BARCELONA — Four days ago, this site was the first to publish Team USA’s preliminary roster, 19 names out of which Mike Krzyzewski is expected to whittle another Olympic champion.
After winning golds at both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Championships with entirely different dozens, I’m in no position to question how the Jerry Colangelo regime at USA Basketball does business.
But the problem with these 19 is that they don’t leave you with much firepower for friendly argument. Sure, we can ask whether Russell Westbrook’s perceived (more like overblown) attitude problem might be cancerous, or if jumping over a Korean car means Blake Griffin’s game will translate internationally. But at the end of the day, the London 2012 squad is going to look an awful lot like the final fan balloting for this year’s NBA All-Star Game.
Kobe, Durant, LeBron, Wade, Howard, Rose, Melo, CP3, D-Will and a few others. They are all superstars, and all plenty deserving of the spots they will surely land unless injury, free agency or matrimony rears its ugly head.
But what if Team USA staged a complete overhaul?
I’m talking nobody from Beijing, nobody from Istanbul, and definitely nobody from group that stumbled to a bronze in Athens in 2004. Not even Grant Hill, the lone holdover from the 1996 Dream Team II that took gold in Atlanta, would be asked to try out for his old coach.
Oh, you’ve tried out in the past but never actually made the team? Cool story, but you’re still not eligible. That means David Lee, Brook Lopez, Rajon Rondo, O.J. Mayo, Tyreke Evans and JaVale McGee should all look for summer plans.
What if the federation chose 19 fresh faces with the stylistic nuances of international play in mind? What might that preliminary roster look like?
It might look something like this.
Kyle Lowry, Houston: After wallowing in the European basketball gutter for the last decade, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia arranged for a passport to be printed with Bo McCalebb’s face on it. Documentation in hand, the New Orleans-born McCalebb and Macedonia infiltrated Europe’s Old Boys Club, beating Croatia, Slovenia, Greece and even the host nation, Lithuania, en route to the bronze medal game and a spot in this summer’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela.
With McCalebb wearing red and yellow this summer, it’s the States’ job to drape the next closest thing in red, white and blue. Kyle Lowry, step right up. Bring your green hat, and your All-Star numbers, too.
Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia: He’s already gotten the hang of piloting a balanced offense which, despite what Kevin Durant “taught” us in Istanbul, is usually what puts a medal around your neck at these things.
Shaun Livingston, Milwaukee: With a narrower court, shorter 3-point line and no penalty for defensive three seconds, we don’t need that overcaffeinated Sports Science guy to tell us things can clog up in a hurry. It’s not easy to crack these defenses with a single pass, but having a Magic’s-eye view certainly helps. Just ask the Euroleague’s all-time assists king, Theo Papaloukas, who stands the same 6-7 as Livingston.
Jason Terry, Dallas: We’re several inches of empty biceps skin and a talented tattoo artist away from locking up this gold medal.
James Harden, Oklahoma City: Harden’s third year in the league has silenced anyone who thought he was merely a beard and some bow ties. Through 12 games this season, he ranks 14th in John Hollinger’s PER. Directly behind him: Olympic candidates Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Paul.
Anyone know if USA jerseys come in plaid?
Wesley Matthews, Portland: With his thick build and wily-old-man game, FIBA’s rules would suit him perfectly.
Jaycee Carroll: Aside from Ray Allen, nobody on the planet is shooting the ball better than Carroll. The Utah State star is making 58 percent of his threes and scoring 16.9 points in just 22 minutes per game on Europe’s hottest team, giving Madrileños reason to forget Rudy Fernandez. His playmaking abilities don’t extend much beyond the Land of Catch and Shoot, but his machine-like efficiency off the bench should excuse any absence of complementary skills or lapses in defense.
But Jerry Colangelo will have to hurry; Azerbaijan has already begun their courtship of Carroll and former Maryland Terrapin Nik Caner-Medley.
Gary Neal, San Antonio: No stranger to European defenses after stints in Turkey, Spain and Italy, Neal can make a zone crumble just by walking to the scorer’s table.
