The U.S. men’s basketball team was supposed to wipe the floor with the Olympic competition in Rio and dominate by an average of 30 points a game. Instead, the Americans have looked vulnerable in each of their last three games and barely survived against France, Serbia and Australia.
Charles Barkley has criticized Team USA – or better yet, the people who created it – saying the team has too many scorers and not enough role players.
“I think it’s a fair discussion to have,” USA Today NBA insider Sam Amick told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Part of it was obviously not by design; it was just by default when you have so many guys pulling out. Kevin Durant needs somebody to get him the ball. Klay Thompson needs somebody to get him the ball. Guys like that – Carmelo, all the way down the line to DeMarcus Cousins. Kyrie’s strengths, I just don’t think, are as good of a fit. Defensively, this team’s been pretty bad to this point in the tournament. You can have that discussion not only about Kyrie, but about a number of different guys. Listen, this is the B team. even though you’ve got some big-time guys on it, you have a lot of guys pull out and now they’re trying to put all the pieces together.”
Paul George admits that he thought Team USA would dominate. As of late, however, that hasn’t been the case.
Might the Americans’ poor play be the result of overconfidence?
“Yeah, I think some of it,” Amick said. “Paul’s not the only one being honest and candid about that aspect. Kevin Durant has said some similar things. The thing is, the Olympic history with the men’s team – once they figured things out after 2004 and 2006 – is domination. The continuity that Coach K and Jerry Colangelo were hoping for in the way they built the program over those years is just not there this year, again, because of all the guys that pulled out. You only got two guys on this team who were part of the London Olympics (and) four guys who were part of the FIBA team in Spain. That stuff is all coming into play. We’ll see what happens. The nice thing for them is that it’s a whole lot better to talk about barely winning than it is actually having that winning streak come to an end.”
Amick believes that the U.S. men’s basketball program is in a bit of a “transition period,” with players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant passing the torch to the next generation. While Spain remains the United States’ top threat, the Americans are still heavy favorites to win gold.
In fact, if Team USA wins gold despite a) not sending its best players to Rio and b) not playing its best basketball, DA believes the IOC might disallow NBA players from representing the United States. Amick, however, doesn’t think that is likely. After all, NBA players bring star power to the Games, which helps ticket sales.
There’s also another problem to consider.
“You can’t legislate differently,” Amick said. “When NBA guys play for other countries, how can you not let NBA players play for America?”
Amick also addressed DeAndre Jordan’s comment that winning an Olympic gold medal would mean more to him than winning an NBA championship.
“I think if you polled the entire NBA player room, that’s the minority opinion,” Amick said. “I like it from the standpoint that he’s clearly feeling a little patriotic, Melo is too and they’re taking pride in it and that’s all well and good. But it also feels like they’re getting a little swept up in the moment.”
Besides, to win a championship, star NBA players must play a major role for the marathon that is the NBA regular season and postseason. To win a gold medal, star NBA players can play a small role in a sprint through inferior competition.
So again, Amick sees where Jordan is coming from, but he doesn’t think it’s a common sentiment.
“I understand why that’s kind of where their heads are at right now,” Amick said. “But I don’t think most players feet that way.”