Most basketball fans will remember the summer of 2010 as "The Me-First Summer," with the Chris Bosh/Dwyane Wade circus, followed by the LeBron James circus, followed by the Chris Paul circus, followed by the not-yet-over Carmelo Anthony circus. These characters have much in common. They're undoubtedly among the best players in the NBA, they're me-first guys operating under the guise of winning-first guys and, together, they were losers the last time the USA participated in the FIBA World Championships. Yes, they won it all at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but if not for Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant's arrival on Team USA in 2007, it's quite possible that they wouldn't have.
So I suppose it was fitting that at the conclusion of a nauseating me-first summer, true basketball fans were treated to some team-first play by a squad known throughout the basketball world as "The B Team" entering the 2010 FIBA tournament. Not only shouldn't they be described as "The B Team" any longer, but they should ascend to USA Basketball's "A Team" status immediately.
As USA Basketball was on the eve of forming their 2010 FIBA World Championships roster, I wrote that if this year's team delivered a gold medal in Turkey they should be rewarded with roster spots on the 2011 FIBA Americas team and the 2012 London Olympic Games squad. Having seen this team not just win the gold (for the first time in 16 years, embarrassingly, for an American team) but do so with an earnest, classy, hard-fought, well-played and team-first effort I'm more resolute than ever that we should be looking at our 2012 Olympic Games roster right now.
USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski did a masterful job molding this team together on short notice and getting them where he couldn't get the 2006 World Championship squad, even though that one was undoubtedly more talented on paper with the likes of LeBron, Wade, Melo, Paul, Dwight Howard and Bosh. In a halftime ESPN interview during the gold medal game against Turkey, Coach K said that winning the 2010 World Championships with the current squad would be "more satisfying" than winning the gold in Beijing. I suspect this has something to do with how low maintenance and down-to-earth the guys are on the 2010 team.
All the members of the LeBrontourage - plus Bryant - couldn't be bothered to play on the 2010 World Championship team. As I wrote back in July, we can't blame them. LeBron and friends gave us their summers from 2006 through 2008 (and Bryant 2007 and 2008), and for that we're most appreciative. Given the demands on the modern NBA player, a three-year Team USA commitment is the most we can ask for.
But the LeBrontourage can't have it both ways. If LBJ, Melo, Wade et al want to skip the 2010 Worlds, they may have to skip the 2012 Olympic Games too. When USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo reconstructed the Men's National Program from the ashes left by Stu Jackson, it was under the auspices of forming a true national team ... not allowing the NBA's best to cherry pick when and if they'll show up. Moreover, the argument that the 2010 team is too young and/or inexperienced no longer applies. Lest we forget that the key members of the 2006 squad were approximately the same age at that time as Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon and Derrick Rose are today.
As the 2012 Olympic Games approaches, Coach K and Colangelo are going to have some very tough decisions to make. Do you reward the 2010 World Championships team with a majority of the roster spots for the 2012 Olympic Games? Or re-boot the program once again with yet another 22-man tryout?
If there was one criticism for this year's Men's National Team program, it was that they waited until just months before the FIBA tournament to assemble the team. And this last-minute approach showed as the team almost lost to Spain in a pre-tournament friendly, barely squeaked by Brazil in group play and looked sloppy for long stretches of many pre-elimination round games. But credit Coach K, his coaching staff and the players - namely Kevin Durant and veterans Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom - for getting their act together when it counted most, as they barnstormed their way through elimination play and easily beat Turkey in front of their home country crowd to take home the gold medal on Sunday.
Moving forward with Team USA, the right thing to do is keep the core of the 2010 team intact for 2012. That means Durant, Odom, Billups (if he's up for it by then), Andre Igoudala, Rose, Love, Gordon, Curry and Westbrook should plan on being in London in August 2012. Since Tyson Chandler, Rudy Gay and Danny Granger were used sparingly and inconsistently in Turkey, I wouldn't have a problem bringing Howard back for Chandler, Bryant (if he wants to play again) for Granger and a power forward or man-of-size like Bosh or David Lee in place of Gay.
In other words, who needs LeBron, Melo or Wade anyway?
If the recently leaked stories of LeBron's boorish behavior on previous Team USAs are even half true - and given LeBron's behavior this summer, it's hard not to believe them - perhaps it's best to leave LeBron and his pals off Team USA in 2012 altogether. Besides, LeBron and Wade will want to spend that summer staring at the championship rings they colluded to get.
A major congratulations is owed to Colangelo, Coach K and his staff and the great players who gave up their summers to bring home the gold for Team USA. In an NBA off-season poisoned by me-first stories, it was nice to be reminded of what basketball is all about. Or at least should be.