10 things to know about Team USA 1. With Team USA in disarray, Colangelo was hired to reconstruct the whole concept in time for last year's World Championship with an eye toward the 2008 Olympics.
What this really means: As a 30-year NBA management superstar, there couldn't have been anyone more qualified to rally the NBA troops. He and son Bryan also plucked D'Antoni out of Italy after years of being shunned by the NBA for any number of reasons. In Phoenix, D'Antoni rejuvenated Steve Nash and created an entire new regime of fast-break basketball.
But the lingering question of Colangelo's concept is how to retain the commitment for three years without freaking out NBA owners who risk injury to their superstars year after year. It's a completely different deal than in 1992, when the Dream Team was assembled as the first NBA crew to compete in the Olympics. Prior to that, it was all college kids. And now, the financial investment is so high in the players and franchises that it wouldn't be surprising if owners winced every time their guys suited up. Nonetheless, with a goal of a 32-player commitment for three years, the concept for synergy is on track. It may not work, but there was no better man for the job to create a special situation than Colangelo.
2. With the team comprised solely of NBA players, the committee seemingly wasted no time in deciding on Krzyzewski as the best choice for head coach. Sure, he's got McMillan and D'Antoni, but after the way they struggled last year to get the bronze in the World Championship, it became obvious Krzyzewski had yet to come in with his best stuff.
What this really means: It's difficult to handle NBA players when they're on your own team, let alone in a collective motif such as this one even if it is playing for their country. One reason why Coach K makes sense in this situation is his ability to feature certain players as he has at Duke. He set up the system so well for individuals that he has often received credit for making players look better than they really are thus so many NBA failures until recent years.
But that's why he has McMillan and D'Antoni, two NBA coaches who have earned a lot of respect with their handling of players plus the extensive experience D'Antoni had as a player in Italy and then as one of the greatest coaches in Italian League history. It's an interesting staff, particularly with Boeheim, who won an NCAA championship with Carmelo Anthony as a freshman before Anthony bolted for the NBA, but the relationship was cemented in many ways through the success. In other words, there are reasons for this staff, and perhaps they didn't have the right players last season.
3. The addition of Jason Kidd, he of the 28-0 record playing international ball, may very well be the answer.
Jason Kidd's passing ability should keep Team USA's scorers happy. (Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images)
What this really means: Perhaps the absence of Kidd last year was the biggest problem of all. There isn't one player in the NBA who wouldn't love playing with Kidd, if only because he is the prototypical point guard from another generation get open and he'll get you the ball. He's never been a great shooter those 1-of-8 and 2-for-11 games have become more prevalent the past couple of years since microfracture knee surgery but he's still amazingly clutch when it matters most and he can still grab the ball off the rim and run.
But who would have thought the most valuable player for this team would be a 34-year-old point guard? It seems to be the case, despite the continual large steps taken by Carmelo Anthony and the well-documented superstardom of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Kidd is the only point guard in the league excluding Canadian Steve Nash capable of running this team the right away. It's not taught, it's instinctive. And Chris Paul proved last year he doesn't quite have it yet.
4. While we're on the subject of Anthony, James and Wade, the most celebrated trio to come into the league together in this generation: Do they have the right kind of games to excel in international ball?
What this really means: So much of the success in the international game is predicated on inside/out play and consistent long-distance shooting, it's hard to tell. Wade's game tends to extend to 17 feet, James is an erratic perimeter shooter who is streaky and Anthony seems to be making the most progress with range and consistency shooting the ball. But they are all used to being the featured guy on their team. Even with Kidd, it will be interesting to see if any of them can maintain an offensive rhythm.
Because James is such an amazingly instinctive passer, he still may be the guy who ends up with the ball the most because he makes plays for the other guys but only slightly more than Wade. And since they're all so young, there is plenty of time to grow and this is the forum they want to be in together. We just don't know if it will work over the long haul.
5. Of course we've been talking about those three youngsters and neglected to even mention Kobe Bryant being on this team for the first time. And, well, there are times when he needs the ball as much as all three of them put together.
What this really means: The depth of Bryant being in the backcourt with Kidd has so many implications that it is difficult to know where to begin. First of all, it is 100 percent true that the Lakers attempted to swing a deal with the Nets to bring Kidd to the Lakers to play in the backcourt with Bryant. Unfortunately for both players (they encouraged it), a deal couldn't be struck. So now is the time they'll have fun playing together for the first time.
