Team USA has dominated international basketball the last decade, but the team they take to the upcoming Rio Olympics might end up being their worst since the disastrous 2002 World Championships.
The big news today was Stephen Curry announcing he’d skip the Olympics to heal his knee and ankle, and Marc Stein reporting that LaMarcus Aldridge would miss the Games with a finger injury. A handful of surgeries will keep Anthony Davis sidelined for the Olympics and force the USA to choose a new anchor, and it was previously reported that John Wall, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin would also not be traveling to Brazil.
Throw in LeBron James’ and Carmelo Anthony’s reported uncertainty about whether they want to go, and widespread concern over the Zika virus—both Stein and Marcus Thompson report that a number of players are watching Zika developments quite closely—and this summer’s team is going to be substantially different from the 2014 side.
Based on the players left on USA Basketball’s preliminary roster, the final 12-man roster will almost certainly contain Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving. The international game is more perimeter oriented than the NBA, but Coach K will still probably bring at least two centers. DeMarcus Cousins looks like a lock, and unless the team goes way small, he’ll be joined by either Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, or DeAndre Jordan, but probably not more than one of them. With Paul and Wall out, the team still needs another point guard, and Damian Lillard is the only one left besides Mike Conley. The last two spots are going to determine a lot of how the team wants to play.
You’d have to think Kevin Love will go, since his physical deficiencies as a big man will be mitigated by the smaller competition in Rio. Jimmy Butler is the best two-way player left, and he’ll be fresh, so the last spot could come down to him and Andre Iguodala (Update: Duh Paul George is going to get this spot). That would be a somewhat short roster, despite all the players who play as converted power forwards in smallball lineups, which could prompt the team to eschew another wing defender for Kenneth Faried, who excelled in 2014.
Given the talent at their disposal, and that opponents like Pau Gasol are also skeptical about participating due to Zika, that Team USA roster will still be the heavy favorites. Durant, Westbrook, Iguodala, Love, and Harden would be the only holdovers from the 2012 gold medal winners, so over half of Team USA will be at their first Olympics. As exciting as Steph stomping all over Spain et al would have been, seeing an untested crop of NBA players try to get another gold will probably make for closer games and a more exciting tournament.