LAS VEGAS — Although the collective talent of the newest group representing American basketball can probably be compared to the great Olympic team of 1992, there is one area where the current group cannot compete.
That was evident Saturday when no one said, “I don’t know anything about Tunisia, but Tunisia is in trouble.”
Yes, for the fourth straight Olympics, there will be no Charles Barkley on Team USA, so colorful headlines and international incidents will likely be at a minimum.
But there will be something fascinating about Team USA in 2012 because the world will get to see exactly how deep American talent is.
Twelve players made the team that was announced on NBA TV (as opposed to NBC, where the Dream Team was announced in 1991). It is a versatile roster that includes 10 players who can play more than one position. Only center Tyson Chandler and point guard Chris Paul are true one-position players.
The team has great scorers in Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
It has great defenders in Kobe Bryant, Andre Iguodala and Chandler.
It has explosive players in Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and James Harden.
It has classic point guards in Deron Williams and Paul.
And it has a great combination rebounder/3-point shooter in Kevin Love.
What it doesn’t have, however, is Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge or Derrick Rose – five of the top players in the NBA. Each is recovering from injury and is not available.
So the question is: Can the U.S. replace five of its best players and still have enough talent to defeat the rest of the world?
The players say yes, and in the great tradition of Michael Jordan – who never let an insult, real or imagined, pass – the players are creating incentive for themselves.
Bryant said during the initial news conference that he’d heard a number of international players say the gap between the NBA and the rest of the world is getting smaller, “and they think they can beat us.”
Teammates agreed. Anthony said, “From the comments that I’m hearing, the guys that are coming into our league, things that they say, you can definitely hear the confidence that they rest of the world has. We’re definitely accepting all challenges at this point. We believe we’re the best players in the world and we want to go out and prove it.”
Bosh and Wade recently helped James win a title in Miami, so he obviously has enormous respect for each. But he said he does not see a difference in the quality of the team.
“We have guys that can fill in and we’re not losing [anything],” James said. “We have guys that are injured, but we have more guys that are going to step in and help us.”
Managing director Jerry Colangelo said that besides the versatility the team has, the other major strength is experience. Five players were on the gold medal team in Beijing in 2008. Those five – Bryant, James, Anthony, Paul and Williams – each has four additional years of experience.
“The nucleus of this team is in its prime,” Colangelo said.
The average of the team is 27.4. Bryant is the oldest at 33; Harden is the youngest at 22. Three players are 23, two are 27, three are 28 and one is 29.
James and Anthony are playing in their third Olympics. The only other U.S. player to play in three was David Robinson.
The final three players who did not make the team were Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay and rookie-to-be Anthony Davis. Colangelo has told all three to continue working out and to be ready in case of another injury.
Team USA will continue training for the next four days, then will have its first exhibition game Thursday against the Dominican Republic, coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari.
After that, Team USA will have training sessions in Washington; Manchester, England; and Barcelona, Spain. They will have exhibition games against Brazil, Britain, Argentina and Spain.
Olympic basketball begins July 29, when the U.S. plays France. Other teams in the U.S. bracket include Argentina, Russia, one team to be determined later today, and Tunisia, which features no NBA players.
That means Team USA will know little about Tunisia, and Tunisia will likely be in trouble. No one put it quite like Barkley did when talking about Angola in 1992, but it is clear the U.S. team has the same mission and plans the same final result.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.