Predicting Final Roster for USA's 2014 FIBA World Cup Team
Never fear, America! Team USA's exit from Brazil doesn't spell the end of the Red, White and Blue's pursuit of a World Cup crown this summer.
That is, if you're willing to consider the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
The Naismith Trophy and a guaranteed trip to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be in the offing when 24 of the planet's best roundball nations descend upon Spain between late August and mid-September.
There's much to be sorted out before then, though. For one, Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo must whittle USA Basketball's 28-man roster down to a chosen dozen. That process is set to begin on July 28, when some of America's best ballers—save for LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, per ESPN's Marc Stein—will gather in Las Vegas for training camp.
Whoever Coach K and Colangelo choose, you can be sure they won't need any chants of "I believe that we will win" to bring home the bacon from Iberia. These 12 stars, though, would seem the best bets to represent the Stars and Stripes at this point.
There are a few absolute locks to play in Spain this summer, the first of whom happens to be the reigning NBA MVP.
Kevin Durant was one of three Team USA veterans to commit last July to another go-round on the international stage. He made his USA Basketball debut at this very tournament four years ago—and did so in splendid style, no less. Durant averaged 22.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals in America's nine-game romp to the gold medal.
For his efforts, KD was named MVP of the tournament in Turkey. Look for him to challenge for similar honors this time around.
Like Durant, Kevin Love won gold medals in 2010 (FIBA) and 2012 (Olympics) and has long since committed to doing the same with Team USA later this summer. Unlike Durant, though, Love has yet to play a truly pivotal part in his country's overseas successes.
That figures to change this time around, thanks to Love's experience, skill and year-by-year improvement.
"As far as 2010 went in Istanbul for the World Championships, eighth, ninth man off the bench and that was fine," Love recently told Bleacher Report. "I played my way into playing more minutes on the Olympic team and was on the floor to end the game for the gold medal game. That was unbelievable. I was able to have a much bigger role on that team, which was great.
"I expect to have an even bigger role come July, or should I say September, when the actual tournament starts, so I’m looking forward to helping the team wherever I can."
Which is probably more than he'd say about the Minnesota Timberwolves at this point.
LaMarcus Aldridge was the third superstar to tell Colangelo that he'd be in for 2014. Aldridge, though, has yet to suit up for the Red, White and Blue internationally. He was on the Select Team in 2008 and was named a member of the senior squad in 2010, but he failed to make the final cuts for China, Turkey and England.
Surely, Coach K would welcome Aldridge's presence in Spain this time around. The three-time All-Star is one of the premier pick-and-pop players in the NBA, thanks to a smooth shot that's practically bankable from mid-range.
Aldridge's skill set as a low-post player and two-point shooter, while somewhat anachronistic in the context of FIBA competition, should make him a valuable asset nonetheless. The international game may be all about three-pointers, finishes at the rim and free throws, but those teams that can score from every spot on the floor should have that much more of an advantage against the field.
Health permitting, Dwight Howard would be a two-time Olympic gold medalist by now. But back surgery in April 2012 precluded Howard from partaking in Team USA's conquest at the 2012 London Olympics.
That injury has left Howard something less than the player he was when he last wore the stars and stripes as America's starting center in Beijing in 2008. So, too, has the "Dwightmare" that led him from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers to the Houston Rockets, albeit more in terms of his Q score than his game.
Still, as far as pick-and-roll prowess and rim protection among pivots are concerned, Howard remains USA Basketball's best option to man the middle.
You can bet, too, that six years away from international play will have Howard hungrier than ever to represent his country and capture his fourth team prize to go along with his bronze at the 2006 World Championships and his golds at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship and the 2008 Summer Olympics.
When last Team USA convened for an international tournament, Howard was several weeks shy of joining the Los Angeles Lakers and James Harden was happy to compete for a gold medal with two of his best buds in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Now, Howard and Harden will be bringing a taste of the Houston Rockets to USA Basketball—Howard as the best American center, and Harden as the best American shooting guard.
If not the best shooting guard on planet Earth. Harden shot, drove and free throw'd his way onto the All-NBA first team this past season, thanks in no small part to his nightly line of 25.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists.
With Kobe Bryant out of the mix this summer, look for Harden to sop up a sizable share of the minutes at shooting guard for Team USA.
Unless, of course, Coack K can't stand Harden's notoriously lackadaisical defense.
UPDATE (9:13 ET July 7): According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Russell Westbrook will not be participating in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Really, though, wouldn't it be fun if the World Cup of Basketball became a glorious reunion of the old OKC Wolfpack?
Back in January, ESPN's Marc Stein wasn't so convinced that Russell Westbrook would be around to partake.
Star guards Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are bound to be left home by USAB for their own good -- even if they’re healthy and willing to go to Spain -- after the knee traumas they have endured this season.
