NBA Commissioner David Stern made headlines early this month when suggesting the 2012 Olympics could be the last time our country’s best of the best comprise Team USA. Stern, citing always prevalent concerns of injury and fatigue among league front office personnel, floated the idea that future editions of the team could comply with 23-and-under rules other sports like soccer employ. It should also be noted that Stern is in favor of allowing NBA players regardless of age to compete in the quadrennial World Cup of Basketball (formerly the FIBA World Championships) that comes up next in 2014, though his motives seem dishonest at best; if certain rule changes are made, the NBA teams would stand to earn a share of revenue the tournament makes. But this is about Olympic hoops – long America’s most sacred and important brand of basketball – and what the commissioner’s wishes mean for 2016.
This obviously has no effect on this Olympic squad, but it’s obviously an interesting proposal and one worthy of serious examination. Stern and his owners obviously prefer their players to take the summer to rehab and train for the upcoming season as opposed playing for the national team, and they use supposedly increased chances of injury in actual playing competition to buoy their stance (Blake Griffin, for instance, was injured training for Team USA; not in a game). Current members of the team came out in strong opposition of Stern’s idea, marquee names like Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul chief among them. Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo, no longer affiliated with a NBA franchise, opposes the change as well and cites the many logistical hurdles needed for such a restriction that could make it unlikely to be in place by 2016′s Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
So when this talk comes back to the forefront in the next couple years we’ll know more about the process and how likely or otherwise it is. For now, it’s another fun distraction until Team USA opens play on Sunday against France and NBA training camp gets underway in October. With that in mind, who would be on the 23-and-under team if the rule were currently in place? Stern reportedly prefers the rules in Olympic soccer that allow three players older than 23 on a national team’s roster, but that seems unlikely given the current players’ strong reluctance to the idea overall.
So for this exercise, it’s all or nothing – members of this squad must be 23 or younger until 2012 ends. That means no Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or Kevin Love even though each Team USA member is 23 years-old right now because they’ll celebrate their birthdays by the time the clock strikes 2013. But James Harden and Anthony Davis? Fair game. Finally, to the team!
*Members listed in order of preference.
Team USA 2012: 23-and-Under Edition
- Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers PG: This team’s best player and emotional leader. Reports from Team USA’s training camp indicated he’s a shoe-in for the Senior Team in 2016, age-limit or otherwise.
- James Harden, OKC Thunder G: Harden struggles for minutes on the current Team USA, but would be counted on as this squad’s top scorer and playmaker.
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets F/C: The rookie ranks so highly here because of his dominant defense, but also his soft touch on jumpers and at the free throw line. Like Harden, he can’t get off the bench for Team USA (though his numbers in limited minutes are fantastic) but would be a linchpin for this group.
- Blake Griffin, LA Clippers F: Griffin’s potential struggles in international play are well-documented, but his physical style, rebounding prowess, and finishing ability in the paint made him good enough to make Team USA before his knee injury, so he’s an easy choice here.
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs G/F: Coach Krzyzewski loves to play athletes with length as small-ball 4s on the national team, and Leonard fits the bill perfectly. He tore up the summer league in his brief appearance there and, like Irving, was lauded for his play in Team USA’s training camp.
- Paul George, Indiana Pacers G/F: Like Leonard, George is a long athlete capable of defending and playing multiple positions. He struggled in the postseason but nonetheless is one of the brighter wing prospects in the NBA.
- Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers PG: Holiday can play off the ball when needed, an attribute this team’s back-up point guard has to have due to Irving’s demand for playing time. Just as good, he’s long enough to defend wings and is a much-improved outside shooter.
- Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons F/C: Monroe’s breakout sophomore campaign went largely unnoticed due to the struggles of the Pistons, but he’s a likely Team USA member in 2016 due to his feathery touch and elite passing skill. He’s the type of player whose game may fit better in international play than it does in the NBA.
- Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors G: Also a member of the U.S. Select Team that trained with Team USA, Thompson is a deadeye shooter who is improving off the dribble. He’s tall and comfortable playing without the ball, too, attributes Coach K loves.
- Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz F/C: Team USA is employing just three true “bigs” in London, but the 23-and-under team is without dominant, chameleon-like forwards in LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony and thus needs more help inside. Favors is this team’s Tyson Chandler, a defense-first player that finishes lobs with aplomb.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats G/F: MKG will play a role similar to the one Andre Iguodala currently does for Team USA: stopper supreme. He can play several postions, has a relentless motor, and can fly up and down the floor. He’s a little raw and could struggle offensively in the half-court, but makes up for it with his athleticism and bulldog demeanor.
- Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets F: Call Faried insurance. One of the league’s best rookies last season, he’s an awesome athlete and rebounder that can defend both forward spots and smaller centers.