By Vince Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Jul 28 2009 4:18PM
After the Lakers or Celtics hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy next summer, guess what I'll be looking forward to the most? Nope, not the 2010 Draft. Nah, not the LeBron/D-Wade & Friends Free Agency Sweepstakes. Uh-uh. You can have all that.
My attention turns to Turkey and the FIBA World Championships. Us hoops aficionados know that it's the World Championships -- not the Olympics -- that the world truly views as, well the, um, championships for the world. Guys in Russia and Argentina and Spain and everywhere, other than America, would rather win a gold medal at the World Championships than the Olympics. True redemption for American basketball can't and won't come unless a Redeem Team II follows up that Beijing gold by conquering world competition in Turkey next September.
It's gonna take another well-crafted (and possibly better-composed) squad to get this done. So, USA Basketball held a Team USA mini-camp in Las Vegas this past weekend to eye some potential players looking to fill about four spots. According to Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski, they've gotten commitment from eight players described as "The Core." Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard will all be in Turkey, barring injury or some trumping personal commitment.
The way I see things, the final four spots are for reinforcements. Here's what I want:
I want an X-Factor Guy, a guy that could conceivably crack the eight-man rotation if he gets rolling and meshes well with The Core. USA already has four big men, by international standards.
I want an Insurance Big Man. True, Howard is a center, Bosh can play the 4 and 5 and both Melo and 'Bron are big and strong enough to play what I like to call the FIBA 4. (For the bulk of his time on the floor, 'Bron will be as big as practically every player on the floor -- the dude weights 270 pounds.) But even with those four, the squad needs an Insurance Big Man, preferably another true center who will sit on the bench and wait for that inevitable game when 12 fouls are called on USA's big men in the first four minutes of the game.
The news from Vegas also says that Colangelo and Coach K want an Insurance Point Guard. With Paul and Williams (plus 'Bron, Wade and Kobe all able to play facilitating spot-duty), I don't see the immediate need for a third point guard, but it makes sense to initiate another playmaker for 2014 and beyond.
And lastly, USA needs a Utility Guy. Emotionally, the Utility Guy should be unassuming enough to embrace being the 11th or 12th man. Physically, he should be a versatile perimeter defender, explosive and athletic, fairly accurate with the international trey and ideally, a kat that has a knack for "making plays" -- an out-of-nowhere board here, an inbounds steal there ... that kinda stuff.
With the league in the midst of a historic glut of talent, there are a lot of candidates for the final spots -- and not all of them were at last weekend's minicamp. More than a year away from the tournament, though, these are my picks.
My Candidates: Kevin Durant, Brandon Roy and Danny Granger
I think it's pretty safe to say that KD is a lock for 2010. In fact, based on Coach K's gushing, we can just go ahead and pencil in the youngster. Not only can he play the FIBA 2, 3 and 4, but he'll also be the best long-range shooter on the squad. His length and ranginess mean that he can be an asset on the boards and in a pressing defense.
Now, if either Wade or Kobe can't go, then I'd switch my pick to Brandon Roy, the dude that is at the head of the pack in that 2-guard strata right below Kobe and Wade. You'd need Roy's clutchness and facilitating in that case. But with both hopefully healthy next summer, there's no real need for Roy's skill set.
I'd love for Granger to be on the 2010 squad, since I think he's going to be a Top 10 (and eventually Top 6 or 7) player in this league through the 2016 Olympics and it would be helpful to get him initiated as soon as possible.
But I don't think there's any player in the league, other than KD, that has true, immediate potential to crack The Core's rotation. I'd bet a bunch of stacks that there will be games where KD is on the floor with the "crunch-time" lineup.
My Pick: Durant
My Candidates: Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum
This one is tough given that oft-injured Bynum may never develop into the type of big man many of us suspect he can be and Oden is foul-machine, which doesn't mesh with the whistle-happy FIBA refs. But the Insurance Big Man will play a bit role in 2010, given that Howard, Bosh, Melo, 'Bron and Durant will gobble up most of the minutes at the 4 and 5.
I'm using this roster spot for development.
If Oden and Bynum get a summer of teaching and experience in Turkey, then think about how strong the Team USA big man corps will be for the London Olympics in 2012.
