Building Team USA's roster for the 2014 World Championships is no easy task.
There are plenty of options to choose from at every position, making it difficult to narrow down the field of potential candidates. Luckily, that's a great problem to have.
With a few players from the 2012 Olympics potentially not returning for 2014, the roster may border on unrecognizable compared to last summer. A dearth of new faces could be joining the ranks, as the team will look to assemble a new regime that is just as dominant as the previous one.
That doesn't mean the depth chart will be made up of all newcomers, though. Many of the faces we have become accustomed to seeing sport red, white and blue will be back, aiding in the advancement of this aggregate's future.
What exactly will the 2014 version of Team USA look like by next summer?
Choices abound, all of which won't be able to make the cut.
Team USA wouldn't be Team USA in 2014 without Chris Paul manning the point.
No floor general is better suited to direct an offense with so many superstars within it.
Structure isn't a word the United States squad typically lives by, but there is going to come a time when the offensive free-for-alls need tidying up. Chaotic fast-break sets aren't going to facilitate themselves, after all.
Next to so many ball-dominating scorers (I won't spoil what's to come for you), fielding a point man who can double as an off-ball shooter is also a must. Paul hit on 50 percent of his spot-up shot attempts overall last season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), and 36.4 percent from behind the arc.
He isn't accustomed to deferring control of the rock as frequently as he would be on Team USA, yet he's done this before; this is nothing new. And if you're point guard isn't broke, old or averse to showing his patriotism, don't replace him.
Already with two gold medals under his belt (2008 and 2012), the absolute best point guard in the NBA remains the absolute best option to lead Team USA into battle at the World Championships roughly one year from now.
Kyrie Irving would be new to the global basketball scene, but he's already made quite the impression. In Team USA's scrimmage, Irving went for 23 points and seven assists, reminding us all why he's truly Chris Paul 2.0.
Some might have wanted to see James Harden or someone along those lines here, but I want the kid who hit on more than 47 percent of his spot-up threes during the 2012-13 campaign (via Synergy) running next to Paul.
Remember, you want to assemble a backcourt that won't have problems shifting between playing on and off the ball. Harden isn't the off-ball scoring threat Irving is, hence his exclusion here.
For those times when this outfit elects to run premeditated sets, and Paul would rather dance around the three-point line, Irving is someone who can man the point as well.
From a purely statistical standpoint, Irving is hitting on over 39.4 percent of his deep balls for his career. Just imagine the damage he could inflict with a closer three-point line.
Bring on the World Championships.
Team USA ran six deep in the backcourt for the 2012 Olympics (not including Andre Iguodala).
Assuming they do the same at the World Championships, four guard slots will be left to fill after knighting the starting two. And wouldn't you know it, they're not short on options for stacking their bench.
7. Deron Williams
Most of me can't see Deron Williams being a part of the Team USA festivities in 2014, because he'll be almost 31. That's hardly a deal breaker, but the guard position is so deep and if the U.S. of A decides to run six deep in the backcourt like 2012, there are candidates who would be better suited to fill out the rotation than him.
Still, given that there are so many point guards to choose from, it's important to select guys who can play the 1 and 2. Williams isn't known for his spot-up shooting, but he hit on more than 41 percent of his threes in those situations during the 2012-13 campaign (via Synergy). Don't count him out just yet.
6. Damian Lillard
Another floor general with chameleon-esque backcourt abilities is sophomore-to-be Damian Lillard. The Portland Trail Blazers point man can play the part of distributor or on- or off-ball scorer.
A lack of experience may count against Lillard, as may the incredible backcourt depth there is to choose from. But if someone gets injured or opts not to participate, his speed and athleticism would be a valuable asset for a country that prides itself on both.
5. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has to be on this list, even if he winds up not playing. Although he said he won't be joining the team in 2016, what about 2014?
The Black Mamba will be going on 36 when next summer rolls around, and his health or Team USA's direction could prevent him from making another appearance. That said, it's difficult to completely dismiss his will to win, and his experience when it comes actually winning.
One has to imagine that if Kobe is open to returning, it will be something the team considers.
4. Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is only so low because, let's face it, we don't know how he's going to fare next season. Footage of him dunking would have us believe he's fine, but working his way back from a torn ACL isn't going to be a cinch. The point guard missed all of last year. Remember that.
Not to mention he himself could opt for rest one season after returning to the daily grind of the NBA. Coupled with his only OK shooting, I wouldn't say he's the most ideal of candidates.
If healthy, however, he certainly has the athleticism and offensive direction to succeed at this level. Bank on him being a part of the roster above all else.
3. Russell Westbrook
You can't not have Russell Westbrook on this team. He's more of an undersized 2 than anything, and though three-point shooting isn't a specialty of his, man, can he run the floor and attack the rim.
You have to consider the fact that he'd be working alongside Durant and that he's been here before as well. Chemistry remains important, even here. His familiarity with some of the players and their offensive tendencies would prove huge.
