August 2008

By Jason Haviland

As the Men’s Olympic Basketball team takes the court in Beijing, I am struck that 12 great players have been overlooked. More on that in a moment. Sure, the latest incarnation of the “Dream Team” went 5-0 in their five warm-up matches. And sure, at times, the Kobe / Lebron show will be spectacular. And sure, there is a new focus on putting together a complete team as opposed to a team of NBA All-Stars, but the recent history of USA Basketball has been anything but stellar.

Beginning back at the 2002 World Championships, Team USA failed to win a medal at that competition and finished in an astonishing sixth place (out of 16 teams). The top notch talent of Michael Finley, Jermaine O'Neal, Paul Pierce, Reggie Miller, and Shawn Marion could only muster sixth place?

From there it was onto Greece and the 2004 Summer Olympics, where Team USA went 5-3 and managed to avoid complete embarrassment by eking out a a bronze medal. But in the process, the 2004 Men’s Olympic basketball team lost more games at the 2004 Olympics than in all previous Olympiads combined!

So, in 1996, with a renewed focus on putting the best “team” on the court, USA Basketball took a different approach on team selection and team composition and really looked to field complete teams instead of an ad-hoc collection of NBA All-Stars. Can you really manufacture team chemistry?

So, far, I’m not impressed.

Team USA again had to settle for bronze at the at the 2006 World Championships in Japan. Maybe they got some bad sushi the night before…but whatever the cause, they crumbled like Baklava against Greece in the semi-finals and went hope with promises to regroup and retool the team.

So now it’s off to Beijing with Kobe, Lebron and company, and I can help thinking that there are 12 key players missing from this team -- Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the 10 other members of the Boston Celtics who won the NBA Championship this summer. That is the USA Dream Team. That is the team that would certainly win gold. That is the team that is composed of complementary players that know how to execute as a team. That is the team that we should be sending to Beijing!

I am sure there would be many objections about the schedule and possible injuries and how to treat traded players or foreign players who want to go play for their national team. All of those objections could be overcome. The point is that we should send a “team” to the Olympics and not a bunch of great basketball players. We can no longer overcome the steady and consistent team play from teams across the globe with our showboat talent. We must start sending cohesive teams to the international basketball competitions or we we’re going to find ourselves continually on the short platforms and with the semi-precious metals. I would even prefer that we send the NCAA Champions from the prior March if the NBA couldn’t get their act together.

Expectations are high this year that Kobe and Lebron will avenge the last six years of mediocrity. Maybe they will. But if they do, it wont be because they had more slam dunks or fast breaks. It will because they played like a team and with a feel for the game that values one more pass, a little tougher team defense and an the boring but effective surgical pick and role -- i.e. the 2008 Boston Celtics.

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