Chris Paul was the first to withdraw. Then Steph Curry. Then Russell Westbrook. Then James Harden. Then LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s five of the Western Conference 2016 All-Stars. 41% of the team that was in Toronto in February have said no thank you, I want my summer back. Paul, Curry, and Westbrook are the top three point guards in the league. Harden is arguably the best shooting guard, if you judge offense only.
The consequence of losing 25 points, 50% from three, 13 assists, 13 rebound talents is a silver medal, not a gold. Furthermore, everyone remembers how it used to be.
The stars stayed home. They didn’t want to give up their summer. The “A” listers gave the media attention to the “B” team. Except the second tier NBA players couldn’t beat the best Euro players and in 2004 the U.S. had to wear the bronze medal around their neck like it was choking them. That team came home pariahs, seen as selfish, unpatriotic and unskilled.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were on the 2004 Olympic team. They had one year of NBA experience.
Before 2004, the last time the U.S. had to lower themselves and accept a bronze medal was in 1988. But in 1988 there was no social media. Whatever criticism Mitch Richmond, David Robinson and J.R. Reid took had a shelf life. That 1988 team was absent Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird. So of course, they won the bronze.
It feels like this year’s team has silver medal possibilities. As of right now, there are only two point guards left in the pool: Mike Conley and Kyrie Irving. One plays offense. One plays defense. One has been an All-Star, one has not. Damian Lillard on speed dial perhaps?
The shooting guard pool can survive Harden’s absence. They still have Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan and Andre Iguodala, All-Stars of the past.
As of yet, no small forwards have pulled out and LaMarcus Aldridge is the only power forward to withdraw his name.
Complicating all of it is Rio itself. The Zika virus is scaring off a lot of people. The president of the country is set to face an impeachment trial for accounting issues and won’t even open the Games. Venues are still not completed. It is a mess and it is less than two months away.
USA Basketball has a bigger problem than no “A” level point guards. Once high profile players start pulling out, so do other stars. No one wants their name associated with the USA team that didn’t win the gold and are branded losers and unpatriotic. In the land of social media shade, the consequences are long lasting.
After Wade, LeBron and Carmelo brought back a bronze medal and they were vilified, changes were made to the system. USA Basketball was born, Jerry Colangelo was running things. He made everyone who wanted to be a part of it go through an interview process. He was able to get Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul and LeBron James and Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, all top-10 players and All-Stars in 2008, to sacrifice.
2008 was the first Olympic team that had their every soundbite and movement highlighted on social media. In China, the patriotism, selfless play, and success of the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team elevated their stardom. It had a trickle down effect. Everyone wanted that two weeks of popularity and a gold medal and endorsement power and American hero love. Suddenly it was the cool thing to do.
Desperate, the U.S. needs explosive point guards who can make threes, defend and play a fast place.
Kyle Lowry, please.
photo via llananba