As would those highlight reels he's prone to making.
2. Stephen Curry
Why so high? Shooting. And his ability to run the point. But mostly shooting.
Much like I envision Irving destroying the shorter three-point line, I see Curry tearing it up from the outside in both transition and half-court sets. That he can play off or on the ball is also huge. Once again, our prevailing theme here is can-do additions.
Curry certainly can do just about anything on the offensive end.
1. James Harden
To be honest, Harden may find himself starting. Team USA normally spits in the face of size restrictions, but an Irving-Paul backcourt might not be their cup of tea (it should be).
Think of Harden as a younger, hairier Kobe. His preference is to dominate the ball, but he won't hesitate to pull up for threes while playing off it. Alongside point guards that don't need the ball in their hands (Curry, Irving, etc.), his need for rock control isn't all that much of an issue either.
Harden's played for Team USA before and his offensive aptitude still fits the mold of what they're looking for moving forward. That's not going to change anytime soon.
I get it, LeBron James' Team USA career might be over. Or it might not. People change their minds. It happens.
Plus, we're going with the ideal depth chart here. And if LeBron isn't on your ideal depth chart, you're doing something wrong.
The Chosen One is built for the global stage. He's built for any stage really, but stateside, guys like Kevin Durant aren't his teammates. Opposite players from other countries, he can seem even more dominant than usual. True story.
Fresh off hitting more than 36.2 percent (40.6) of his treys for the first time in his career, there has never been a better time for him to be a part of an offense like Team USA will run. Poster dunks and pull-up threes all day long.
Convincing LeBron to rejoin the ranks, however, may be a bit difficult. When he has his mind made up, it's made up (see his refusal to partake in the slam-dunk contest).
Selling him on Team USA might not be as fruitless an endeavor, though. Word is he likes playing alongside fellow superstars (see his last two championships with the Miami Heat).
Players with the ability to adapt to any kind of system, next to all sorts of teammates are a necessity when fielding this much star power. Whether he wants to or not, there's no denying LeBron is the most ideal of athletes for this type of docket.
Kevin Durant is a lock to start on Team USA for a number of reasons, none more important than the visual evidence proving he gives the most warm of celebratory embraces.
Do-it-all forwards aren't as common in today's NBA as certain people would believe. Talents like the Durantula, LeBron and Paul George, among a few others, that can actually do everything, are a rarity. They're also perfect candidates for creating the most versatile of rosters.
Every year, it seems as if Durant is transforming a different aspect of his game into a strength few can rival. As of now, he's a strong scorer, rebounder and distributor. And his ability to force steals, block shots and use that lanky frame of his to cut off dribble penetration in general has been taken to new heights as well.
By 2014, there's no telling what he'll be able to do. At this point, there's really nothing else left other than to sprout wings and fly up and down the court (don't rule it out).
Dominant World Championship rosters aren't built without guys like him.
More specifically, Team USA's roster cannot be built without Durant himself.
If we include Iggy as a forward (we will), Team USA went with six total at the Olympics last summer.
Assuming they follow a similar blueprint in 2014, that leaves four empty spots after filling the starting positions.
The absence of LeBron, however, would mean we need five more than the two we've already discussed.
7. Ryan Anderson
Stretch forwards everywhere. That's how Team USA runs, and Anderson is one of the best floor-spacing forwards out there.
I do, however, worry about him on the defensive end. Against stronger 4s, he is susceptible to getting pushed around, and he's not very deft defensively to begin with.
Still, he can shoot like whoa, and we have to believe the team is going to be interested in that.
6. Harrison Barnes
I'm standing by this one.
Harrison Barnes isn't your stereotypical stretch forward, but that's actually a good thing. I'm not just saying that because he put Anderson on the most patriotic of posters, either.
Putting the ball on the floor isn't always a strength of wings who are asked to spread opposing defenses wafer thin. For Barnes it is.
Coupled with the reality that he can still bury threes and also play some defense, he could emerge as a Team USA sleeper.
5. Andre Iguodala
There will always be interest in a complete player of Iggy's stature. But I wonder if there won't be as much next year thanks to the rise of a number of other wings.
Valued for his defense, playmaking, rebounding and situational scoring, Iguodala becomes far more likely to make another appearance if LeBron is a no-go.
Sans the King, Team USA will need an all-around talent like his to remain consistent in how they construct a near-unbeatable competitor.
4. Kevin Love
With Kevin Love on the floor, Team USA could go for all the rebounds without sacrificing anything from their three-and-no-D-dynamic.
Love has proved rather fragile of late, but when healthy, he's a dangerous shooter who can also score in the post. While he's not as dextrous defensively, he's still a 6'10" body the team could roll with when facing dual towers.
Provided he's healthy, he will join Team USA once again in 2014, much to the pleasure of anyone who loves the whole "we don't care about defense" thing.
