Winning the FIBA World Cup won’t be the biggest challenge for Team USA. Putting the basketball team together, now that was the hard part.
LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony all said no thanks. Paul George broke his leg in a scrimmage. Blake Griffin pulled out, citing back concerns. Kevin Durant pulled out, citing physical and mental strain. Kevin Love pulled out, citing his between-teams status.
Fortunately, none of the dozen remaining players dropped out because of uncomfortable seats on the flight to Spain for the opener against Finland on Saturday.
“We still have a goal,” center Anthony Davis told reporters, “and that’s to win gold.”
Team USA’s roster was not plucked randomly from a hopper, though it may look that way to some.
The team includes two Sacramento Kings (DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay) but no Clippers or Lakers. Rookie Mason Plumlee made the final cut, but All-Stars Damian Lillard and John Wall did not. Former NBA most valuable player Derrick Rose is backing up Kyrie Irving at point guard.
One prominent betting website is giving Team USA 1-to-2 odds to win the 24-nation event formerly known as the world championships.
The roster is big on youth (average age: 24) and big men (three centers, two power forwards), with the former consideration a nod to an initial stretch of five games in six days and the latter one intended to counter Spain’s mammoth front line of Marc and Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
Spain is widely expected to meet Team USA in the championship Sept. 14 after each navigates group play and the single-elimination stage starting Sept. 6.
None of Team USA’s Group C counterparts — the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Ukraine and Turkey, in addition to Finland — are expected to threaten the team’s 54-game winning streak (including exhibitions) that dates to 2006.
That’s not to say there won’t be notable subplots. Can Rose’s knees withstand as many as nine games in 15 days after making it through only 10 games the previous two NBA seasons? Can James Harden defend as well as shoot? Can the oft-suspended Cousins remain on his best behavior for the duration of the tournament?
Rose played in three exhibitions in recent weeks, compiling modest averages of 6.3 points and 2.3 assists in 19.3 minutes a game. He sat out one game because of the dreaded “general soreness” but insisted his knees were not a worry heading into the games that matter.
“I’m past my injuries and just trying to stay focused and stay together,” Rose said.
Staying together, now that would be something for Rose and Team USA to celebrate.