Friday, May 24, 2024

USA Basketball emphasizes defense, experience on roster for Paris Games

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USA Basketball’s latest “Dream Team” is loaded with star power, experience and a renewed emphasis on size and defense.

With this summer’s Paris Olympics fast approaching, USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill announced Wednesday the program’s 12-player roster for the Games: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Joel Embiid and Kawhi Leonard.

“We have a very exciting, very talented and very experienced roster,” Hill said. “We’re just grateful we had so many who were willing to be a part of this. We had a great pool of candidates. It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. We’re beyond thrilled we’ve assembled this roster of 12. We look forward to the journey and the task at hand, with the goal of bringing gold back from the Olympics.”

The roster includes plenty of past gold medalists and no major surprises. James, Durant and Curry telegraphed their interest in playing together last October, and Hill selected only two newcomers: Embiid, who opted to play for USA Basketball rather than France or Cameroon, and Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP who has managed a series of offseason health concerns during his prime.

USA Basketball drew heavily upon its Tokyo Olympic team, which won gold in 2021, and its most recent FIBA World Cup team, which finished fourth last September. Durant, Tatum, Adebayo, Booker and Holiday all played in Tokyo, while Edwards and Haliburton emerged as standouts during the FIBA World Cup run in the Philippines. James will compete for USA Basketball for the first time since winning his second Olympic gold medal in 2012, and Curry, a two-time gold medalist in the FIBA world championships, will pursue his first Olympic gold.

For Hill, who succeeded Jerry Colangelo as managing director following the Tokyo Olympics, the program’s disappointing World Cup showing was proof he needed a bigger and more physical team to match up more effectively with top international competition. USA Basketball will face Serbia, which could be led by Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, in the competition’s opening round.

“The FIBA game is a different game than the NBA game,” Hill said. “You want players whose games translate on that stage. Defense, experience, a collective understanding of how to win. It’s a puzzle. You want talented individuals and you want players who can blend, fit and play certain roles you need. Defense was certainly a priority. Having guys who are capable of locking down, guarding multiple sets within a possession, an emotional maturity, and then just blending personalities. … Rebounding is something we struggled with [in the Philippines].”

Davis and Embiid, who is coming off knee surgery in February, give USA Basketball a much longer and more imposing front line than it sported at the World Cup. Meanwhile, Holiday and Leonard, who missed the final eight games of the regular season with knee soreness, should provide stout perimeter defense to complement the team’s deep collection of scorers.

If Embiid, Leonard or another player is unable to play because of health concerns, Hill said USA Basketball has a “contingency plan at every position” that he declined to reveal. The program chose to announce its 12-man roster before the start of the NBA playoffs so that the decisions weren’t hanging over the players and so that the group could begin an extended team-building process in the run-up to Paris.

The 12-man team was selected from a pool of 41 candidates that was announced in January. Jimmy Butler, Paul George, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Chris Paul were among the notable candidates who didn’t make the final cut. USA Basketball also didn’t select Draymond Green or Kyrie Irving, both of whom have dealt with major suspensions in recent years.

Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jaren Jackson Jr. led the list of rising stars who were squeezed off the veteran-dominated team. Ja Morant, who is rehabilitating a season-ending shoulder injury, and Zion Williamson weren’t included in the initial player pool.

“Sometimes you can have a collection of the best, but it’s most important to have the best fit,” Hill said. “We were very thoughtful and intentional about that.”

The Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr will coach the Americans in Paris after guiding the World Cup team last summer. Kerr has indicated he will step down after the Olympics. His staff in Paris will include Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra, Los Angeles Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue and Gonzaga Coach Mark Few. The Americans won Olympic gold under Mike Krzyzewski in 2008, 2012 and 2016 and under Gregg Popovich in 2021.

The United States is one of eight teams that have qualified for the Olympic tournament’s 12-team field, and the Americans should enter as heavy favorites. Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Serbia and South Sudan also have secured spots in Paris. USA Basketball will be joined by Serbia, South Sudan and a still-undetermined qualifier in Group C of the tournament’s opening round.

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