Sunday, July 14, 2024

‘This is not 1992’: NBA stars begin Olympic prep in Las Vegas — PHOTOS

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Steve Kerr knew the USA Basketball roster he will coach at the Paris Olympics was stacked on paper.

It really sunk in when he looked around at their faces while he addressed the team during its first practice at UNLV on Saturday.

“They’re Hall of Famers,” he said, doubling down after drawing some criticism for a comment earlier this week that all 12 players on the roster would eventually be enshrined. “It’s remarkable to see all that talent in front of me.”

Yet even one of the best rosters the U.S. has ever assembled is no guarantee to come home from Paris with a gold medal.

“A big part of our message is, ‘This is not 1992,’” Kerr said of the original “Dream Team” that trounced a bunch of overmatched nations by an average of nearly 44 points a game.

No tee times

While this roster is drawing comparisons, it’s far too early to measure whether it can live up to its potential with limited time to prepare.

“We have to play a game together first, but it’s definitely the best team I’ve played for,” Devin Booker said. “Today, the first day, you could see that.”

Still, long gone are the days of the U.S. being so far ahead of the world in basketball that Michael Jordan and then-U.S. coach Chuck Daly were able to play some legendary rounds of golf together during the tournament.

“Steph (Curry) and I aren’t going to be playing golf every day in France,” Kerr, the Golden State Warriors’ coach, said. “I know Chuck and Mike had a great time together, playing 36 (holes) on game days, but those days are long gone. We have our hands full despite the amazing roster we have. … So our big thing is taking this talent and helping them figure out how to be a team and be prepared for what is undoubtedly an enormous challenge despite what the casual basketball fan will think when they see our roster.”

The narrowing of the gap internationally has been evident. However, though the U.S. has faltered at several big events, it still reigns supreme at the Olympics.

Only four times has Team USA not come away with gold, and just once has it fallen short since NBA players began participating in 1992. That was the 2004 Games in Athens when the Americans were stunned by Manu Ginobili and Argentina in the semifinals and had to settle for bronze.

The U.S. is coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish at the 2023 World Cup, where it suffered losses to Lithuania, Germany and Canada.

Stars are here

That has helped encourage players like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Steph Curry to volunteer their services for the summer. James and Davis haven’t played in the Olympics since 2012. Curry has never played in the games.

Joel Embiid will also play in his first Olympics after choosing the U.S. over France and Cameroon.

Those players added to a mix that already includes returning Tokyo gold medalists Booker, Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday, Bam Adebayo and Team USA all-time leading scorer Kevin Durant.

It could make for some difficult decisions for Kerr and his staff, which includes Gonzaga’s Mark Few, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyronn Lue and the Miami Heat’s Eric Spoelstra.

The team went through some controlled scrimmages Saturday and will likely shuffle its lineups throughout the next three days of practice and then in Wednesday’s exhibition game against Canada at T-Mobile Arena.

“Everybody understands this is a very unique situation,” Kerr said. “They’re all not only starters, but superstars and future Hall of Famers. They all deserve to start, but only five can. We’ll figure it out.”

The players are on board, at least for now.

“Because of the caliber of team we have, the minutes might not be there,” Holiday said. “There might even be games you don’t get in at all. You may get only one or two shots, but for me it’s about reading the game well and doing some of the dirty work. You can impact the game without scoring, and I’d like to think I’ve always been that type of player.”

Rotations will be figured out in time. Kerr said the immediate focus is on instilling in his team the differences in international play.

“A big part is that FIBA is a different game. The rules are different,” he said. “… We can’t expect to play our game and go win. We have to adapt to the FIBA game, and that’s not an easy challenge. There’s rules differences, different interpretations of plays, substitution patterns, timeouts. All kinds of stuff that we have to ingrain into the team quickly.”

Tatum missed practice for personal reasons but will join the team Monday.

The U.S. opens Olympic play against Serbia on July 28.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

Team USA roster

Bam Adebayo, Heat

Devin Booker, Suns

Stephen Curry, Warriors

Anthony Davis, Lakers

Kevin Durant, Suns

Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves

Joel Embiid, 76ers

Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers

Jrue Holiday, Celtics

LeBron James, Lakers

Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

Jayson Tatum, Celtics

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