LAS VEGAS — Practically every top American basketball player is descending on Las Vegas this week for Team USA’s mini-camp. All of them have their sights set on being a part of the 2016 Rio Olympic team.
But how many have a realistic shot at joining the very best of the best on what can only be called the SuperDreamTeam?
Put it this way: James Harden is a fringe player. So is Blake Griffin. And Kevin Love.
The United States has enough talent to put together three Olympic teams that would win the gold, silver and bronze. Nobody will be able to compete with them next summer in Brazil. Nobody will even come close.
But you only get to travel to the Olympics with a 12-man roster, and a good three-quarters of those roster spots are most likely already accounted for.
Let’s start with LeBron James. If he wants to play, he’s playing — and he’ll become the first four-time Olympian in USA Basketball history. He suffered through the three losses at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when he was a teenager who could barely crack coach Larry Brown’s rotation, along with the bronze medal finish at the World Championship in Japan in 2006 when the Americans got picked apart by Greece in the semifinals. He has been on every Olympic team since, going to Beijing and London, and he is the pre-eminent star on this planet.
James has told USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo that he will make a decision at the conclusion of the upcoming season, but with a chance to make history and attend a fourth Olympics (heck, a fifth in Tokyo in 2020 is not out of the question), we can all rest assured that Jams will be wearing the red, white and blue one year from now when the Olympics are in full swing.
Ditto Carmelo Anthony, who has been along for the rollercoaster ride with James every step of the way since Athens.
The team will need two centers, and DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard would appear to be the top two candidates (Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Mason Plumlee will also be in camp).
The power forward position will belong to Anthony Davis. There’s no getting around that. He was on Team USA in London and last summer at the World Cup in Spain, he is the league’s rising superstar, and there is no way in hell he gets left off. Period.
Kevin Durant is a lock, too, despite quitting the team last summer a week and a half after training camp began. Colangelo is big on forgiving and forgetting, and he and Krzyzewski are hell bent on putting together the greatest assemblage of talent ever. So pencil in Durant … as long as his foot doesn’t break again.
In case you have lost count, that brings us to six … and we haven’t even begun to assemble a backcourt.
So let’s assume that USA Basketball will award the two point guard spots on merit. And since Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are arguably the two best point guards on the planet, and since both have plenty of prior experience with Team USA, they’re probably in, too. That will leave Wall, Mike Conley and Michael Carter-Williams on the outside looking in (or looking on, enviously, as the case may be).
What about Kyrie Irving, you ask?
Well, it was no small thing for him to be named MVP of the World Cup last summer, and his ability to play off the ball as a 2-guard (like Westbrook) also works in his favor. Krzyzewski places a high value on the ability to play multiple positions.
Which is why Steph Curry is going, too. He has been a part of two World Championship/World Cup teams, he was the final cut prior to the London Olympics, and he is the NBA’s reigning MVP.
That makes 10.
And that leaves 24 players vying for those final two spots.
Let’s assume that the Americans will want an additional big man and an additional shooter who also can serve as a lockdown defender.
The obvious choice for the first spot is Love, but he will have to beat out LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Kenneth Faried.
As for the shooter/defender, the guy I feel best fits that role is Kawhi Leonard, whose ego is such that it would allow him to be satisfied taking up the 12th spot on the bench and filling in if necessary in case of an injury. Say what you want about the respective talents of James Harden and Klay Thompson as shooters and scorers, but neither can play defense with a fraction of the aplomb of Leonard.
A wild card for that 12th spot is Paul George, who broke his leg during Team USA’s mini-camp last summer and could be a sentimental pick for spot No. 12.
And now comes the astounding part …
Take a gander at the players we have not mentioned:
It is an embarrassment of riches, and some awfully good, awfully talented, awfully proud young men are going to get cut. It is a good problem to have, even if it is going to sting a bit for a bunch of All-Star caliber players.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.