doesn't suit the international game. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles Clippers power forward is one of the brightest young talents in the league, and still is a major producer for the franchise even though his game is still quite raw.
In 2016, however, Griffin will be 27 years old and will be entering his prime. By that time, he should have developed a polished post-game and, hopefully, a quality mid-range jumper.
Griffin was expected to make this year's team until a knee injury cut his dreams short. Injuries will always be an issue with Griffin, but if he stays healthy, expect the high-flying big man to make the team.
Coach: Doc Rivers
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Mike Krzyzewski will not be returning as the coach of Team USA, leaving director Jerry Colangelo with a tremendous hole to fill.
Not only did he lead the squad to two gold medals, but he was also a mentor to many of the players. While he may not be a player's coach at Duke, he filled that role admirably with all the different personalities he has encountered on his Olympic teams.
In turn, the Team USA committee must find another player's coach, who has strong ties to the players who are projected to be on the team in 2016.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich are the top two candidates to replace Krzyzewski. No offense to Popovich, one of the best coaches of the past decade, but Rivers is the way to go.
Over the past few years, this Boston Celtics coach has balanced many different personalities on his squad, and Rivers already has a few close connections on the roster, including LeBron James.
Rivers is a perfect fit.