The writing was on the wall. As NBA stars lost interest in the FIBA World Cup, it was evident that Team USA’s chances for bringing home the gold were questionable at best.
Injuries forced some former FIBA stars to sit out the 2019 competition. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins spend their summers recuperating from surgery and rehabbing serious injuries.
Other established superstars such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Paul George decided to skip the 2019 World Cup long ago. Several of these players either switched teams this offseason or saw big personnel changes to their teams, so many gave them a pass – for taking a pass.
As the competition approached, Team USA was still expected to flourish. James Harden, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal were expected to lead the team to glory. Then came the mass exodus. One by one, each player withdrew from the competition.
Next, Zion Williamson, Kevin Love, Tobias Harris and Paul Millsap withdrew from consideration. (Note to Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, if you can’t get Harris and Millsap on board, you might need to fire yourself.)
In the end, Team USA’s roster looked more like a No. 8 seed in the East than a team built for international domination. Here was the final 12-man roster for Team USA: Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum (who suffered an injury vs Argentina), Brook Lopez, Myles Turner, Jaylen Brown, Harrison Barnes, Marcus Smart, Joe Harris, Mason Plumlee and Derrick White.
If I had $10K in my pocket and walked around St. Louis offering $1,000 to every person who could name the current NBA team for the entire Team USA roster, at the end of the day I’d go home with $10K still in my pocket. Think about it. Could you pass the test?
Nevertheless, that is the team the USA trotted out in the World Cup. Not surprisingly, America’s C-team stumbled to a seventh-place finish, the worst in the history of USA Basketball. Ironically, the USA’s previous worst finish came in 2002 with another underwhelming NBA roster.
Luckily for Team USA, despite the embarrassing seventh-place finish, the team qualified for the 2020 Olympics as the second-best team in the Americas zone. Now Colangelo will have to put on his recruiting hat and hope that the world’s best American players will take the 2020 Olympics more seriously than the 2019 World Cup.
Curry has already committed to play in the 2020 Olympics. Shockingly, Curry has never suited up for Team USA in Olympic competition. He was forced to withdraw from consideration in 2016 due to injury and was cut from the 2012 team.
"[I] definitely wanna go," Curry told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. "I've never been on the Olympic team. I've been on two World Cup championship gold-medal teams. But the Olympics is the experience that I want. And next year will hopefully be it."
Draymond Green, Curry’s teammate in Golden State, has stated on the record that he hopes to be on the court with Curry in Tokyo. Expect Curry to take a page from Green’s notebook and start shooting his shot to recruit other star players to the squad. Green famously started the recruitment of Durant to the Warriors, via text message, after Golden State fell to James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals.
Much of Team USA’s embarrassing result can be attributed to the wackness of the roster. Let’s keep it real, if Gregg Popovich can’t coach up a team beyond a seventh-place finish, you know the squad is garbage. However, the lack of consistency and continuity, compared to other nations, also played a role.
Spain, the 2019 World Cup champion, featured five players from its 2016 Olympics Team, including MVP Ricky Rubio (Utah Jazz) and Willy Hernangómez (New York Knicks). Marc Gasol (Toronto Raptors) did not play in the 2016 Olympics due to injury, but did participate in the World Cup months after winning an NBA title.
Despite featuring zero current NBA players, runner-up Argentina fielded seven players from its 2016 Olympic team. All five starters from the World Cup roster also suited up in Rio. Compare those numbers with Team USA. Only Barnes represented the stars and stripes in the 2016 Olympics and he was the worst player on the team.
If the NBA’s best American players don’t want to take the FIBA World Cup seriously, it might be time to turn it back over to the nation’s best college kids. Before the 1994 Team USA’s World Cup teams were comprised of the nation’s top college athletes. None of those teams (the World Cup began in 1950) finished lower than fifth. Two teams (1954 and 1986) brought home the gold.
There was a time when even a third-tier American players would wipe the floor clean against international competition. With the globalization of the game, those days are long gone. I’d much rather watch the nation’s best and hungriest college players seek to prove themselves on the international stage than the players Team USA dragged onto the court in this year’s competition. Wouldn’t you rather watch the stars of tomorrow than the pedestrian pro players of today?
Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch online at stlamerican.com and on Twitter @ishcreates.