Like any red-blooded American, I love the US men’s national basketball team. The best players on the planet teaming up and playing an entertaining brand of basketball is something that turns even the most casual fans into die hards for a couple weeks every four years. The Dream Team and the Redeem Team are two of the most popular sports teams in American history and now as we are at the beginning of a new four-year cycle, it is time to start thinking about who will be on what is arguably the toughest team in the world to make. Next summer is the World Cup of Basketball, formerly known as the world championships, and will prove to be a good indicator of who will be on the roster when the 2016 Olympics in Rio rolls around.
What we know already: Black Kevin and White Kevin have committed to play in 2014! We also know that the thing named LeBron (I mean this with this utmost admiration as he is definitely not a human man and is some type of specimen that we have never seen before) is likely done playing for the US at the international level. That leaves us with 10 spots and lots of deserving candidates.
Locks: Kevin Durant, Kevin Love
They obviously just committed to playing in this tournament and look to be the cornerstones of USA Basketball for the foreseeable future. In fact, USA Basketball chairman and U of I alum (gotta throw in any Illini reference I can) Jerry Colangelo described Durant as the face of the program going forward. After seeing Durant making a mockery of the FIBA three point line (which they have now changed because of his performance) and have a phenomenal Olympics, I see him as the perfect player to build around.
If they want to play, then they are in: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler
This is a large group and one made up of Derrick Rose, who would have been on the 2012 Olympic team if he were healthy, Blake Griffin, who was on the team until a late injury forced him off the squad, and the rest of the 2012 Olympic Team that is not KD, K-Love, Kobe (he is too god damn old and is coming off a major injury), and LeBron. If any of these people want to play, they have enough clout that they will be on the team. I suspect that Melo who is a veteran of three Olympics (like LeBron) is done playing internationally. I would also bet two time Olympians, Chris Paul and Deron Williams who are approaching thirty with injury histories are also likely done. Also please watch this video if you want to see the greatest moment of 13 year old Ben’s life and why I will always love Deron Williams. Chandler is getting old and also has injury problems and is likely done playing for Team USA as well. That leaves realistic options for next summer as Rose (a healthy Rose would love to play for team USA), Westbrook, Harden, Davis, and Iguodala. If you get 3 or more of those guys next summer than the US will be looking pretty good.
Very likely to be included if they tryout: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George
My love affair for Curry has been well documented (shout out to Michael Rosenson for sharing in this platonic love of Curry with me). He would be the perfect offensive player for the international game and if he is healthy than he would be a great asset. Kyrie is just plain filthy, but he too needs to stay healthy. He was the star of the recent mini camp, as discussed by my comrade Jake Weiner. He is looking like the point guard of the future for Team USA. Now time for a little horn-tooting. I knew Kyrie would be this good from the first time I saw him play at Duke and did not understand why there was so much doubt (other than injury concerns) about him being the number 1 pick and becoming star. If you can shoot, dribble, and pass that good, you are likely going to be a stud. George was the breakout star of the playoffs and would be an excellent, versatile option for this US team.
Intriguing options: Ryan Anderson, Harrison Barnes, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Andre Drummond, Jrue Holiday, Larry SANDERS!, Klay Thompson, John Wall
These players are all intriguing to me for different things they bring to the table. Athleticism and rim protection (Drummond and SANDERS!), perimeter shooting (Thompson), versatility on the wing (Barnes), stretch 4 (Anderson), size and interior scoring (Boogie), shooting ability and can guard both guard spots (Holiday), and elite athletic ability and can guard both guard spots (Wall). These players are all intriguing to me and are all very talented players, but these players will all have to have good seasons as well as a good training camp next summer to be on the team.
Filling out the rest of the team: Everybody else in the player pool
There are some really good players I did not mention and really like. Players such as Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, and many more are extremely talented and have as good of a chance as the guys in the section above of them to make the squad. There is a year between now and the World Championships and players will emerge and have breakout campaigns between now and then. Two personal favorites of mine that I hope are given the opportunity are everyone’s favorite Chicago Bulls two guard-Jimmy Butler, and my St. Louis homer pick of Bradley Beal, who I have been watching play for 6 years and has the prettiest jumper I have ever seen in person. Another guy who would be a great fit to this team is Kawhi Leonard. You saw what he could do in the finals and no one would be surprised if he turns in an all star caliber season in 2013-14. Lots can happen between now and then and it will be fun to see how it shakes out.
Here is my prediction of the 12 man roster 2014 World Cup of Basketball Roster:
Guards/Wings: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard
Bigs: Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin
This squad is a bit small and that is definitely worrisome against the behemoth front line of Spain, but the versatility of this roster should offset those concerns. This team would have two rim protectors (Davis and Drummond) and two major glass cleaners/contrasting offensive weapons (Love and Griffin) on the front line. This team would also have three guys (Durant, George, and Leonard) who can guard both forward positions and play as an effective small ball 4. Westbrook and Rose would bring dynamite athleticism in the backcourt. Harden is a monster in the pick and roll and is a great all around offensive talent, while Irving and Curry would bring the necessary outside shooting strokes to space the floor. I constructed this team assuming ideal health and certain players opting or opting not to participate. Regardless, the US will enter next summer as the heavy favorite to win the World Cup of Basketball.