Coach K with tough choices to make for Team USA
By Randy Hill
Think of Mike Krzyzewski as headliner on the summer 2012 version of "The Bachelor," burdened with the responsibility of dealing a dozen roses.
To make things tricky and dramatic, there's a reported pool of 19 heartbreakers from which he must choose.
Coach K, celebrated maestro of the Duke Blue Devils and tactical chief for Team USA, probably will fall in love with the disparate talents of each candidate. That's why they're all included on the aforementioned preliminary American roster for the Olympic tournament in London.
A few outstanding players won't be making the trip.
But before we weigh the pros and cons of some alleged bubble prospects, let's review those players widely considered locks to suit up.
We'll begin with elder statesman Kobe Bryant, who was credited with setting the competitive tempo for the Redeem Team of 2008. Even though he's shooting his way through pain in a right wrist that might even prevent some of you from texting or tweeting, Kobe probably wouldn't miss this party if required to compete in a straightjacket.
If his Los Angeles Lakers don't muster a longer playoff run than last season, Bryant will have plenty of rest (all relative) before the Recurring Dream Team assembles for duty.
Our next stop for Team USA locks is Miami, where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are pretty much registered for London. Although they both did a fine job of knocking down perimeter shots during the gold rush of '08, LeBron and D-Wade currently are ignoring the 3-point tease, committing instead to a rim-wrecking assault on the basket.
That seems to be working wonders for the Heat; we'll see if a potential lack of familiarity with deep shooting is a factor against the zone-heavy defensive schemes they'll probably see in London. Even if it does, they'll still play a ton and play extremely well.
Speaking of long shots, their Miami teammate, Chris Bosh, could end up as one to make this roster.
One superstar not in Beijing, but very much expected to join the squad this summer is Oklahoma City Thunder three-man Kevin Durant. Durant, who led Team USA to gold in the 2010 World Championships, may not be working with OKC teammate Russell Westbrook this summer, though.
While critics continue to pick apart Westy's game, Coach K probably will be looking more favorably at Chicago Bull Derrick Rose, LA Clipper Chris Paul and Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets. Last July, I wrote that this team really doesn't need three point guards, and excluded Williams under such a premise.
But Coach K and the Team USA big thinkers went with three (Paul, Williams and Jason Kidd) in '08 and could do so again.
Anyway, we have Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade, KD, Rose and Paul as anticipated locks. Safe additions to that list are New York Knick Carmelo Anthony (think Team USA is set at small forward?) and almost-free-agent center Dwight Howard of the Orlando Maver-nets.
Throw in a few guys from the rec center and — with reasonable shooting nights against Spain and Argentina — you'll probably have another gold medal.
Fortunately, the Team USA ticket seems coveted by NBA stars. So, Coach K and the guys must decide which of the unlocked 11 candidates can fill what appear to be four open spots. It would be considerably less difficult if Team USA was casting for an all-star game instead of building a team capable of dealing with the clever, one-game strategies it may see in international play.
That means the acrobatics of Clipper power forward Blake Griffin may be swept aside for the 3-point prowess and rebounding commitment of Kevin Love. While both may be defensive liabilities for different reasons, they both are bona fide stars.
And they both could end up in London.
But recent reports indicate that Portland Trail Blazer four-man LaMarcus Aldridge (my pick for the squad in that column posted last July) will be in the running, giving Team USA another big body capable of doing work inside or at mid-range against the zone.
Lamar Odom, another vet reportedly on the list, is adjusting to the Dallas Mavericks' way of play, but his versatility has endeared him to a lot of coaches through the years.
If Team USA authorities don't believe those four (or a combination of any two) gives them enough size behind Howard, World Championship veteran Tyson Chandler may bring his NBA title chops to England.
With two small forwards — James and Durant — more than capable of holding down both forward spots for long stretches (they both can run for days, so how do you sit either for more than a minute or two?), a glut of card-carrying fours is unnecessary. Right, some international teams (Spain) are huge along the baseline, but an LBJ-KD pairing will cause more trouble for the opposition.
And having Kobe, Wade and Carmelo already stationed on the wings, roster spots for tough, young defenders Eric Gordon and Andre Iguodala will be difficult to acquire.
Rose, CP3 and Williams should make it tough for Westbrook and Chauncey Billups to stick.
Depending on how confident Team USA will be with the perimeter superstars working against zone (remember, defensive pressure, forced turnovers and transition worked wonders in '08), Billups and Gordon could have a shooter's chance. With Ray Allen (an insurance-policy shooter I included on my list last summer) not among the reported 19, Gordon's gun and defensive versatility (he can defend point guards) could be an in.
Contingency-based roster moves that may never need to be quantified will define these decisions. Like having James, Durant and Anthony at small forward, it's a nice luxury to have.
And if you added three more players to the pool, divided the roster in two, allowed adequate preparation time and were permitted to enter both teams, this could end up as your gold-medal game.