USA Basketball is never and will never be measured against other nations. Any given edition of Team USA is graded only against previous editions of Team USA. That's why we see as much or more Team USA '12 vs. Team USA '92 debate as Team USA '12 vs. Spain '12 debate.
Gold isn't enough for Team USA; it never is. Not in basketball, at least. To be fully respected back home, Team USA must dominate.
Team USA will dominate most opponents in London. France, Lithuania and Argentina are the chief contenders in Group A. France and Lithuania have looked nothing short of yikesville in the warm-ups, as Kevin Pelton noted on Thursday. Argentina gave the Americans a spook last week, and remain a threat in group play. But Team USA will still be heavily favored, and that close warm-up game may actually lead to Team USA attempting to blow out Argentina to avoid any risk of a group play loss. There's no question that if Team USA plays desperately, it can beat anyone. The question against all teams but Spain is whether Team USA can win every game comfortably despite playing poorly. I'd argue the Americans played poorly in the exhibition win over Argentina.
In the knockouts, the path leads to a match with Spain, which wouldn't come until the gold medal game if both teams hold up their ends of the bargain. Failing there is undoubtedly possible (Spain is good) and would seriously mar the team back here in the States.
You'll remember the scorn Team USA received in 2004. Never mind that the current Team USA is built well, and that it still has and will always have the special challenges of being a glorified All-Star team. Team USA cannot lose in basketball and be considered anything but an abject failure. That's a high standard to clear.
But to really be considered great in American lore, Team USA has to go further, has to obliterate everyone and everything. That could happen, too; Team USA was quite good in the friendly run despite looking as disjointed at times as you'd expect them to be. The second half against Spain, while a warm-up, was a bit shocking. Completely unstoppable guard play countered iffy interior help defense. Can this Team USA reach that standard and refuel the (generally annoying, pointless and irrelevant) debates about the Dream Team? We're about to find out!
In all seriousness -- and we'll get more into this in Saturday's tournament prediction piece -- Team USA should destroy everyone but Spain. I had high hopes for France, but Drake really does ruin everything.
FIBA World Ranking: No. 1
Previous Olympic record: Gold in every year since 1992 except for 2004
How they got here: Won the 2010 FIBA World Championship
Most important group games: vs. France (July 29), vs. Argentina (August 6)
Players you have heard of: Are you serious?
Medal hopes: Hmmm ...
Future outlook: Well ...