Times change! Six months ago, when Jerry Coangelo and Mike Krzyzewski looked at the USA Basketball their biggest concern was the collective bargaining process between the Players’ Association and the NBA Franchise owners. Looking over the original roster, the Men’s National team loaded up for London with plenty of talent, size, speed and international experience. Cutting down to the 12 players who would represent the United States would most likely prove out as one extremely difficult task before going to London.
Ten spots of the twelve available looked like “locks” for the team. Eight of the former 2008 Gold medalists had committed to play again in the form of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose and 2010 FIBA World Championship MVP Kevin Durant looked to fill out an already formidable roster. Coangelo’s plan appeared to have come together perfectly – needing only a couple of tweaks.
Fast forward 6 months …
The ten “locks” have all had injury issues in this past, strike-shortened season. Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first game of the playoffs. Dwight Howard had hernia surgery with a month left in the regular season. Chris Paul had nagging injuries all year and hurt his hip in his second from last game in the play-offs. Dwayne Wade appears to be nursing a knee injury and has missed plenty of games this year. Chris Bosh is out indefinitely from the play-offs. Bryant, James, Durant, Williams and Anthony all missed games with injuries this past season. Anthony missed significant time.
Adding to the concern, most of the remaining “Big Men” on the USA National Team roster also had injury dilemmas. LaMarcus Aldridge tore his ACL too. Kevin Love missed significant time with a concussion. Tyson Chandler’s feet always have issues. Blake Griffin needed his own personal M*A*S*H* unit to make it through the play-offs.
To augment the diminishing big guys on the roster, USA Basketball added NCAA Champion Kentucky All American Anthony Davis. Anthony Davis is good for long-term depth. He brings tremendous talent to the court. But, Davis at this point belongs on the Select Team. His addition really provides the National Team with no more than Christian Laettner version 2.012? Davis’ participation in 2016 in Rio would be welcomed and more likely.
So where does that leave the USA Basketball going into the summer? With a drain on its big men and some yet to be answered questions. The roster member who at this point provides difficulty to replace is Dwight Howard. With the additional drain on big men, USA Basketball needs to re-evaluate all of its available options.
Given the situation, Coangelo and Coach K must have some concerns with Howard out. Howard disrupts and dominates the defensive low post like no other. The original roster had many big guys though. However, with no Howard and an uncertain Bosh who is left? Well, Aldridge is out. Love is reported to be ready to go. But, Coach K did not exactly bury KLove with minutes at the 2010 FIBA World Championships. Griffin got banged up in the play-offs. Although, one could reasonably surmise he will be ready to play. However, the extent of his injuries at this point is unknown.
Currently on the roster, the US has Lamar Odom “available.” Are we really considering Lamar Odom after his Dallas experience? Well, he certainly has rested. I like Lamar Odom when he plays like he did in his Lakers uniform and in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. So did Coach K – in 2010. But, we saw nothing this past season that would indicate Odom is ready for anything but another year of reality TV. If Odom were to show up in shape and motivated in June for Coach K – then that could provide Coach K with some much needed help. However, I wouldn’t want to rest on that.
Here is a viable solution for Coach K and Jerry Coangelo – Reach out to Tim Duncan. Why hasn’t this been mentioned anywhere? Collective thought is that Duncan is through playing internationally after the 2004 Olympics. OK, let me rephrase, “Please! Reach out to Tim Duncan anyway!” Wine him. Dine him. Schmooze him!! Duncan has appeared reborn in this year’s play-offs. He looks healthy. His legs look fresh. San Antonio Spurs Coach, Gregg Popovich has managed Duncan’s minutes masterfully all season. Moreover, Duncan is playing exceptionally. He put on a clinic for the young Clippers. Furthermore, Duncan is a leader. He could assimilate easily with the existing roster and would receive immediate respect from his teammates.
Why not reach out to Duncan? It’s pretty well documented that Duncan did not enjoy the 2004 Athens Olympic experience. Understandably, Duncan did not find value in an Olympic Bronze Medal and the toxicity that Allen Iverson brings to any team. In addition, Duncan hasn’t played with this core group. Coangelo’s original idea was to build a core team concept.
However, the London Olympics provides different context than Athens in 2004. First, time heals wounds. Duncan seemed to be the target of FIBA officiating in the 2004 Olympics. While he spoke little about it, the officiating clearly frustrated him. The 2004 National Team could not win without Duncan on the floor. His foul trouble kept him on the bench much of the time. Make no mistake, Duncan hates losing. He took the losses very personally as he was forced to watch from the bench in Athens. Bronze humiliated the modest and reticent Duncan.
Conversely, the 2012 team has enough depth to play effectively while Duncan is out of the game. This is much more mature team than the 2004 team. Finally, this team has another elder statesman in Kobe Bryant to keep everyone in check. There would not be an Allen Iverson experience on this team to embarrass Duncan. Bryant himself won’t allow it. Neither would Coach K.
Similar to Coach K, Duncan is cerebral and values character. He demands it from his Spurs teammates. Coach K demands professionalism from this team. As for the core team concept? Can anyone really argue intelligently that a basketball player with the knowledge combined with the skill of Tim Duncan could not fit in effectively with Kobe, LeBron, Durant and CP3 with a month to practice? The nucleus is already in place. Duncan would provide the perfect finishing touch to Coangelo’s remodeled design. Finally, an Olympic Gold is the only thing missing from Duncan’s Hall of Fame Career resume’. Deep down in places Duncan has not spoken of in some time, the heat from that 2004 Bronze medal bronzes his backside. Duncan has unequivocally earned another opportunity to win gold. Coangelo and Coach K can sell this to Duncan and to the Spurs if necessary.
If for some reason Coach K and Coangelo cannot sell Duncan, they might consider looking to the Celtics for help from Kevin Garnett who also has rekindled his once unstoppable game this year. Should Coach K and Coangelo really want size, maybe they should consider putting the full court press on both of them after the play-offs. Who would you rather have? A healthy Duncan and Garnett? Or any other available combination?
On a side note, the loss of Derrick Rose will no doubt hurt the US team. Wouldn’t anyone want Rose on a team? But, compared to the loss of Howard, Rose’s loss is incidental as the US team can back fill the Point Guard with ease as one could reasonably expect Paul and Williams in Red, White and Blue again for London. As demonstrated in the play-offs this season, Russell Westbrook can certainly fill shoes on the Roster as well if added to the final roster. If necessary, we have seen LeBron run an offense before – similar in concept to Scottie Pippen running the offense on occasion in 1992.
As the play-offs are beginning to wind down, Coach K and Jerry Coangelo can only hope the rest of the roster stays as healthy as possible. While the injuries up to this point may look terrible on paper, the US National team at this juncture can and will still field a very formidable, heavily favored National Team for London. With some slight modifications, their blue print for gold can quickly become a reality. Just add Duncan! And, maybe a side of Garnett!