3. Anthony Davis
Picture a Love who can consistently defend, block shots and has one eyebrow. Now you know what Anthony Davis can do for our country.
Health permitting, there's no way he doesn't reclaim his spot on the roster. He played for the U.S. before he played a minute of NBA action last year, and the team needs everything he can do in 2014.
Given how effective he can be defensively, he's the ideal stretch forward for filling out this depth chart. Or should I say stretch center?
Expect to see him spending plenty of time at the 5, even when facing bulkier centers. Despite how skinny he is, he can hold his own at the rim, and Team USA isn't known for its run-of-the-mill defensive matchups anyway.
2. Paul George
This is going to happen, because it has to.
Paul George is another one who can do it all. He can serve as a secondary playmaker, shooting guard, small forward and, in this case, a stretch 4 as well.
With LeBron's status uncertain, it's all the more important to grab players who can do a vast array of things (like defense). George is one of those players.
Turnovers can be an issue with the budding forward, but on Team USA, on-ball mistakes are going to add up anyway. Translation: He'll fit right in.
1. Carmelo Anthony
I'll take a then 30-year-old Carmelo Anthony in international play any day.
He was made for this type of shoot-first, shoot-second, think-third setting. Last summer, he set the United States' record for points scored in a single Olympics contest, dropping 37 in just over 14 minutes of burn.
Should LeBron not join the party, 'Melo may find himself thrust into the starting lineup, unless the team rolls with a more similar player in George.
Either way, Anthony needs to be on this roster.
Center is the toughest position to get a grip on when it comes to Team USA.
At the 2012 Olympics, they had Tyson Chandler, and that was it. Had Dwight Howard not been injured, he would have presumably been the one representing our country.
Superman could opt not to participate if he's that concerned with his health and subsequent future, but until proven otherwise, he's the best 5 in the game.
Going on the assumption that he's healthy and ready to soar through the air again, he's a great option in the open court. His offensive rebounding, shot-blocking and defensive conscience are also virtues Team USA usually lacks.
Much of what transpires at the center position depends on how comfortable Howard is playing into the summer months. No matter what's happened in the past, though, it's not far-fetched to believe that if he's ready to play, the team will pencil him in.
"Center" is a subjective term whenever discussing Team USA.
They may carry one, two or more. Or none. It all depends on what they're looking for.
Don't be surprised if more conventional power forwards, who aren't accustomed to scoring from the outside, are considered for the position, either (if they even carry a backup). That may, in fact, be what happens.
5. Tyson Chandler
Come next summer, Chandler will be 31 and perhaps not even option at the 5. Depending on what Howard opts to do, though, he could join the conversation once again.
Chandler isn't very skilled on the offensive end outside of the pick-and-roll, but he's a strong rebounder and defender. Lord knows Team USA could always use defense.
Against stronger centers, he his typically able to hold his own (2012 playoffs aside), and he advances the been-here, done-that mentality the team could look to perpetuate.
4. Blake Griffin
Full disclosure: I don't see Blake Griffin on the Team USA roster next summer.
For their purposes, he's not very valuable. He can't stretch the floor well, and though he's a strong rebounder, his defense is suspect.
If he does make the cut and is healthy enough to play, don't rule out him being brought on as someone to play the 5, not power forward. Griffin can certainly score in the post, and if the powers at be aren't concerned with defense at all, his take-flight skill set is something that could easily jell with the rest of the participants.
3. Larry Sanders
Don't let the recently rolled ankle stop you from boarding Larry Sanders' bandwagon.
There aren't many rim-protectors like him available, and with this outfit likely consisting of a few stretch 4s—some of which won't play great defense—having a guy like Sanders in the post would go a long way.
Offensively, he's not the greatest, but scoring points isn't going to be an issue no matter who plays the 5. Ensure, then, that you're not writing Sanders off just yet.
2. Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond is a defensive fiend. Like Chandler, his offensive game can be nonexistent at points, but what he does on the glass and at the rim more than makes up for his scoring deficiencies.
Inexperience could be an issue, though. Not just with international play, in general.
He won't turn 21 until next August, and for a team that is unlikely to carry more than one or two altruistic bigs as it is, they may select a more established option.
1. DeMarcus Cousins
Hate on DeMarcus cousins all you want, he's one of the best available options at center.
Unlike most of the other bigs Team USA will look at, he can score consistently on the offensive end, outside of the post no less. His defense isn't perfect, but he's got quick hands and a burly build that would match up well against, say, the Gasol brothers.
Maturity is obviously something that will be taken into account, but around a smorgasbord of veterans and All-Stars, I can't imagine Cousins rocking the boat to the point of low-post implosion.
And if Howard is unable or doesn't want to help usher in the new era of Team USA basketball, I wouldn't hesitate to toss Cousins into the starting lineup.
Fact is, Cousins could be repping the United States (potentially as a starter) next summer. What a feeling that invokes.