That made a ton of sense at the time. After all, Westbrook had just endured his third knee operation in eight months and was out of commission because of it.
Much has changed in the five-and-a-half months since then. Westbrook didn't just return; he came back to play arguably the best basketball of his life in leading the Oklahoma City Thunder back to the Western Conference Finals.
Now, it'd hardly be a surprise if Westbrook decided to sit this summer out and/or the Thunder encouraged him to do so. Team USA certainly won't be hurting for guards, not with Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard chief among those vying for spots.
But if Westbrook wants to play, Coach K would have a tough time turning down a guy who's proved he can be the best player on the floor on any given night—even (especially?) when it's shared with Durant.
Sussing out Anthony Davis' role on Team USA this summer will be no easy feat.
On the one hand, Davis is clearly one of the brightest young stars in basketball, and one whose combination of length, athleticism, mobility and skill make him an intriguing fit in international play. His past experience as a gold medalist in 2012 won't hurt his case, either.
On the other hand, Davis played sparingly for USA Basketball two years ago and might struggle to secure significant playing time at power forward. His position figures to be stacked with the likes of Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. Sliding Davis over to center would hardly be ideal, but is certainly doable under the right circumstances.
Either way, Davis deserves a spot on this squad, if only to show off his newly bulked 238-pound frame and what he can do with it.
"I’m definitely working on the corner three-pointer," Davis told Pelicans reporter Jim Eichenhofer. "(Also) more post moves, a consistent mid-range jump shot, ball-handling. Those are the things I’m working on right now to get better. But at the same time, touching up on the things I’m pretty good at."
Davis wouldn't have hopped across the pond with Team USA two summers ago had Blake Griffin's knee not given out in training camp. Fat chance this season's runner-up to the runner-up in MVP voting misses out this time around if he's fit.
Griffin should be comfortable competing without Chris Paul, who won't join the squad in Spain, setting him up for rim-rocking dunks. The high-flying forward averaged 27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists during the month-plus that Paul missed for the Los Angeles Clippers with a shoulder injury this past January and February.
A significant chunk of Coach K's roster could consist of first-time internationals, including Paul George.
The Indiana Pacers swingman has been in USA Basketball's pipeline for five years now, dating back to the invitation to try out for the U19 World Championship Team in 2009 that he had to turn down due to injury. Since then, George has suited up for the Select Team in 2012 and participated in last summer's intrasquad showcase in Las Vegas.
Not to mention his emergence as a two-time All-Star and budding franchise cornerstone for the Pacers.
Perhaps a trip to Spain will help ease the sting stemming from Indy's second-half collapse for the Palmdale, California, native.
You know who won't be new to the global stage this summer? Stephen Curry.
Before he was the studly scoring guard for the Golden State Warriors that he is today, Curry was a bit player on the team that took home the gold from the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Before that, he'd captured gold at the Global Games and silver at the U19 World Championship in 2007.
Suffice it to say, Curry's already quite accomplished in international competition, and now that he has the NBA credentials to match (i.e. an All-Star appearance, an All-NBA nod, a spot among the top-six MVP vote-getters), his spot on Team USA should be all but sealed.
Watching Curry wouldn't be the same without his Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, by his side. That's a sad reality to which Warriors fans might soon have to adjust if their team pulls the trigger on a Kevin Love trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
That doesn't mean, though, that USA Basketball need be deprived of the NBA's best shooting backcourt. Thompson's 223 three-point makes would've been tops in the Association this past season if not for Curry's 261—a mark that still fell 11 shy of tying Steph's all-time record from the previous season.
Thompson, though, is more than just a pretty stroke. The son of former No. 1 pick Mychal Thompson showcased an effective back-to-the-basket game and a surprising disruptiveness on the defensive end under Mark Jackson.
Those tools, combined with his USA Basketball experience (i.e. at the U19's in 2009, on the Select Team in 2012 and at mini-camp last summer), should be enough for Thompson to secure a spot among Coach K's top 12.
Two years ago, Kyrie Irving wowed Team USA—and, by way of YouTube, the world—with his sick handles and extraordinary shot-making ability in practice as a member of the Select Team in Las Vegas. Last summer, he brought his talents into the light, leading Team White to a 128-106 victory with a game-high 23 points during a televised scrimmage to conclude USA Basketball's minicamp.
With any luck, Irving will get to strut his stuff in meaningful competition with the Yanks in August and September.
His spot is hardly locked down, though. Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal will also get long looks from Coach K. Don't be surprised, either, if John Wall is granted an opportunity to do the same, assuming Deron Williams stays home after undergoing ankle surgery in late May. Derrick Rose would be a shoo-in, but even he's uncertain right now as to whether or not he'll participate, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears.
There's also no telling how well Irving's And1-ready game might translate to the international arena.
That being said, it's difficult to envision Coach K denying Irving a spot on this squad, given Irving's previous work not only with Team USA but with Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils.
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