If Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant and the non-superstars USA Basketball Olympic team find a way to blow the gold medal and come back home with silver because they can’t make perimeter shots and they are bullied down low because they can’t compete physically, then USA Basketball will have returned to their lowest moment. It was 2004 when they came home with the bronze medal and were ridiculed as being a bunch of entitled whiners without patriotism or pride, lacking basketball intelligence.
A bronze medal is not a USA reality in 2016. They are too good and their competition is too weak. But they can play a bad game like they did against Australia where their defensive effort in the first half was abysmal. They acted as entitled as that 2004 team who thought their star status alone would get them wins. But newsflash: this team only has two legitimate superstars.
One of them, Kevin Durant, put up a garbage shooting the ball performance against Australia. The other, Carmelo Anthony, saved the day with his 9 three pointers and 31 points. USA was helped by Kyrie Irivng’s second half and they pulled away in the 4th quarter against a team with Paddy Mills, Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova. But Australia and what they did for three quarters isn’t the point about what is happening in Rio.
USA Basketball and this “B” team is like watching paint dry. The absence of LeBron James and Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard wasn’t supposed to mean much because the “others” were still better than the rest of the world. Perhaps. But team chemistry when the shots aren’t falling and the USA is not being physical inside but playing stupid inside and fouling at the wrong time only remind you we don’t have our best in Rio.
In the major USA Olympic sports we put our very best on the national stage to compete with the world’s best. In swimming and gymnastics and beach volleyball and track and field and women’s basketball, the elite and the talented are highlighted. But in basketball, our best stayed at home. Been there, done that. And so we are left with the replacements.
If they don’t win the gold medal, will anyone care?
In 2004, the stars stayed at home too and were crucified when the bronze medal was the best we could hang around our country’s pride. The sentiment was, where is your patriotism? Where is your love of country?
But LeBron and CP3 and Westbrook have gold medals. They have given to their country. No one is going to blame them if they stay at home. All the blame will rest on this cast of characters that looked woefully inept against Australia, who is not their equal- and before anyone else repeats it for the thousandth time- the U.S. was trailing against Lithuania in 2012 in the fourth quarter. But when you field your best and they have to dig deep and suck it up ,you get that it is a fair fight. When you don’t have you best and the product on the floor has to dig deep and suck it up, you say to yourself, told ya so. This is a “B” team for a reason.
More importantly, something has happened to USA Basketball. In 2008, it was electric to have Kobe and LeBron and Chris Paul and Carmelo on the court at the same time. When they won the gold medal in China, it truly was redemption for what happened in 2004. It was an electric moment. But now, we are used to the world and their game. We have copied it with perimeter shooting and ball movement. We know from a talent perspective, no one can touch us.
The “B” team is in an unenviable situation. If they get the gold, no one will be impressed. They were supposed to crush the world. If they get the silver, they will be branded, not just as losers, but as not LeBron James and not Steph Curry. It will follow them home.
photo via llananba