MANCHESTER, England — Kevin Durant replaced Carmelo Anthony as the starter at power forward, and Deron Williams took over the starting job at the point from Chris Paul.
But despite the efficiency that those moves produced, there is no permanence to those moves, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday night after the United States clobbered Great Britain 118-78, in its third tuneup game.
Coach K said there will be seven starters, with Anthony getting the nod when the team needs a little more beef, and Williams and Paul being almost interchangeable.
So it will be Tyson Chandler at center, Anthony or Durant at power forward, LeBron James at small forward, Kobe Bryant at shooting guard and Williams or Paul at the point.
Further, the eighth and ninth men will be Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook, which means Kevin Love – Team USA’s only true power forward – is going to be a bit player in the Olympics, unless Coach K changes his mind.
I caught up with Krzyzewski as he walked to the team bus after the win and I pressed him on the issue of whether Love might be better utilized as a member of the regular rotation. After all, this is a guy who was a double-double machine for the Timberwolves last season, and a rebound-per-minute player for Team USA at the World Championship in Turkey two years ago.
“He’s your best natural 4,” I said.
“But Iguodala can do that job, too,” Coach K retorted.
He’s the coach, and I am a mere spectator and second-guesser. But I will go out on a limb and say that by the time this journey is over and the winner of the Olympic gold medal is known, Love is going to vault from that No. 10 spot in the rotation and be one of the three most important players on the team.
As I wrote following the Americans’ 11-point victory over Brazil in Washington three nights earlier, there will come a time in the single-elimination round when the Americans are going to have to deal with some beefy bigs – whether against Spain, Russia or Brazil.
And although Love is not as beefy as he was two years ago in Turkey, he is as beastly as ever and would be going to waste as the 10th man, in front of only James Harden and Anthony Davis.
“I don’t think there’s any permanence to our starting lineup,” Krzyzewski said. “We basically have a core group of veterans, mostly from the Beijing Olympics, and they need to be the core of this team. They’re older, theyve been through the Olympics, and Durant, talent-wise, he’s right there with any of them. We talked about it, and they’re fine with it.
“I’m not sure who will start against Argentina, and I don’t think it really makes a difference. It’ll be within that realm of seven players, with Tyson at the center spot.”
Granted, the caliber of competition was quite different against GB than it was against Brazil, but let’s have a look at how the guys who changed roles performed.
Anthony, who was 1-for-7 overall and 0-for-4 on 3-pointers against Brazil, shot 8-for-10 overall and 3-for-5 for 3s for 19 points in just 17 minutes against GB. Durant’s lines were almost identical: 5-for-13 (11 points) off the bench against Brazil; 5-for-12 (13 points) as a starter against GB.
As for the point men, Williams was the Americans’ best player and picked up the game MVP award after shooting 7-for-8, including 5-for-6 on 3-pointers, and scoring 19 points in 19 1/2 minutes. Paul had three points, six assists and three steals against GB after going for 10 points, three assists and four steals against Brazil.
Westbrook was the player who picked up his game the most in contributing 15 points and nine assists in 20 minutes (he had four points and four steals in 15 minutes against Brazil). Love’s line was also better (he had no points and two rebounds in five minutes against Brazil) with six points and three rebounds. However, all of that production came in garbage time, when the Americans’ lead got as high as 47 points.
Krzyzewski disputed he notion that the 11-point victory against Brazil – a game in which Team USA trailed for a majority of the first half – was any kind of a wake-up call.
“We’re still in the development stage, and we are awake – we never were asleep,” he said. “If we play poorly, it’s because the other team is good.”
Williams went so far as to say that “we know we can be beat” – something no member of the orginal Dream Team never uttered, much less thought, for those who need further reason to stop making comparisons between the two teams.
And Britain coach Chris Finch repeated himself twice when the question of the Americans’ vulnerability – and the possibility that they could lose – was raised.
“Absolutely,” Finch said. “Basketball is a game that needs to be played out every possession. They have the most talent, but can they be beaten? Sure. There’s a lot of teams that can beat them on any given day.”
Two of those teams are Argentina and Spain, who will be Team USA’s opponents in its final two exhibition games next week in Barcelona.
Still, there are folks back home who will remain insistent that Team USA is infallible.
They have not learned from the lessons of the recent past, but Krzyzewski has.
Any maybe that, above all else, is why he went with two new starters in the Americans’ first game on European soil.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every U.S. men’s national team at the Olympics and World Championship since 1996. Follow him on Twitter.