Team USA basketball has a commitment problem. The available player pool Team USA had to defend their FIBA World Cup title — already short due to injuries and withdrawals before the NBA season even ended — is shriveling into oblivion by the day.
As it currently stands, here’s the list of stars who won’t be playing this summer:
- LeBron James
- Kevin Durant
- Stephen Curry
- Kawhi Leonard
- Russell Westbrook
- Kyrie Irving
- Paul George
- Klay Thompson
- Draymond Green
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Blake Griffin
- Anthony Davis
- James Harden
- Damian Lillard
- Bradley Beal
- Eric Gordon
- C.J. McCollum
- Tobias Harris
- DeMar DeRozan
- Zion Williamson
The best player left is probably Kemba Walker, followed by Khris Middleton and ... Kevin Love? Donovan Mitchell? Only Walker made an All-NBA team last year — by comparison, three other All-NBA players (Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, France’s Rudy Gobert, and Serbia’s Nikola Jokic) will compete for other countries. And there’s still time for more players to withdraw.
What should Team USA do now? Here are some options, ranked from most to least interesting.
1. Bring Carmelo Anthony back
Honestly, why not? NBA Melo may not be viable anymore, but FIBA Melo would arguably be the best player on the roster. He’s always been his best self in international settings, where he can rain spot-up threes over packed-in defenses and bang with the more physical defenders international ball has to offer. He’s Team USA’s all-time leading scorer for a reason. (That reason is mostly length of service — Melo’s played in a whopping 85 international games for Team USA — but his idealized style of play is a key factor, too).
Melo hasn’t played much organized basketball of late, but why can’t he turn back the clock and do this again?
Considering how much his reputation has (deservedly) suffered with his ungraceful NBA exit, what better way for Anthony to go out on a high than to turn back the clock and lead Team USA to gold?
2. Send one of the youth teams
The under-19 team, led by its youngest players, dominated their FIBA World Cup earlier this month. The whole point of getting the next generation of stars together this young is to build enthusiasm for the idea of representing the country. Why not enhance that enthusiasm by giving them a shot on the biggest stage?
Or, just pick a 12-man roster from the enhanced Junior National Team program that was announced last year.
3. Send the team that had to go through qualifying
Yes, Team USA had to qualify for this tournament, even though they haven’t lost a game in the Olympics or FIBA World Cup since 2006. Due to baffling FIBA changes in 2012 and 2015, those qualifying windows now take place during the NBA season, which means none of the players employed by the best professional league on the planet could participate. (This was true and probably more damaging for other countries, too, which is why you won’t see Luka Doncic and Slovenia, for example).
That forced Team USA to cobble together rosters from various G-League teams to send to qualifying rounds, with ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy as the head coach. Forget a B-team. This was like calling up a Z-team to then yield the floor to the big guns. Just look at the roster.
But Van Gundy and the players took the job seriously and ended up reaching the FIBA World Cup fairly easily, posting a combined 15-3 record in the two qualifying rounds. The leading scorers were former Michigan State guard Travis Trice and onetime Grizzlies guard Xavier Munford. If those folks can lead Team USA comfortably during qualifying, why couldn’t they also compete against the best of the best?
Either way, don’t they deserve the chance to finish the job at this point?
4. Send a team of retired players
Why stop at Melo? Why not also add Dwyane Wade? What about Big3 legend Joe Johnson? Amar’e Stoudemire still looks like he’s got it.
Just listen to that dunk.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) July 14, 2019
Amar'e Stoudemire finishing with FORCE in Brooklyn. pic.twitter.com/2hqQvYjPDr
They’d certainly be up for the challenge, at least.
5. Send the team they currently have
They’ll probably win anyway, even if they won’t have the best, second-best, or even third-best player in the tournament. At least I think they’ll win. Right?