NBA sked could wreak Olympic havoc
Yes, there are the Gasol brothers and the tall, crafty Spaniards. And Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola will make sure that playing Argentina will be no picnic.
But when the United States goes to London this summer, planning to reassert its preeminence in the Olympics, the Americans’ biggest concern may be their players' health.
That was reflected Monday when USA Basketball announced its 20-player roster, which will be sliced to 12 no later than the US Olympic Committee’s June 18 deadline.
With a compacted NBA schedule and Olympic training camp starting as soon as nine days after the NBA Finals, the most significant factor in the final cut may be attrition.
Consider that, if the Olympics were right now:
Chris Paul sat out the Clippers’ win Monday over New Jersey with a strained hamstring and is day to day. Derrick Rose sat out the Bulls’ loss to Memphis with a sprained toe — the second game he has missed with the injury. Dwyane Wade, who missed three games with a tender foot, strained his calf Wednesday against the Clippers and then severely sprained his ankle two days later in Denver.
And then there are the torn ligaments in Kobe Bryant’s wrist that may not be hampering him from scoring but have impacted his ballhandling.
“With some of the injuries — you saw Wade’s very serious ankle injury — you just never know,” Jerry Colangelo, chairman of USA Basketball, said of injuries Monday in a teleconference announcing the team.
That may be one of the reasons the list was point-guard-heavy with Paul, Rose, New Jersey’s Deron Williams, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Clippers’ Chauncey Billups able to play the point. Wade, Bryant and New Orleans’ Eric Gordon were the other guards.
The forwards included New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Miami’s LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, the Clippers' Blake Griffin, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Memphis’ Rudy Gay, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Dallas’ Lamar Odom and Philadelphia’s Andre Igoudala.
The centers are Orlando's Dwight Howard and the Knicks' Tyson Chandler.
When the final cut is made, there could be some interesting roster decisions. The relatively unheralded Gordon may land a spot as a deep 3-point shooter. Odom, who has been in a funk since his trade last month to the Mavericks, was highly valued for his versatility in the 2010 World Championships, when he played center. And the narrowing of the international lane — and matchups such as Spain’s trio of 7-footers: Marc and Pau Gasol and naturalized Serge Ibaka — may necessitate more length in the post than in the past.
"It’s an amazing opportunity,” Odom said. “Hopefully I can pick up my play and secure a spot on that team. There’s a lot of pride playing for your country.”
What Colangelo, who took over in 2005, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski did make clear was that they wanted to reward loyalty, which is why Aldridge and Griffin were the only two players named who had not been members of the 2010 World Championship or 2008 Olympic teams.
"We put a great deal of emphasis on a word I've used a lot, and that's 'equity,' '' Colangelo said.
“Those who have put in time with USA Basketball earned that equity. Also, in building a program, which is a lot different than putting the team on the floor to represent the United States, we’ve developed a whole bunch of champions, and champions win."
The inclusion of Griffin is an indication that Colangelo is looking toward the next generation, since so many of the players on this list — Bryant, Odom, Billups, Wade and even Paul — have said this will be their last Olympics.
Billups, at 35, is the oldest player on the list, but he may be valued as much for leadership as his ability to make big shots. He may fill a similar role as Jason Kidd did in 2008.
With no camp before the team is selected, Colangelo, Krzyzewski and his assistants (Jim Boeheim, Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni) will be watching over the next five months. But Billups is not sure it will feel like an audition.
“There’s not one guy on that list that you don’t know exactly what they do and what they bring to the table,” he said. “So it’s not like any of those guys are going to do something different where they say, 'Oh, I don’t know.' ''
Injuries, fatigue and wear-and-tear of an uncommonly grueling NBA season could be another matter. If the current state is any indication, the ability to leap up and grab a spot may be dependent on just that.