Thursday, May 23, 2024

The quiet challenge ahead for Kerr and Team USA in 2024 Olympics

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Gone is the fear factor that once took the hearts of teams confronting Team USA men’s basketball teams. There is absolute respect, but it has become evident that the rest of the planet is closing the gap.

The goal of the team that will travel to Paris for the Summer Olympic Games is to remind opponents the gap still exists.

This roster, announced Wednesday, is built to dominate.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Devin Booker, Joel Embiid and Kawhi Leonard. Anthony Davis, Anthony Edwards and Jayson Tatum. Bam Adebayo, Tyrese Haliburton and Jrue Holiday.

It’s experienced but has plenty of youth. It’s big and skilled, with a wonderful mix of athleticism and instincts. Perhaps the most complete American group since the one and only Dream Team in 1992.

“What can I say? That we need more firepower? That we need more talent?,” Team USA head coach Steve Kerr, allowing himself a chuckle, told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We’ve obviously got the cream of the crop. These guys are the best players in the country. It’s exciting.

“But this isn’t 1992. It may feel like the Dream Team from a stardom and status standpoint. But it won’t feel that way from the opponents’ standpoint. The world has caught up quite a bit.”

Still, Team USA is the prohibitive favorite, as it should be. It has won the last four Olympic gold medals.

This group is expected to separate itself from a talented field, including Serbia, France, Canada and Germany – which last summer defeated the American squad in the FIBA World Cup before toppling Serbia in the championship game.

Kerr invoked the legendary Kobe Bryant’s approach to the 2008 Olympic team – nicknamed the “Redeem Team” – because it was trying to avenge Team USA’s third-place finish in the 2004 Games in Greece.

“He said we helped elevate basketball globally,” Kerr said. “That’s great. We should feel good about that. But let’s go win again. We need to take our right mantle back as the best.

“It’ll be a similar vibe.”

Which makes it something of a comfort zone for Curry, who at age 36 is making his first appearance on the Olympic stage. Chasing the gold is a priority, one of the few remaining accomplishments still on his basketball bucket list.

It’s the only roster he has been with that has more of everything than the Warriors at the height of their dynastic run.

This 2024 group was put together by USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill and national director Sean Ford, along with Kerr and his staff: Gonzaga coach Mark Few, Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Not everybody was involved in every decision, but we wanted everybody’s opinions,” Kerr said. “We had a lot of phone calls and Zooms, just talking shop and thinking about FIBA and what we’re going to need.

“There’s obviously a lot of great players. Can’t get them all. What you try to do is cover all the bases for what you’re going to need.”

Naturally, some deserving players were left out, the most notably Knicks guard Jalen Brunson. His 28.7 points per game ranked fourth in the NBA this season – but first among American-born players.

Which points up advancements made overseas. The top scorer, Mavericks guard Luka Doncić, at 33.9 points per game, was born in Slovenia. The No. 2 scorer, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.4), was born in Greece. The No. 3 scorer, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, is a Canadian citizen.

Furthermore, the last five NBA MVP awards have gone to players born outside the United States. Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokić (Serbia) were back-to-back winners before Embiid, who was born in Cameroon but gained American citizenship in 2022.

Team USA has a clear mission. It is challenging, but it couldn’t be better equipped to accomplish it.

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