Jun 24, 2008

Why not send the NBA's best team to the Olympics?

Quite frankly, I'm concerned for this summer's Team U.S.A. Based upon Colangelo & Co's selections, it is quite obvious that they completely abandoned building the best "chemistry" team and instead offered invitations to the best available players, regardless of position. This is going to put our country's team into a precarious position in the International competition. We have learned three things from our recent international basketball failures: 1) to win the international game, you need shooters, 2) to win the international game, you need need to have players who can defend multiple positions (pick & roll defense) and 3) the foreign teams have better chemistry and continuity. I just don't see the 2008 U.S. roster meeting these needs.

I read a good post (http://highfivehoopschool.blogspot.com/2008/06/my-team-usa.html) that got me thinking. Most people who are skeptical about this summer's roster have ideas about how to construct the ideal roster for international competition. Most of these skeptics have ideas about which individual players would be the perfect "pieces" for our roster. "You need a shooter, a rangy defender, a strong rebounder, a power forward who can stretch the defense", etc. More often than not, these pieces are from multiple teams. I'd like to put a new spin on a possible solution to the U.S.'s shortcomings in international basketball: put the best NBA team in the Olympics.

I'll start my argument by saying that I realize there are a few obvious problems with my proposal. The first problem is that it would be very difficult to choose the "best" team to represent our country in the games. The second problem is that most NBA rosters are loaded with international talent that couldn't compete for the U.S. Lastly, this solution could create substantial discontent amongst NBA fans who would be unwilling to support a team they were used to rooting against (e.g. Kings fans would have a hard time supporting the Lakers). For sake of argument, however, let's pretend these issues didn't exist. Just bear with me as I make my case.

As I stated in the first paragraph, foreign rosters seem to have much better chemistry and continuity than the U.S. team does. What better way to ensure chemistry/continuity than to field a team that plays together all year long? The current roster has a plethora of "star" players who are not used to sharing the spotlight. NBA teams have all year, if not several years, to learn & understand their players' roles. The successful ones have very clearly defined roles, and execute these roles beautifully. Even if the perfect balance of players was put together (from multiple teams), these players would only have a few months (or less) to get accustomed to playing with each other. This isn't enough time to build great chemistry and for players to fully understand their places on the court.

While the international playing field is leveling out, it is still extremely obvious that the best overall talent exists in the U.S. How else do you explain the fact that far more than 50% of the players in the best league in the world (NBA) are American-born? I don't doubt other countries are catching up -- and fast -- but it will take years for another country to pass the U.S. in overall basketball talent. Basketball is still a relatively young sport in most foreign societies. I have to believe that the best teams in the best league could also be the best teams in an international competition.

Rather than labor to find the perfect mix, why not send a pre-assembled, battle-tested, proven NBA squad to the Olympics? Two teams come to mind: the Pistons and the Celtics. These teams have succeeded in the NBA & have predominantly American-born rosters. They have the "shooters," the "rebounders," the "versatile defenders" and the "hustle guys" that the U.S. has lacked in recent international competitions. They know how to play together & they know how to win.

I know many people believe that my proposal would negate our talent advantage. I disagree. I've gotta believe even role players for the Celtics or Pistons would be stars overseas. Isn't Carlos Arroyo (an NBA bench warmer) always considered one of the more valuable players in international competitions? Need I say more?

Do I believe this will ever be employed by the U.S.? No way. It would be far too difficult to pick which team would represent the league without awarding the pass on an objective basis, say, to the most recent NBA Champion. The problem with that system would be when a team like the Spurs wins and half of its players cannot compete for the U.S. This year (and 2004, coincidently), I believe my system would have worked beautifully. I truly believe the U.S. Celtics would win gold this year and the 2004 U.S. Pistons would have won Gold, as well. Our current squad, however, may have its hands full in Beijing...



Billy said...

Taking on your idea of taking a team that has been established and played together I have created my own idea. Does anybody really care about the Pan-American games and all of that or do we just care about the Team USA for the olympics? I only care every 4 years and even then I really don't care unless the games are being shown live and at a decent hour on TV. I would prefer to take the 4 NCAA championship teams between 2009-20012 and have them play a final four tourney to determine which team is Team USA for the 2012 summer games. This would have meant that North Carolina, Florida, UCLA/Ohio State (because they lost to Florida they should be the play in game) and Kansas would play a tourney to determine who gets the chance to represent. They have to use the same roster they had during their championship year, and if players cannot play, they are allowed to call upon other alumni to field the team. This would also mean that the coach is in place and does not have the issues of trying to coach players he has never dealt with.

Just food for thought.

Walton's Wisdom said...

That's actually not a bad idea. I agree with your point about coaching players that the coach has dealt with in the past. making calls on who to play in late-game situations, managing specific matchups, etc. would be much easier decisions to make if the coach were more familiar with his players.

As for the Pan-Am games, no... nobody cares. They are decent chances (under the current format) for players from different teams to get used to playing with each other. However, until these last few years there hasn't been much roster consistency from summer-to-summer so it hasn't helped much in the "gelling" aspect.

I have a feeling as the rest of the world catches up to the U.S. in terms of talent and overall international interest for the game grows, Olympic basketball will become a more interesting competition. As much as I love USA basketball, I'm almost glad that it isn't a cakewalk for our teams anymore.