Sonny Weems, Zalgiris: Once Sonny gets going toward the rim, don’t expect him to change directions. Don’t expect him to pass. Don’t expect your double-team to dissuade him, either.
The defensive answer used to be, “Make him shoot.” But after Weems shot 50 percent from deep in the Euroleague this season, you don’t expect him to miss.
Chuck Eidson, Regal FC Barcelona: Since his last game as a Gamecock in 2003, Eidson has scaled Europe’s corporate ladder all the way to a cushy corner office in Barcelona, where he’s expected to knock down shots and keep Europe’s most dynamic offense flowing from the wing.
And steals. Chuck loves steals, and pushing the pace after he gets them.
Nobody’s naturalized this guy yet? Swap nuclear launch codes, set aside half of your GDP, auction off your nation’s goats; anything to get Chuck E. Threes a jersey and 30 minutes per game.
Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia: Long, versatile and willing to float around the court, attacking at a moment’s notice without a single play run in his direction. Russia has three or four of them. Team USA would need at least one.
Anthony Parker, Cleveland: When the 36-year-old Parker hangs it up in the next few years, NBA fans might remember a veteran wing who guarded you tightly, made open shots and was part of the starting lineup that couldn’t bring LeBron back to Cleveland. But ask an Israeli about Parker and watch his eyes light up: back-to-back Euroleague MVPs with Maccabi in 2005 and 2006, Shelden Williams’ brother-in-law makes this roster in a player-coach capacity at the very least.
Ryan Anderson, Orlando: If you’re smart enough to rummage through advanced stats and extract a rebuttal to Anderson’s inclusion on this list, be my guest. All I know is that he is tall and making shots from very, very far away.
Paul Millsap, Utah: Would you sacrifice one rebound per game for another couple of feet on your jumper? How about two boards for five feet? It’s a risky undertaking with no set exchange rate, but Millsap has handled it just fine this season, taking deeper shots more frequently without forgetting those magnetic fingertips which made him a three-time NCAA rebounding king at Louisiana Tech.
The former second-rounder has no problem producing in a frontcourt loaded with raw talent (Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter), a decided advantage when playing in condensed time slots with strangers.
Andy Panko, Lagun Aro: The Lebanon Valley alum has won MVP awards in the CBA, LEB Oro (Spanish second division) and now finds himself on the short list of candidates for the ACB’s top individual honor, leading all of Spain in scoring. He is the player we wanted Kevin Pittsnogle to be: Paul Bunyan with a turnaround jumper. Spain, Greece, Italy, NBA, CBA and even the IBL, the 34-year-old Panko has seen everything the basketball world could possibly throw at him, and he’s ready to put all that know-how to good use.
Kenneth Faried, Denver: Faried wiggles into that “go fetch” role off of the bench. Eight minutes, six rebounds, and one rim that’s seen enough for one night.
Andrew Bynum, LA Lakers: Lists like this tend to get too cute in a hurry, and I’m afraid mine might have lost its way somewhere between Shaun Livingston and Andy Panko. The fix: plant a classically trained behemoth in the paint and tell him to reach for the sky.
Greg Monroe, Detroit: Arvydas Sabonis, Vlade Divac and Nikola Vujcic were Europe’s finest bigs, and they didn’t build their legacies by being black holes on offense. Though I invoke such icons, by no means am I putting Monroe in the pantheon of post-passing legends; I’m only saying that helping others is a good thing, and Monroe’s penchant for finding open cutters is snipped from the same strand. Throw in a career mark of 56 percent from the floor and a statline (16.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3 assists) that’s taken the expected Year Two leap, and you’ve got yourself a ripening All-Star handcrafted for international success.
Mike Batiste, Panathinaikos: How do you ensure your bigs are never bested against the rest of the world’s finest? Find a man who’s played against them all and walked away unscathed. That man is Mike Batiste, a 6-9 brute out of Arizona State who has spent the last decade throwing hip checks into foreigners. He ranks in the all-time top 10 for both points and rebounds and landed on the All-Euroleague first team last season as he helped Panathinaikos to another championship, his third in five years.
DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers: Board, block, repeat. It’s that simple.
Nick Gibson, editor of EuroleagueAdventures.com, covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.