USA Basketball in international competition used to be about the U.S. just making sure every country know this was our game. The Dream Team made other countries look like kids in an elementary school playground.
Basketball was invented in the USA and the best athletes lay here, but since those Dream Team days the rest of the world has been learning the game.
I was playing in a tournament with a bunch of top players from Italy and it just made my mouth drop on how well they knew the game. With most kids in the U.S., the best dunker is the best basketball player. To these Italians, it was about being the smartest basketball player on the court.
Fundamentals are what every person thinks about international players and they are right. At a young age they are taught and disciplined in schools of the game. That is why international players are flocking to the NBA. The play is not as physical as it is in the U.S., but they are catching up.
There have been no Dream Teams recently, since all the U.S. has been winning are silver and bronze medals. Even though the rest of the world is getting better at the game, the teams we have put out there have not been able to compete with them. There are no excuses for us to not win the gold.
This Olympics, to no surprise, we are the favorites again to win the gold. I disagreed with that four years ago and I disagree once again. We beat down Turkey today, but really how can they put up 87 points and make our defense look like Mike D'Antoni's Suns on pick and rolls?
Spain, Greece, and Argentina are all big competition as they all have made legit teams that have NBA talent. Spain is my favorite to win the gold this year as Argentina was mine the last Olympics.
Spain has the chemistry since they all play together and also have a pure international level team that will flourish in the Olympics.
The names you may know are Pau and Marc Gasol. The other names to look out for are Portland Trailblazer Rudy Fernandez (who I think will start next season), Ricky Rubio (who will be a favorite to be the No. 1 pick next year), and Raptors' starting point guard Jose Calderon.
Spain has the chemistry and a deep bench. They can take you in the post, run and guard the fast break, and hit outside shots. They are built for this kind of thing. It is their game.
Argentina is another favorite with the big men who can make it tough on the U.S. Luis Scola and Walter "Fabio" Hermann are no players to sleep on. Add Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni, and they are looking to repeat with the gold.
The U.S. could dominate if we had the best players out there. Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Amare Stoudamire are a number of players who would dominate but do not want to play.
Every team sees representing their country as a pride thing. The U.S. lacked that pride the past few years. This year I see it more, since they have something to prove.
Here is what I would change for the U.S. lineup (not considering players like Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudamire who did not want to play):
PG: Chris Paul/Dwayne Wade
SG: Kobe Bryant/Michael Redd/Kyle Korver
SF: LeBron James/Ron Artest/Joe Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer/David West
C: Dwight Howard/Rasheed Wallace
You might be saying, what am I thinking here? Jason Kidd is not here for a reason. Kidd is not his young self. Paul running the team has been exceptional. He runs the pick and roll better than anyone else in the NBA. This fits the international level.
Kobe is Kobe. He can score at will and set up any one. LeBron is the overall player who no country wants to see on a fast break. Boozer is the low post threat who can also spread the floor with his consistent mid range shot. Howard is an enforcer that no country, including the U.S., can cover.
With the paint in the international level play being more spread out, it is harder to work the post. That is where shooting and ball movement is important.
Kyle Korver is the pure international player. He can shoot lights out and the U.S. needs more of those players. Michael Redd was embarrassing Canada because he is pure two-point shooter that fits the international level.
David West is a perfect backup for Boozer since he mimics his play. He is an enforcer in the paint and can shoot mid-range shots with consistency.
Where is Carmelo Anthony? Hopefully in Denver working on his defense.
Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace are the names that are a must on the list. They bring the swagger that the Dream Team had with a player like Charles Barkley. They can talk smack and play "dirty" against the "soft" international players. Teams don’t fear us anymore. Wait until they meet Artest and Wallace. They also bring a defensive toughness the team lacks.
I hope the U.S. wins the gold. It is embarrassing if we do not. Coach K is a perfect coach for this level of play. The rest of the world has improved in the game of basketball and we are playing on their level and not playing up to the competition.
Not every U.S. player wants to play since it is after a grueling long season, but if we get the right players we can win the gold easily. We are missing the defensive toughness and shooters. There will never be another Dream Team unless we do something about that.