Who should be ‘next men up’ for Team USA if more replacements are needed?

Who should be ‘next men up’ for Team USA if more replacements are needed?

Deadspin looks at the best candidates to go to Tokyo as COVID takes its toll

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This is not what the R&R Partners meant by “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Bradley Beal, now in COVID protocol, will miss this summer’s Olympics, removing him from the Team USA men’s basketball roster. Jerami Grant is also in COVID protocol but is expected to remain with the team for now. Team USA’s Las Vegas-based scrimmage with Australia, scheduled for last night, was canceled as a result. As of now, they’re still probable to compete against Spain on Sunday, their final tune-up, before heading for Tokyo, where their gold medal chase will begin on July 25 against France, who defeated USA 89-79 in the FIBA World Cup less than two years ago.

And as that paragraph was being typed up, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kevin Love is withdrawing his name from the proceedings, and if we’re being honest, it’s puzzling he was ever there, to begin with.

Oh, and the NBA Finals are going on now, which is where three Team USA members — Khris Middleton, Devin Booker, and Jrue Holiday — are currently engaged in a dog fight that’s going at least two more games, possibly three. The Olympics (the event itself, not the men’s basketball tournament) officially begin on July 23. Game 6 of the NBA Finals is scheduled for Tuesday, July 20, and a possible Game 7 would take place on Thursday, July 22.

That, by the way, follows the most tumultuous 12+ months of basketball beginning in last year’s bubble, then driven by nightmarish-injuries, especially in the playoffs, and all leading into an NBA season in 2021-22 that will return to starting “on time” with training camps starting on September 28. The regular season will start on October 19.

First, the Olympics probably shouldn’t even be happening, given that COVID cases are rising in Japan just one week before the opening ceremony, and the country is on lockdown due to contractions. Fans are even banned from being in attendance, and it’s a legitimately dangerous situation to go to Japan for, of all events, the Olympics, at this point, even if vaccinated.

So, as of now, Team USA has an incomplete roster. JaVale McGee and Keldon Johnson will take the vacancies left behind by Beal and Love. In preparation for the worst, let’s send out invites to complete the team in the event Grant, Booker, Middleton, and or Holiday don’t make it. We got you, Jerry Colangelo. You’ll need as many as three to four to say yes. Here are many invitation worthy candidates, even if they’ve already said no, like Ja Morant. In fact, let’s start there.

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2 / 10

Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

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Among other things, Team USA needs a legitimate point guard, not another bucket getter. Even with their half roster, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Damian Lillard, and Zach LaVine are still there. The problem is, Team USA’s best rim protectors, overall defenders, and only two big men, Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green are also their best passers and most unselfish players. More on rim-protection in a bit.

Here, Morant would play a pass-first guard role they need pretty badly unless Lillard changes his game, but if so, he ceases to be the Dame we know.

Morant indicated he had no interest in a subtweet last night, and why would he? It’s a perilous situation to turn around and abruptly head to a country where COVID cases are elevating, surrounded by thousands of others from all around the world. If we’re being honest, it might be wise to say no to all of this. But, for the purposes of this exercise, call Morant. Then call him again.

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3 / 10

Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks

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The case against Young is that he played deep into the playoffs, and injured both his shoulder and foot; though he did manage to finish the series against the Bucks, he was clearly less than 100 percent. However, he’s perfect for what the team needs — as outlined in the previous slide with the Morant case — and while Young probably shouldn’t play in the summer in which he is max extension eligible, he deserves a call. Apparently, he didn’t even get that.

Perhaps no one embodies the next generation of American point guards more than Young, so he’s worthy, even if apparent politics may suggest otherwise.

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4 / 10

Jarrett Allen, C, Cleveland Cavaliers / Restricted Free Agent

Jarrett Allen, C, Cleveland Cavaliers / Restricted Free Agent

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Go pull up a list of the best whatever amount of centers currently in the NBA are, and you’ll be surprised at how many of them aren’t American.

Let’s go through it together, in fact. No order, but this is likely your top-10:

Nikola Jokić (Serbia)

Joel Embiid (Cameroon)

Bam Adebayo (USA/Nigeria)

Rudy Gobert (France)

Karl-Anthony Towns (Dominican Republic)

Kristaps Porziņģis (Latvia)

Nikola Vučević (Montenegro)

Clint Capela (Switzerland)

DeAndre Ayton (Bahamas)

Jonas Valančiūnas (Lithuania)

Then you’re looking at guys like Allen, Myles Turner, Christian Wood (who is really a stretch four), and Brook Lopez, who represented Team USA in the FIBA World Cup of 2019, and is currently playing in the NBA Finals. It’ll be a risk for Allen, but above all else, Team USA needs an unselfish rim protector who doesn’t really ever need the ball and could outrebound most bigs he’d face in Tokyo … and is better than McGee. The risk for Allen is that he’s a restricted free agent this summer, and while he’s expected to get paid, any setback could alter his future. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Allen if offered, though, and that would be difficult to pass on, even now. (If not him, what’s Richaun Holmes up to?)

