Not quite a Dream Team, still the Olympic favorite.
The U.S. men’s basketball team isn’t the powerhouse it could have been, a squad that might have been so stacked that its only worthy rival would have been history.
Injuries have cost the Americans three top players, along with probably any notion they could have won a mythical matchup against the famed 1992 champions.
What remains is good enough to make the Americans golden again.
“I think this team will be a stronger team than we had in ’08,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “If we do what we’re capable of doing and we stay focused and have the mental toughness, then we should prevail. I believe that in my heart of hearts, but we have to go out and do it.”
The Americans always face comparisons to the Dream Team, and Colangelo even invited the connection when he named a 20-man roster pool in January.
But Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Blake Griffin have since been lost to injuries, removing four players who started in the All-Star Game. What’s left is still potent — how about LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the same frontcourt? — but probably not good enough to beat Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the rest of their Hall of Fame predecessors.
That’s no big deal for this U.S. team, which is more worried about Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
“It’s possible now that some will say with those losses, well then any discussion about comparison is probably out the window, and you know it’s really not that important or significant,” Colangelo said. “That was then, this is now. That was them, and this is us. You know, let’s go out and do the job we have to do and then people can make any comparisons they wish after the fact.”
Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are all back for the reigning gold medalists. Durant, who had the best tournament ever by a U.S. player two years ago at the world basketball championship, headlines the returnees from that team.
As for the notion that the Americans are so weakened they could actually — gasp — lose?
“They got to get the ratings up, don’t they? They got to ask something, it can’t be all good things,” Anthony said.
Turning serious, Anthony added: “If we go out there and do what we have to do, and prepare for this Olympics like we did in ’08, we’ll be fine.”
This could be the last Olympics with top players. NBA Commissioner David Stern has said the league wants to discuss limiting future Olympics to players 23 and under, similar to soccer.