In another Olympic sport, the U.S. might be dreaming of a gold-silver-bronze medals sweep.
But in basketball, countries only get one.
“We could send over three teams, I think we’d be successful,” the Warriors’ Klay Thompson said.
The Americans are so loaded with talent that their biggest challenge this summer might not be the games themselves, but rather determining which 12 players get seats on the plane to Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m sure it’s hard, but it’s a good problem to have,” Clippers star and two-time gold medalist Chris Paul said. “Other countries aren’t that fortunate to have a pool of this many great players to choose.”
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo faced a different problem not long ago.
“Someone made the point, ‘Look, you have so many players now, that’s a real problem,'” Colangelo said. “I said, ‘No, it was a real problem when I started in ’05 when we didn’t have players who wanted to play.’ We were looking for players and now we have a big-time problem because supposedly we have too many.”
Colangelo said the selection of this team will “absolutely” be the toughest yet.
The Americans list 31 Olympic finalists in their pool, including MVP winners Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, though James has said he is undecided about playing. Many of the players were in Toronto for the All-Star Game, yet Colangelo said he isn’t looking for an All-Star team.
“It’s not the 12 best players,” he said. “I’ll go back to where we started the whole thing is, it wasn’t going to be 12 All-Stars, it was going to be a team and we want complementary pieces on this team. So when we end up picking up our 12, it could be revealing to say look, we took this guy and that guy because that’s the best blend of talents.”
Paul was there when it started, part of the U.S. team that won bronze in the 2006 world basketball championship after Colangelo had revamped USA Basketball following the Americans’ third-place flop in Athens two years earlier.
Teammates he recalled included Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller, solid NBA contributors who would have no chance of making the team the U.S. will field in Brazil.
Curry and Paul are among the point guard choices that include Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Damian Lillard. For big men, there’s DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Warriors hybrid Draymond Green.
And imagine being in Thompson’s spot.
He played well for the Americans when they dominated the 2014 Basketball World Cup, is a great shooter and defender, and his game and demeanor fit perfectly for Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Yet he figures to be competing with the likes of James, Durant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Warriors teammate and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala for a spot among the wings. And let’s not forget Paul George, an All-Star again and who has recovered from his broken leg in U.S. camp two years ago. He would seem to have a spot if he wants it.
“It would be special for me. Olympics was always on my bucket list,” Thompson said. “Won’t be the end of the world if I don’t make it, but it would be a true honor because I love playing for the USA. It’s one of the most fulfilling things you can do.”
The Americans have traditionally favored smaller, versatile teams, but switched things up two years ago when they carried Drummond as an extra big. Colangelo doesn’t know which way they’ll go now.
“No, because we’re loaded at the smalls and wings, but we’re better at the bigs. We’re deeper at the bigs than we’ve been,” he said. “So again, that’s kind of a high-class problem.”
He isn’t rushing into any decisions, knowing injuries and contract situations always knock out some players. He plans to announce the U.S. team around the NBA draft in late June and will be watching candidates all season.
And after years of stressing the “equity” of those who have played before, Colangelo can’t take that into account this time. Too many players have been on winning U.S. teams to let that be an advantage.
“Now it’s down to who do we feel would be the best 12,” he said, “the best makeup in terms of 12 players to help us win another gold medal.”