Love him or hate him, Bryant is the closest thing to Michael Jordan in this setting. There is always the chance that Bryant and Kidd won't allow this team to lose any big games under any circumstances. As crazy as that may seem, they are the ones with the depth of experience and will power to take it to another level. Even more to the point is they may help the young superstars reach that point as well and that is scary for the other countries and the rest of the NBA, if and when that happens.
6. Allen Iverson was not considered for this group and Colangelo made that clear to him before last year even though he was the heart and soul that kept the 2004 team alive to even get the bronze.
Allen Iverson was a Team USA leader in 2004, but wasn't invited back. (DON EMMERT / Getty Images)
What this really means: The staff had to draw the line somewhere with so many other players that needed the ball in their hands, and the mercurial Iverson was too big of a gamble despite his big-play capability. So Colangelo talked to him about developing the younger players
then went ahead and brought in Kidd two years older than Iverson. So it did become rather insulting for a star of his magnitude who just wants to help win a gold medal for his country.
And yet it is tough to feel sorry for Iverson. Although he is a blood-and-guts player, arguably even more so than Bryant, he also has had too many issues over the years with coaches and practice and off-court behavior that don't represent the kind of leadership they want on the team. It's too bad. The reality is A.I. isn't as bad as a lot of people think, but he isn't as good a guy for a team as he thinks he is. Not that there's anything wrong with either one.
7. Three of the top forwards from the last Team USA Chris Bosh (plantar fasciitis), Elton Brand (torn Achilles tendon) and Carlos Boozer (wife is due with twins) have bowed out, with only Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire returning at the post positions for Krzyzewski.
What this really means: This is where it gets tricky for the committee. Tyson Chandler and Nick Collison are there, but they're seemingly more qualified for the "Select Team" challenging the senior team than actually being on the roster. But there has been a lot of talk about adding role players who will defend, rebound and block shots. Chandler is a great rebounder who is improving his shot-blocking ability, while Collison is a terrific defender and rebounder with great hands and good passing ability.
The problem is that neither has proven he can consistently score a lick, but does it matter? In some ways, this may be better for the team because neither Chandler nor Collison will draw defensive attention, which will leave them open for offensive rebounds and dunks. They are very unselfish players and perhaps that is just the tonic this team needs to move forward. As a note about Collison's shooting, the basket came down when he was working at one of the gyms the other day in Vegas, and the question was whether it came down while he was dunking or shooting jumpers.
8. The other veteran point guard behind Kidd is Chauncey Billups, the Detroit Pistons All-Star (formerly) known as "Mr. Big Shot."
What this really means: It's ironic that Billups is finally getting major attention when in fact he has faded late in each of the past two seasons. Granted, he has been an amazingly clutch performer for the Pistons over the past five years. But at 30, he appears to be dropping a notch. That's not even the question, though. He's another ball-dominator and even though he's improved a lot with his distribution instincts, he's still a shoot-first guy.
We repeat: You have the trio of youngsters Anthony, James and Wade plus Bryant. Does it make sense to have a veteran shoot-first point guard on this roster? It's been easy to be thrilled for the success Billups has had after such a rocky start to his career, and he's earned everything he's gotten. But he'll have to prove he's a good fit with this group because they don't need dominating the ball and shots.
One of the NBA's best shooters, Mike Miller should help bust zone defenses. (Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images)
9. Perhaps the main reason Team USA has had limitations over the past five years or so has been the lack of consistent perimeter shooting. Well, this season they've added two of the best in the NBA in Michael Redd and Mike Miller.
What this really means: Both of these guys have been vastly underrated with the scoring ability they bring to the table, and perhaps more importantly, they are superb long-range marksmen. It's not the scoring but the range and consistency on their 3-point shooting at the international level that will make their value on the team increase exponentially.
The question is how much playing time they will get and whether the other guys will swing the ball to them or continue to drive into the teeth of these international zone defenses? This is where chemistry, trust and team priorities come into play. If these guys get their shots, then it's an example of an effective coaching staff. If not, those young hot shots just aren't listening.
10. With all of these issues and the recent history of the team, it is hardly a lock for them to win this tournament and go for the gold in Beijing.
What this really means: They have a lot to prove overall. It has been said and written ad nauseum that the international teams have caught up with the USA because their teams stay together for years. That is true. It's also because they have heeded the coaching advice and clinics from the Americans for the past generation, and the players have dutifully been coached. That also is true.