In the aftermath of the US winning a second straight gold medal for 2012, much will be written in recapping the team, the legacies of Coach K and Kobe, the greatness of LeBron and Durant, and the difficulty of the gold medal game.
For a moment, let’s look past all of that and simply take a look to Rio de Janeiro and the 2016 games.
The biggest question around the games always surrounds which players will actually make up the roster of the team, and 2016 is no different. We know that Kobe won’t be there, but each of the other 11 guys that made up the 2012 team are 30 years old or younger, and that doesn’t even take into account the injured guys (Rose, Howard) and the young guns that will likely have arrived by then.
Let’s take an (admittedly) early stab at the 12-man roster for 2016:
- G – Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade
- F – Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony
- C – Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis
Looks pretty similar, right? Well, that’s the issue with this exercise at this point 4 years before the tip-off. We know there will be some young guys drafted in the next year or 2 (Jabari Parker, Shabazz Muhammed, etc.) and we have no idea what to expect from the current rookie class (Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, Drummond, etc.). Combine that with the fact that much of the current roster is scarily young, and you have a roster that looks like this.
Will I be correct, or even nearly correct, in this estimation? Probably not. We know that Lebron, Durant, and Howard will be there barring catastrophic injury or unwillingness, but that’s literally the entire list for me of absolute shoe-ins. Even with guys like Paul, there is significant competition (Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, Irving, even John Wall) and age likely won’t treat Paul with kindness.
The International hoops landscape is perhaps even tougher to evaluate 4 years in advance the US one, so stay with me on this one.
- Argentina - The only team to beat the US twice in the last decade, and that makes them eternally scary to me. The downside to them is that the entire starting 5 is 28 years old or older including a 34-year old Manu Ginobili and a 32-year old Luis Scola. It’s hard to believe that they can keep it going at this high of a level when it comes to 2016.
- Australia - One of the more underrated International teams, and this is the important thing. All of their guys will be back in 4 years. The starting five by age? 25, 23, 24, 27, 27 and Australian hoops is up and coming. The downside for the Aussies is the lack of NBA star power, with Patty Mills as the only current guy relevant in the league, but that could change in 4 years.
- Brazil - Perennially disappointing in International play. They have 4 NBA guys right now in Barbosa, Splitter, Varejao, and Nene but only Splitter and Varejao are likely to still be impact-type guys in 4 years due to age.
- France - The 2012 version had 5 NBA players including Tony Parker and still failed to reach the medal round. Parker will be 4 years older, and while Batum (at only 23 years old right now) should improve, that probably won’t be enough to seriously contend without a youth influx.
- Lithuania - Similar story with Lithuania with a twist. They have an older core of guys, but with Kleiza (27) and Pocius (26) providing young wing guys, and the x-factor of 20-year-old lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas emerging on the scene, they could be a quality opponent.
- Russia - The Bronze-medalists will return a young, tough roster. Andrei Kirilenko will likely be slowed by age (35 for 2016), but the rest of the core will be young enough to be around in 4 years and they’ve been developing NBA players for years now.
- Spain - Ricky Rubio is the key. The young star point guard of the Minnesota T-Wolves didn’t play for Spain due to his torn ACL, but he was clearly missed, and in 4 years time, there is a real possibility of him being an elite player internationally. Pau Gasol will be 36 years old and likely past his prime, but Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka would both be young enough to anchor a very good front-court, and the backcourt could be formidable with Rubio, Rodriguez and Llull returning. The best bet for an American competitor in 2016.
This is certainly a key factor that encompasses many aspects. First, there are widespread rumors of a potential overhaul to the current Olympic system that allows professionals of any age to play for their countries. The most popular of them revolves around the potential of a 23-year-old age limit that would limit the entries to college kids and NBA guys in their first couple of years. This is the most likely scenario if things change, but most experts in the industry feel that even if the rules do change, it won’t be in time for the 2016 games. Say hello to our pros again!
Secondly, when Jerry Colangelo and Coach K were placed in charge of USA Basketball, they ensured that it wasn’t simply an all-star team, and that the players would have to show up a year (or more) in advance, be on an “active” national team roster, and actually fit together in a team concept. This is the major reason why America has won the last two gold medals, and I would expect this format to stay the same. With that said, Coach K is stepping down and there are large shoes to fill in that area. With that said, there is one name and one name alone that I would want leading Team USA.
Good game coach? Check. Players absolutely love him and would run through a wall for him? Check. Persuasive and media savvy? Check. Young enough and willing to take on the challenge? Check.
In short, there are only a few guys that I would trust to run this program going forward and Doc is the only guy that fits every category. Gregg Popovich would be at the top of my list for actual basketball coaches, but in actuality, I couldn’t see him making the commitment or being terribly happy about doing it. Stan Van Gundy is a tremendous coach, but doesn’t have the “players coach” mantra by any stretch. Doug Collins has been rumored thanks to his Team USA ties, but he’s up there in age, and the style of play that he coaches would potentially wear thin with the superstars, and he hasn’t had nearly the success level of Doc or Popovich. It’s an easy call.
Four More Years
2016 is a long way away. The roster likely won’t be close to finalized for 3 more years, and while the coach will likely be named pretty soon in order to prepare for the 2014 World Championships, it’s still murky. That said, I’ll be tuned in throughout because seeing our country hold serve in the game that we all love is a unique and awesome feeling.
USA. USA. USA!