Now, but Then?

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Beijing. An impending challenge looming in an impending summer. Certainly nothing to worry about now, not with training camp and pre-season coming up, not with the quest of the NBA Championship, the one that brings in the bread (the quest for the other, until recently, only good for bringing in the bronze), the one where careers and legends are truly made. But with patriotism and pride still hanging thicker than these hot, hazy San Diego days, the question of who will go to battle for Team USA next summer matters more than the upcoming season. At least until I see KG suited up in his Celtics home whites for the first time.

Chris Sheridan wrote an interesting article on how he sees the roster selections breaking down for the Olympics (read the full article here). Sheridan sees seven locks—Kobe, ‘Bron, Melo, Kidd, Howard, Redd, and STAT—as well as two guaranteed additions in D Wade and Bosh (of course, all predictions are based on healthy players). The tenth spot will be a back-up PG—either Chauncey, Paul, Williams, or Hinrich. The final two spots, according to Sheridan, will most likely to be filled by Battier and Brand.

Sensible thinking by Sheridan, and surely his connections with NBA insiders allows for a more accurate prediction than I can make, but if logic rules the selection process next summer, this is how the roster should end up:

As Sheridan wrote, the starting line-up remains intact, that much is clear. Kidd, Kobe, Bron, Melo, and Howard. And they obviously play more minutes than they did in the Tournament of the Americas. Save for possibly LeBron, although a lack of off-season movement by the Cavs makes it unlikely they’ll go deep into the playoffs, this starting five should be fully recovered from the NBA season and well rested by the time the Olympics roll around.

I’m also in agreement with Sheridan about Wade, Amare, and Redd. You don’t leave off a former captain, and Stoudemire is Stoudemire, pure energy, rebounding, and now offensive finesse to go with still-above-average-athleticism. And Redd earned his spot over the last ten games, playing as well, if not better, than everyone expected him to… last year. He could have been the difference maker in ’06.

A back up PG is a necessity, and the choice isn’t as deep as Sheridan notes. Sure Paul, Williams, Hinrich, and Billups will be in camp (unless Hinrich pulls out again), but the real battle is between Williams and Paul. Hinrich simply doesn’t have the tools that the other three have, so he’s gone. Billups, similar to the second half of the season and playoffs, looked uninspired for 90% of the tournament, only awakening now and again when a defender would play some physical D. Billups has a bit of an edge in 3 point shooting over Paul and Williams, but they are younger and hungrier, and Billups needs to have a bounce back season in my mind before even being considered. The spot should be decided by how Williams and Paul continue to develop next season and in camp.

That leaves three spots open. There is no need for another point guard, Bron, Wade, or Kobe can always run the show if need be. The roster needs bigs, with an option on a shooter or a defensive specialist.

For the big guys, let me say flat out, I’m not sold on Bosh. Every writer and site I have encountered so far agree that he’s a lock, and perhaps that’s straight from the mouth of Colangelo/Coach Kconsonantvoweljumble, but I can’t see why his spot should be guaranteed. Are Team USA’s coaches worried about hurting his feelings and therefore his willingness to play on future teams if he has to earn his spot? Sure, an injury prevented his inclusion this year, and yes, he played hard last summer, but lets be realistic here—did he really prove to be irreplaceable during the bronze medal run? Maybe someone slipped me a haterade mickey, but I don’t recall anyone, save for the three captains (and at times Howard—his offensive game was a good bit rougher last summer), being untouchable.

If common sense dictates, Bosh has to fight out a roster spot with all the rest while Boozer takes Bosh’s guaranteed slot. Booz is as grizzly on the boards as the hair on his chest, his touch is great, and he’s mobile. The same could be said for Bosh, but let us not forget the kind of regular season and playoffs Boozer just had. Bosh has a little height and length on Wolverine (listed at 6’10” vs. 6’9″), but the brain trust keeps saying “banger,” so Boozer fits the mold. Boozer has also proven to be adept at receiving dimes from LeBron. Bosh may be an untouchable player in time, but not yet.

Of the final two spots, one should go to a glue guy: a player who will defend, use his brains, and hit timely open jumpers. I know, I know, I must be talking about… Tayshaun Prince. Sure Battier is synonymous with the term “glue guy,” and yes Coach K and Battier’s head wrinkles go way back, but what does Battier add that Prince doesn’t (beside a couple of charges over the course of the summer)? One could argue Battier’s superior shooting, but Prince’s 3-point percentage was tops on the team until the last few games when leads got so big that he just fired away inconsequentially, and he has displayed a knack for making clutch plays on the Pistons. The rebounding is comparable, as are their basketball IQ’s and work ethic, so the deciding factor falls to a non-statistical category—winning pedigree. Prince’s career is marked by being “that guy” on the Pistons. He simply does exactly what is needed to win games. He knows how to play in pressure situations, how to keep his calm, and how to close out opponents. Prince is the choice.

The last roster spot hinges on player development and overall team need. If the need is offense and perimeter play, the choice is between Joe Johnson and Kevin Durant. If the need is big men, it is between Oden and Brand (Chandler as a fall back if he has a good season and Brand doesn’t fully recover from his Achilles tear).

Johnson broke onto the scene last summer (at least if you hadn’t been following the Hawks prior to the Olympics), demonstrating his top-tier talent. He shoots off the dribble and off the pass, gets to the rim, and continues to try and fill the role of becoming this era’s Mitch Richmond. Durant, meanwhile, posted surprising numbers in try-outs this summer, but he obviously remains unproven. Durant contains all the pieces necessary, now it must be seen if he can utilize them.

Then there is Oden. Fingers from San Diego, CA to Thomaston, ME should be crossed that Oden evolves into Bill Russel: The Sequel and simultaneously fills USA’s need of a true center and additional shot blocking. Seeing as how Oden’s potential spot is the eleventh or twelfth on the team, if he does not pan out, Chandler is a better choice as a fill-in than Brand, not having been the star that Brand has been and therefore being better accommodated to limited minutes and being utilized for extra fouls and breathers.

The challenge of Beijing is sure to be great, as the rest of the world continues to use Team USA as their measuring stick. Lets just hope that the roster is selected wisely, as teams have topped the measuring stick too many times in the past five years.

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