I'm in the camp that thinks Bynum, more than any other young center (including Howard) has the best chance to be a "dump-it-down" center -- as in, "dump it down to the big man and let him and wheel and deal." Those weeks prior to his 2008 and 2009 injuries were like future dump-it-down highlight reels. Turnarounds, jump hooks, drop steps -- he's even developing a semi-reliable 12-footer. Unfortunately, Bynum has yet to participate in a Team USA minicamp and Colangelo and Coach K have placed a premium on the FIBA familiarity they try to foster at the camps.
For me though, I like covering bases. Oden has a similar skill set to Dwight -- active defenders and rebounders, weak O-games (which is why Kendrick Perkins, Emeka Okafor and a healthy Tyson Chandler don't make sense here, either). A Howard-Bynum tandem means that you could play offense-defense with your center combo. I like that ... I like that a lot.
My Pick: Bynum
My Candidates: Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo
Reportedly, Devin Harris was impressive at the camp, whereas Rose somewhat struggled and Rondo was a no-sow, attending Perkins' wedding. But Harris isn't a FIBA-caliber point guard. We saw what happened with Stephon Marbury and Baron Davis in recent years -- and they're actually real point guards. Harris has his merits in the NBA, but I can't see him excelling internationally -- at least not like the two youngsters I'd choose ahead of him.
This is how I currently rank NBA point guards -- placing a weighted emphasis with how they handle actual point guard duties, which hurts Tony Parker -- Paul, Williams, Chauncy Billups, Rondo, Steve Nash then Rose. Part of me thinks that Rondo would wreak so much havoc in international play (on defense, on the break, on the boards) that he'd be a cinch for this Insurance Point Guard spot, but then I remember that he has difficulty hitting wide open 15 footers.
This brings me to Rose, who may not be as good as Rondo right now, but will soon pass Williams and be battling Paul for "best point guard of his generation" honors. Rose gives you most of what Rondo does, plus he's bigger, stronger, more explosive and can knock down the occasional trey. Since this pick won't get on the floor much anyways and -- like the Insurance Big Man spot -- it's a developmental position, you can't go wrong with either youngster. Shooting woes have plagued Team USA too often though, so I'm going with the man known to some as Pooh from Chi City.
My pick: Rose
My Candidates: Rudy Gay, Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala
This is toughest one of them all. Tayshaun Prince played this role in Beijing and he played it well, albeit sparingly. The Utility Guy could end up being huge in certain games. We saw what James Posey did for the Celtics in '08 and what Ariza did for Lakers this past June.
It's Gay, however, that created the buzz in Vegas. I just don't know if he's right as a Utility Guy. He's dynamic -- I can't front on that. But this spot should go to a defender who can also do other things. What if one of the international perimeter players gets hot, Kobe is in foul trouble and 'Bron is wrestling with a 4? Ariza and Iggy can actually come in the game and be trusted Coolers. Gay has that potential, but it's not on his resume, yet.
Iguodala and Ariza are defenders. I really like Ariza, here. Very few players have as many eye-popping moments of game-shifting plays than Trev. I can't count how many times he's changed the arch of Laker games with back-to-back steals, a block that saves a fastbreak score or him flying into the lane for some reckless tip-in dunk. He was one of the seven or eight most impactful players of the 2009 Playoffs. And now that he's knocking down NBA threes with regularity and accuracy, he seems like he can really become an asset for Team USA.
But with all that said, Iguodala has an edge in several areas.
Not only can he lock a dude down and hit the FIBA trey with OK accuracy, he also has experience in two areas where Ariza has none. First, he's been playing with the Select Team (a team that scrimmages against Team USA to prepare for international comp) for three summers, giving him experience with the international game. And, he's been The Man for the post-Iverson Sixers, giving him experience with facilitating (he's averaged five assists for the past three seasons) and responsibility in clutch/pressure situations. Quietly, Iggy is one of the smarter, heady perimeter players in the league. Even though he's been The Man on his squad for the past three seasons, he's not necessarily an Alpha-alpha male, which means he'd have no problem with his limited role. Iggy could end up being the best Team USA Utility Guy of the decade. Then again, so could Trev. Hmmmm...
My pick: Iguodala
So there you go. My team has the three best players in the world (Kobe, Wade and 'Bron), the two best point guards in the world (Paul and Williams), the best center in the NBA (Howard), the best pure scorer in the league (Melo) and the league's best homegrown FIBA big man (Bosh) as The Core.
Then we add the perhaps the best young point guard and center (Rose and Bynum) for insurance, a do-everything athlete (Iguodala) for utility and a phenom (Durant) lurking behind The Core ready to explode.
My kinda squad.
Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.
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