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Will Rio Gold Spark Change for Team USA's Most Controversial Stars?

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterAugust 22, 2016

USA's guard Kevin Durant(C) reacts from the bench, sitting between USA's centre DeMarcus Cousins (L) and USA's centre DeAndre Jordan during a Men's quarterfinal basketball match between USA and Argentina at the Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on August 17, 2016 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. / AFP / Andrej ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/Getty Images

It was Team USA’s final possession of the first half Sunday. A foreign-looking white and orange orb zipped around in the sort of synergistic show that took the gold-medal game against Serbia from mismatch to sure thing.

Ball movement and teamwork represented the only things the U.S. men’s basketball team couldn’t consistently lord over its Olympic competition. And when the Americans shifted from unselfishly standing around to working with true unselfish purpose, well, they looked a lot like the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors.

Kevin Durant sank the three-pointer to cap that final first-half possession in the 96-66 U.S. victory—after five passes without a dribble. Durant made the extra pass to the corner, and Carmelo Anthony gave it back with the extra-extra pass.

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It's a 3-peat! USA Basketball​ wins their third-straight gold medal. For more #Rio2016: https://t.co/3nZ10QtWAW https://t.co/5pQdV6DdSR

It was also a reminder that Durant and the revival of that Golden (State) Age is soon going to be everything. This was, bottom line, just a prelude to another NBA season.

The only thing we can definitely say about the U.S. men’s team? They were not unsuccessful.

The only thing that would’ve made basketball compelling amid this whirlwind of American success stories would’ve been failure. This team guided by Durant and Anthony avoided that.

These 12 guys thrown together—after 16 other guys declined to represent their country—were never going to be a truly harmonic group on the court. Mike Krzyzewski deserves kudos for figuring out various paths to victory, but you can bank on Gregg Popovich doing way more teaching and coaching for Team USA in the future.

This national team was too gifted not to go undefeated, which hardly erases the personal, amateur dramas going on all around these players.

Players invariably start the NBA season fast after international competition. But can these guys make this more than that? Will it be a true stepping stone to something greater for anyone?

In particular, the two big men, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins, were dominant enough to trigger such hope.

DeMarcus Cousins (left) and DeAndre Jordan
DeMarcus Cousins (left) and DeAndre JordanRob Carr/Getty Images

Jordan drew natural attention for his breathtaking combination of size and speed. The casual fan with little NBA interest, whether in America or abroad, would think Jordan is the one freak who does things no one else can in the game.

Cousins produced despite foul trouble, living up to the trust Jerry Colangelo and the USA Basketball family have given Cousins for years despite his reputation for lacking focus. While enduring such a rocky time in Sacramento, Cousins has had a real family supporting him with the USA program.

It’s no coincidence those two guys felt the solidity of gold more than most.

“I have so many emotions right now,” Jordan told reporters in Rio. “I’m happy, I’m…I can’t even put it into words. It’s been a long journey for me. This is really pretty special.”

Cousins was even more glowing.

“This is the best feeling ever,” he said. “Honestly, it’s the best feeling ever.”

The question becomes whether they can bottle these feelings and unleash more consistent results in NBA games. 

If Jordan wants to be more than a third wheel, he must demand that Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers make the most of his athletic superiority. Only then can the Clippers threaten the Warriors in the Western Conference.

If Cousins better understands the full body of work that goes into leading a team to win, the Sacramento Kings can make something of the coming season. If not, they'll be gathering for a series of housewarming parties at their new Golden 1 Center.

They’re not up-and-comers anymore: Jordan is 28, Cousins is 26. They are basically who they are, but players mature the longer they are in the league. A more professional approach would do more for them than their U.S. teammates.

Winning in Rio will change those who haven’t won like this before in some way.

But that brings us back to Durant, who has gone for 30 points in each of the past two U.S. gold-medal triumphs now. He’s anchored as the American go-to guy now.

Matt York/Associated Press

This latest gold helps his image, sure. Yet he has to do right by the Warriors all of next season to prove himself to the world.

Durant seemed to learn something on that front in the Olympics. Deferring too much to star teammates early in the Games doesn't work.

“I was trying too hard to sacrifice,” Durant said.

It is not difficult to imagine Paul George as Andre Iguodala, Kyrie Irving as Stephen Curry, Anthony as Draymond Green and Durant and Thompson as themselves. We can too easily envision Warriors uniforms on the team that ended the first half Sunday. 

But the big story comes next.

    

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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