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5 / 10

Julius Randle, PF, New York Knicks

Julius Randle, PF, New York Knicks

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Speaking of contract extensions, Randle is eligible for a four-year, $106 million extension this summer. If he elects to wait a year, he could get up to $201 million for five years. Randle was one of the biggest names left off the initial roster of the guys who didn’t make or were already eliminated from the playoffs. He was better than Grant all season, even beating him out for the Most Improved Player Award, and still was a casualty of questionable roster construction. Team USA needs Randle not to be as ball-dominant as he was on the Knicks but to showcase his rebounding and improved defensive abilities, with his scoring, particularly on the inside, serving as a plus. He’s also developed as a playmaker this past year, averaging six assists to complement his 24-10 points-rebounds.

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6 / 10

Evan Mobley, C/PF, USC

Evan Mobley, C/PF, USC

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Mobley will likely be a top-three pick in this year’s draft. It’s been nine years since Team USA brought in a rookie to play on the senior roster, a spot last occupied by Anthony Davis in 2012, but Mobley, perhaps as much as Cade Cunningham, fills a need for this roster. Tatum, LaVine, and Durant all do what Cunningham does, but better for now. Mobley is unique to what they have and even what they’d add in this make-believe scenario. The recently turned 20-year-old averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game while shooting 58 percent from three. If you watch him, he’ll kinda remind you of a young Davis, from his game down to his 7-foot, 215-pound frame.

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7 / 10

LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets

LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets

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The Rookie of the Year from the previous season should almost always be on this team, assuming they’re eligible and want to be on. Ball wasn’t on the Select Team where draft classmate Anthony Edwards was and injured his ankle, but, like Young or Morant, is the playmaker the roster needs as a true point guard. Young or Morant appear disinterested at this point. LaMelo quickly became one of the most exciting players in the NBA, and he already has experience internationally, having played in Australia and Lithuania professionally. Go find out where Ball is, Mr. Colangelo. If not even him, following Morant’s denial and Young’s omission, is Fred VanVleet around?

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8 / 10

Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

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How could you neglect Zion Williamson if he’s healthy, of course. To some, perhaps many, he’s the future of basketball here. A fractured finger sidelined him in May for the rest of the season, keeping him out for an undetermined amount of time. The issue is the injury risk. Williamson was limited to 24 games as a rookie in 2019-20 and 61 in the 72-game 2020-21. Still, he has career averages 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game on 60 percent shooting. He’s already made an All-Star team t—we really don’t need to make the case for Zion, do we? If he’s healthy and would do it, why not? (Would be surprising if he hasn’t been approached, though.) Ok, last one.

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9 / 10

Duncan Robinson, SG/SF, Miami Heat / Restricted Free Agent

Duncan Robinson, SG/SF, Miami Heat / Restricted Free Agent

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Duncan Robinson is a name who was seriously considered for Team USA initially, and his name is popping up again.

The catch is, the initial decision for him not to play was more his doing than Team USA’s, according to 5 Reasons Sports, citing Robinson’s pending free agency. Like Allen, it would be difficult to risk he’s forthcoming contract, but it would also be difficult to avoid this once in a lifetime opportunity. Greg Sylvander, who reports on the Heat with the 5 Reasons Sports crew, noted last night that Robinson committing may indicate a promise for a contract extension from the Heat.

“If we see Duncan Robinson commit to go and play, there’s a high likelihood that he has a good idea of where he’s gonna be and at what number they’re going to negotiate. There will be a tell there, at least a little bit, because if that stuff is not buttoned up, I don’t expect him to accept an invite and go,” he said on their latest episode.

He’s not an elite NBA player, but he’s elite, and one of the most elite, at the sport’s signature skill: Shooting. Team USA hasn’t been a great shooting team in their scrimmages as a whole, and Robinson being there to specialize in that skill makes sense, especially with his teammate (for now, at least) Adebayo, who’s gotten many assists from him these last two years. Durant, Tatum, Lillard, and other elite talents are meant to be surrounded by shooters. Robinson’s not there to create; he’s there to shoot threes, where he’s hit over 42 percent from in his career.

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10 / 10