Team USA is back on top in another Olympic cycle. But what will the team look like in 2014 and 2016? The Hook assesses who might be leaving, who might be coming back and who is rising up.
Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski and everyone involved have gotten exactly what they wanted when they took over the program in 2005: consecutive Olympic gold medals, a renewed pride of purpose for American basketball abroad and a legitimate talent pipeline champing at the bit for invites. The rebirth of USA Basketball has been a success.
But we also look ahead to the next challenge, and that's what we'll do here. How will Team USA change between now and Rio in 2016? What players are leaving, which will return and which will rise into consideration? It all starts at the coaching spot.
Coach K might be convinced to return -- he's had visible joy throughout the Games, something you don't see at Duke, even when he's winning a title. This is fun for him. But he's pretty, uh, weathered and the summer commitments might be a bit much for another two years (the World Cup in 2014, the Olympics in 2016). It wouldn't be a surprise either way, if he stayed on or stepped down.
If he leaves, Doc Rivers is a popular name to replace him. Colangelo could also lean on college coaches again, with Tom Izzo getting recent mentions. It's worth noting that a successful college coach in Jim Boeheim has been in the USA Basketball pipeline, so to speak, as an assistant for Coach K. (So too have Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan, neither of which are currently employed by NBA teams.) My pick is Gregg Popovich. There's no active NBA coach better. He deserves at least the opportunity to turn it down. He's proven he can manage stars, manage rest and manage egos. He deserves the call. The smart money, though, points to Rivers.
Now, let's look at the players.
WHO IS LEAVING?
Unlike the end of the 2008 cycle, there aren't a ton of candidates to leave Team USA service. But one of the players whose final Olympics was in London happens to be a pretty big fish.
Kobe Bryant. Kobe reiterated a few days ago that he won't be joining the team in Spain for the 2014 World Cup or Rio for the 2016 Games. That leaves a hole in Team USA's starting lineup at two-guard and an empty roster spot. But it also costs Team USA one of its few players with championship experience. On the London team, Kobe accounted for five of the team's seven NBA championships. (Tyson Chandler and LeBron James had the other two.) NBA championship experience doesn't terribly matter, but Kobe certainly drew a measure of respect from his teammates that will be hard for others to replicate.
Tyson Chandler. Chandler will be 33 by the time Rio comes around, but his absence might be more about being replaced than walking away. Chandler had a rather small role in London despite starting at center simply because Coach K preferred smallball most of the time. The real issue is that USA Basketball should get Dwight Howard back and has a couple of young big men eager to represent their country. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Chandler step aside and focus on prolonging his NBA career with the Knicks.
WHO IS COMING BACK?
Dwight Howard. Howard would have had Chandler's starting spot if not for that back surgery. Dwight is still young and, barring injury, will likely be a top option for USA Basketball in 2014 and 2016.
Chris Bosh. Bosh also missed London due to injury. He seemed to enjoy international play in 2008, and it'd be a surprise to see him skip Rio if LeBron was still involved. Note that I don't think Dwyane Wade will be back, even though he missed London due to injury.
Derrick Rose. Rose is the best player from the 2010 World Championship team that sat out London due to injury. He hasn't played in the Olympics yet, unlike Howard and Bosh. So he should definitely be in the mix, and might even be the team's starting point guard.
So we can already see a problem, right? We have two spots projected to open by attrition, and three players who will definitely make the team if they want it and are healthy. So already we're looking at someone like Andre Iguodala or Deron Williams getting left at home in 2016, if they don't volunteer in advance.
Plus, we have all of these players waiting in the wings.
WHO WANTS TO TAKE A SPOT?
LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA would have been in London in place of Anthony Davis or James Harden if not for injury. He has yet to represent Team USA -- he didn't even go to Turkey in 2010. But due to the short list of big man candidates and LMA's continued NBA excellence, he's a top option for Spain and Rio.
Blake Griffin. Griffin, like LMA, has never represented the United States. That almost changed this year, but a last-minute injury knocked him out. He'll be back. We hope.
Kyrie Irving. Kyrie wants a spot bad. Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose aren't going anywhere. CP3 and Deron will likely be happy to make way for the kids in 2014, but in 2016, will it come down to Kyrie vs. Deron? Will CP3 decide to retire from international play to let Kyrie fly? Intriguing questions lay ahead.
DeMarcus Cousins. The only active player who will openly campaign for a spot, and complain loudly if he gets overlooked. #CousinsForAmerica, y'all. Let's get it. Like Kyrie, DMC will likely get a call for 2014 as the veteran players take the summer off. But it'll be a challenge to land on the 2016 team unless one or two of the other big men sit out.
Eric Gordon. Gordon may have lost his generational spot to Harden this year; Colangelo took Harden over Gordon on the final roster, despite E.G.'s service in 2010. But Gordon surely wants it back, and likely sees Kobe's exit as an opportunity.
Klay Thompson. Klay is another option to fill an open shooting guard spot.
Derrick Favors. He's a Select Team player who could be the Anthony Davis of 2016, which would be kind of disappointing, frankly.
WHO MIGHT GET PUSHED OUT?
As we see, there are lots of young bucks ready to carve out their spots. Colangelo should want to add a few. Which veterans are in greatest danger of getting pushed aside?
Deron Williams. He's a brilliant player and one of the NBA's very best point guards. But Westbrook is younger and more versatile, and CP3 is, well, CP3. If there needs to be a spot for Rose and Kyrie, something's gotta give.
Andre Iguodala. Iguodala will be getting up there in age (relatively speaking), and it'd be little surprise to see him cast aside.
Carmelo Anthony. It'd be a minor shock to see 'Melo, a brilliant FIBA player, cast aside. But a new coach might prefer a reasonable number of true big men (as opposed to Coach K's three, one of whom was a human victory cigar), and that may squeeze Team USA's third best small forward.
James Harden. Harden is included here in case he leaves Oklahoma City for Charlotte and becomes Ricky Davis Part 2. Or shaves the beard.
Anthony Davis. We still haven't seen him in the NBA just yet. If it takes him some time to develop, you could see Colangelo go with more experienced big men in Rio.
We have about two years to talk about this stuff. Team USA won't need to field a team in the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship; the Olympic gold gets them a bid in the 2014 World Cup. But they need to win in 2014 to guarantee a spot in Rio 2016, else they'll have to play in FIBA Americas in 2015.
Here's an early prediction on what that 2016 team will look like.
Derrick Rose | Chris Paul | Kyrie Irving
James Harden | Russell Westbrook
Kevin Durant | Carmelo Anthony
LeBron James | Kevin Love | Blake Griffin
Dwight Howard | LaMarcus Aldridge
I couldn't find a place for Bosh or my man Cousins. Hope I'm wrong.
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.